If you know where to look, you’ll find that London is full of secret nooks and hidden alleyways. Behind one of them, just minutes away from Green Park you will find The Stafford Hotel, a place with historic intrigue dating back to the 17th Century.
The red brick Victorian building was most famously owned by Lord and Lady Lyttelton, daughter of the then Earl Spencer, and nanny to Queen Victoria’s children.
During World War II, the hotel served as a club for American and Canadian officers stationed overseas. This led to the formation of the Better ‘Ole Club whose membership comprises guests recognised for services to The Stafford London, like the former Prince of Wales, HM the King.
Hidden war museum in wine cellar
The hotel’s fascinating wine cellar built by Lord Francis Godolphin was used as air raid shelter during The Blitz. A glimpse into this period of history can still be seen behind the endless racks of fine vintages. Gas masks, helmets, hurricane lamps, tobacco tins and newspapers amongst other items used during The Blitz are on display.
The most elegant tea ceremony
Today with its quiet elegance, sense of timelessness and British sensibility, there are few places quite like The Stafford if you are looking for classic afternoon tea.
Served up inside The Game Bird restaurant and interconnected drawing rooms, it has everything – not just the gorgeous setting, but the immaculately drilled staff. With dimmed lights of golden chandeliers, marble fireplace and tables generously spaced apart you simultaneously get a sense of intimacy and solemnity .
The tea menu from Camelia’s Tea House is very impressive, but charming and informative waiters are on hand to help with recommendations. We started with Stafford signature blends – St James’ Blend and Queen’s Stafford Blend which were particularly rich and flavourful.
There are also plenty of herbal infusions, so for our second round we tried the White Apricot – a Gold Taste Award winning fusion tea that combines the refined character of a white tea with the honey-like sweetness of apricot. Rooibos Orange & Cactus Fig was incredibly fragrant. For added opulence, raise a glass of Louis Roederer Collection 243 Champagne.
Michelin-starred sandwiches and cakes
Next comes the traditional finger sandwiches: smoked salmon and cream cheese, cheddar, spring onion and tomato, coronation chicken and ham and mustard, all served on a selection of bread alongside a creamy truffle and egg brioche bun. On the bottom tier, plain and fruit scones with whipped clotted cream and strawberry jam, alongside a savoury delight: Westcombe Cheddar scone with soft cheese and chives.
The presentation, especially the cakes are exquisite. Unlike most afternoon teas where the cakes are on a traditional stand table along with savoury sweets, The Stafford wheels a whole tableside cake trolley to your table for you to choose your desserts.
The recipes have been created collaboratively by Magdalena Velczenbach, The Stafford’s Head Pastry Chef, and Lisa Goodwin-Allen who oversees the menu direction as well as being Executive Chef of Michelin-starred Northcote in Lancashire.
The White Mouse
Spoilt for choice, each party member can select up to five seasonal cakes or pastries from the delectable display. This is the real Sophie’s Choice. The White Mouse vanilla and raspberry cake is the most popular. The waiter will happily to tell you the story behind this culinary wonder. The dessert was named after legend Nancy Wake. Given the code-name White Mouse by the Gestapo for her skill in eluding capture, New Zealand born Wake was one of WWII’s greatest spies and the allies’ most decorated servicewoman.
She was living with her wealthy husband in Marseille when France fell to the Nazis in 1940 and became a saboteur, organiser and resistance fighter who led an army of 7,000 Maquis troops in guerrilla warfare to sabotage the Germans.
During one raid she reportedly killed an SS guard with her bare hands to prevent him raising the alarm. One of her most remarkable accomplishments was her 500km long cycle ride through several German checkpoints to deliver codes to an operator. It took her 71 hours, cycling almost non-stop through the French countryside and mountains. In the face of impossible odds, The White Mouse managed to evade the Germans time and time again. She was captured once, but was able to trick her captors into releasing her after four days.
Stafford’s most famous resident
Unsurprisingly, Nancy Wake was on the Nazi’s Ten Most Wanted list. Fortunately for her, the enemy assumed the mouse was a man and she worked under the radar until they realised their mistake. She escaped to the UK and worked tirelessly until the end of the war. The brave White Mouse was honoured for all her heroic deeds and ended up living in Stafford Hotel for the last ten years of her life paid for by grateful supporters. Some lucky guests and staff members recall Mrs Wake to be found at the American bar every day at 11am sharp drinking Gin & Tonics.
The American bar
Now all that’s left of her is a photo and the White Mouse cocktail on the menu. The American Bar is also decked out in memorabilia and keepsakes from past guests – including bar regular Margaret Thatcher – and there are model airplanes donated by the Royal Air Force and USAF pilots who flew them. This is another hidden gem withing the hotel’s walls.
The Stafford offers a sanctuary away from the world outside with its timeless beauty and exceptional hospitality. Holding a doggy bag full of exceptional leftovers of our 5-star afternoon tea we are trying to understand what comes first – food or historical surroundings. In case of The Stafford Hotel, one cannot be separated from another.
Signature afternoon tea is served daily between 12pm and 5.30pm, from £70 per person. More information can be found here.
Image credits: © The Stafford London