St James’s Hotel is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful hotels in London, a city that has some of the most beautiful hotels in the world. It’s a boutique hotel set in a Victorian townhouse but its red brick and ornate stonework make this a jewel in an already glittering city crown.
St James’s Hotel and Club has a superb location: just yards from St.James’s Palace, Mayfair and Green Park it has an enviable plot at the end of a cul-de-sac, which offers both convenience and quiet. Rare partners indeed.
The original club was at another location and was established by the Earl Granville and Marchese d’Azeglio, a Sardinian Minister, After an altercation at the Travellers Club they decided to found a competing club for travelling diplomats and in April 1859 Francis Cavendish sent invitations from the Foreign Office to every British Embassy and legation in order to recruit the first members for the St James’s Club.
From the start the club attracted the great and the good (and some not so good). They came from the nobility and included Lord Randolph Churchill (Winston’s dad), writers such as Charles Dickens (who documented lives of Londoners who could never have become members), and Arthur Sullivan, the composer (partner of W. S. Gilbert), was also a member. All those wanting to join had to be elected but those working in the British diplomatic service and the Foreign Office were usually admitted with no questions asked. The subscription was eleven guineas and the entrance fee twenty-five guineas (a guinea was £1 and 1 shilling) which was a considerable sum.
During the early 70s financial difficulties resulted in the closure of the St James’s Club which reopened at its present location thanks to Peter de Savary. He is a celebrated international businessman who has a wide repertoire of interests. He has been involved in the petroleum industry, shipping, property, import/export and of course clubs and hospitality.
This present building at 7-8 Park Place was originally built in 1892 as apartments for Gentlemen. The façade is imposing and the uniformed doorman confirms your assumption of formality, although this hotel isn’t at all stiff, starchy or formal. It’s become a spot renowned for good food and good times, laced with a sparkling array of celebrities.
St James’s Hotel and Club was recently refurbished by the famous German designer Anne Maria Jagdfeld and is now a contemporary space that retains the comfortable and intimate aspects of a club – that’s a private club, not a nightclub. There are hundreds of paintings illustrating Expressionist and Cubist work from all over Europe. They add to the smart-casual air of a hotel that ‘does it well’.
Multi-award winning chef William Drabble has a coveted Michelin star so I knew that an afternoon tea here would be well-executed and delicious. I wasn’t disappointed. It has a traditional format and an amazing price. It was served in an area sporting many of the aforementioned paintings, and was a copious and delicious introduction to the style of this polished yet accessible hotel.
There were the usual selection of sandwiches and they were the expected savoury start to the mound of baked goods that not only filled the 3-tier stand but occupied the table alongside as well. There rested the scones and they were remarkable in every regard. They had a classic flaky texture, buttery flavour and were generously proportioned. A couple of these irresistible homemade scones served with clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam would render the rest of the top tier redundant to all but the most dedicated grazer.
I know it’s all a matter of taste but I think the pastries here are the most appropriate of any London Tea I have recently enjoyed. Yes, I still say ‘enjoy’ as those others have been excellent, imaginative and beautiful, but the pastries are often elaborate confections that would not seem out of place in Paris or Milan. I want a top tier that gives a nod to Victorian drawing rooms, and some nice fruit cake. The pastries here were familiar in miniature form and all that I would have wanted to complete this charming event.
St James’s Hotel and Club also offers a very popular Gluten-Free Afternoon Tea: Selection of sandwiches on gluten-free bread; homemade gluten-free scones served with clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam; gluten-free pastries: macaroon with raspberries, almond and chocolate cake, lemon drizzle cake, Financier with seasonal berries, chocolate mousse cake, apple and almond cake.
£19.00 per person
Both menus are seasonal and subject to change. The gluten-free afternoon tea is available every day and must be booked in advance; this can be done on the same day but before 12 noon.
For reservations please call +44 20 7316 1615 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
St James’s Hotel and Club
7-8 Park Place
London SW1A 1LS
Phone: +44 20 7316 1615
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018