St Ermin’s Hotel hides many fascinating secrets behind its historic facade. It’s actually the only publicly accessible building closely associated with British espionage, of which more later. I was here on a less covert mission, as I’d been invited to taste their Flights of Fancy Champagne Afternoon Tea.
Arriving outside the imposing courtyard, I admired the Victorian red brick building. It was built in 1889 as a mansion block on the site of a 15th century chapel dedicated to St Ermin and converted into a hotel in 1899. During the 1930s, St. Ermin’s was used by officers of the Secret Intelligence Service to meet agents, and it became the headquarters of SIS’s Section D.
Sir Winston Churchill used to enjoy a glass of champagne in the hotel’s Caxton Bar and in 1940 he asked a group to meet at St Ermin’s to “set Europe ablaze”. They became the SOE (Special Operations Executive) working on covert operations during WWII, known today as the SAS. After WWII, double agent and eventual defector Guy Burgess frequently met his Russian counterpart at the hotel.
The interior of the hotel was created by the famous Victorian theatre designer J.P. Briggs, and his plasterwork design is breathtaking. There are rumours that a tunnel runs from underneath the grand staircase in the lobby all the way to the Houses of Westminster.
I was warmly welcomed and shown to a comfortable seat in the main lounge area where there’s a nice display of award-winning Newby teas. The afternoon tea has been designed by St Ermin’s chef, Adam Handling, who recently won the Scottish Chef of the Year award.
We chose from the extensive tea menu and I decided to try an unusual orange Rooibos. It had a beautiful colour and a lighter taste than other Rooibos teas I have tried previously and found a little overpowering.
The afternoon tea itself is presented in a cute open box that showcased the goodies inside perfectly. On the left you have the traditional tea and on the right, there’s the gluten free version.
To accompany the tea, we were served a Laurent-Perrier “Flights of Fancy” trio of champagnes. These came on their own handy little tray and certainly had the wow factor. We were advised to pair the sandwiches with a glass of Laurent-Perrier Vintage 2004 Champagne. This had a wonderful biscuity flavour and lovely golden hue.
I enjoyed my selection of sandwiches, particulary the smoked salmon and caviar, crayfish and Marie Rose sauce and beef with horseradish. There were also cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, which I know are a must for all afternoon teas but I’m not such a fan of those.
The freshly baked scones were delicious, and the homemade jam and clotted cream were a perfect accompaniment. These were paired with a chilled glass of Laurent-Perrier Brut Non-Vintage Champagne, another very quaffable choice with overtones of citrus and spice.
My selection of sweet treats included a cream and strawberry posset, rhubarb and custard macaroon, cherry snowball and my personal favourite, a red velvet and white chocolate cake. These came with a Laurent Perrier Rose Champagne with hints of red fruits, a very refreshing finale!
After the tea, guests are presented with a goodie bag to take away, what a nice touch! Rather annoyingly, I managed to lose it in a shop so I can’t tell you what was inside. Perhaps all the champagne had something to do with that…
I couldn’t resist a shot of the gorgeous interior.
One last fascinating fact about the hotel is that it has 300,000 residents. Yes you read right, however they aren’t people, they are honey bees residing in 3 hives on the roof of the hotel. St Ermin’s really is full of surprises!
I recommend this tea particularly for:
– Glamourous surroundings
– Champagne lovers
– History buffs
St. Ermin’s’ Flights of Fancy Afternoon Tea is served in the Tea Lounge daily between noon and 6pm.
St Ermins Hotel, Caxton Street, London SW1H 0QW