Bees and a balcony combine to create an unrivalled experienceAfternoon tea business in London hotels is buzzing, but nowhere so much as at St Ermin’s Hotel in Caxton Street, SW1. On the hotel roof are hives – where as many as 10,000 bees are busy making the honey that goes with the scones and butter for the hotel guests.
Caxton Street is a very special location, but one immediately wonders where the bees find the flowers for their pollen collections. Well, thank you, Your Majesty, for being so generous with your flowers in the gardens of Buckingham Palace. And, if you look at a map of London, you will see that St Ermin’s Hotel, as the bee flies, is virtually next door to St James Park.
‘Our honey’, says Tom Walsh, the hotel’s Director of MICE Sales, ‘has been analysed and as many as 50 different varieties of flowers have been identified in its make-up’.
St Ermin’s is a singular hotel in more ways than one. It was originally one of the most desirable apartment blocks in London. It has a distinctive rectangular courtyard that impresses visitors as they approach the main entrance with the two majestic slender wings on either side. This design ensures that all the rooms, facing into the courtyard or outwards, benefit from maximum natural light – including the hotel’s 15 meeting rooms.
It was transformed into a hotel, went through ups and downs, but is now the only UK hotel owned by its parent company Amerimar Enterprises. The current owners have invested the considerable sums required to provide the quality of facilities and décor that its location deserves. It is a next-door neighbour to New Scotland Yard, a short walk to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. It stands alongside St James’s Park tube station and a few hundred yards from Victoria Station.
St Ermin’s is a 4-star deluxe property. As Tom Walsh puts it: ‘We couldn’t offer any more without becoming 5-star’.
ITCM marvelled at the quality of the whole building, outside and inside, and its superb décor. The only touches we might personally discern as not quite 5-star would be that the 331 guestrooms have everything one could desire, but it would be nice if they were just a little bit bigger. The event spaces, all close to each other, add to the glamour of any event being held. The Crystal Ballroom has two magnificent crystal chandeliers – plus 20 smaller versions, no less beautiful. And it has an all-round, curvaceous balcony. And, in spite of being so central in Westminster, it has an outdoor reception or networking area.
‘We are an approved venue for pharmaceutical events’, Tom points out. ‘We are also, of course, in demand for events related to Westminster politics and are particularly suited to occasions that demand a high level of security. After all, during the war, we were the setting for the Government’s Special Operations Executive.’
Tom is happy to show visitors some hotel’s exhibits that are closely related to its undercover connections, including an intriguing jacket lining of which the weave served as a method of decoding secret messages.
The hotel’s cuisine becomes a particular attraction once people have stayed at St Ermin’s. It is typical of the hotel that the dining experience is especially relaxed, yet the fare is cordon bleu standard.
The signature restaurant is The Caxton Grill, which boasts a rare piece of equipment known as the Josper Grill that seems, to the lay person, to be a combination of an oven and a charcoal grill. The result is that the steak and the salmon that were served to ITCM both had flavours that were unique and very appetising, leaving us keen to visit again to refresh the memory of our taste buds.
Not only the restaurant but a series of small rooms and alcoves leading to it from the main reception are called in to play for serving breakfast. Guests are able to choose exactly the ambiance they wish in order to enjoy a full English or a Continental breakfast. They can sit on plush sofas near a fireplace or at the window of a dining room looking at early morning London. For Groups, the organiser could choose a separate location to breakfast together or to leave delegates to their own devices, networking and hobnobbing to their heart’s delight.
‘MICE business is very important to us’, Tom confirms. ‘It probably accounts for about 25% of our business. We have all the facilities for quality meetings and the location for incentives and leisure programmes.
‘We give value for money and we are prepared to give added value rather than cut prices and skimp. Our Day Delegate Rate is around £80 or £90 per head, inclusive of VAT. Events have to be successful and memorable and we can contribute to that with extras rather than saving a few pounds. We might provide upgrades for key people, or complimentary drinks receptions, for example, and of course Wi-Fi is free everywhere in the building.’