St. James’ Hotel & Club is a boutique five-star property located in a quiet cul-de-sac in London’s Mayfair. Simon Wittenberg catches up with the hotel’s Managing Director Anjana Pandya.
Luxurious Magazine: Thank you for talking to us. Please can you provide an overview of your role at St. James’ Hotel and Club?
Anjana Pandya: My role as Managing Director has changed, and has had to adapt since the beginning of the pandemic. Previously, my position was largely strategic and commercially focussed, working closely with our owners and having a General Manager run the day-to-day operation of the business.
Like so many hospitality businesses, we had to scale back and drastically reduce the size of our team in the last two years. This resulted in me returning full time to the business in a GM/MD capacity, which requires me to look at the entire scope of the hotel offering, including operations.
I would describe my role as incredibly hands-on, with a 360-degree involvement in all aspects of running the property.
LM: The pandemic has greatly affected the tourism and hospitality sectors. How was your hotel impacted, and what changes have you had to make to generate new business in these more challenging times?
Anjana: Across our industry, we were impacted at a colossal speed, driven by almost immediate UK government legislation mandating the temporary closure of hospitality businesses, and at the same moment, governments around the globe were locking down their borders.
Unfortunately, this meant that from an on-property team of almost 100 associates, we became a core team of four, comprising myself and immediate Executive committee members.
Following the vast majority of the team being placed on furlough, with no sign of business returning anytime soon, redundancies were very sadly required across all departments. We took the early decision to remain open (as we were legally able to) by welcoming the few corporate guests and those travelling for essential reasons, with our team of four having to adapt and literally do everything across the board to keep the business open.
Sincerely, I cannot think of anything across the hotel operation that my team, along with myself, haven’t done during those months of 2020, as we worked as a tight-knit team across all departments, with several of us living here permanently.
Thinking creatively and literally out of the box became the ‘new normal’ – we even launched a Michelin starred takeaway, forging a new partnership with Supper London, and tapping into the demand of high-end cuisine delivered to the front doors of Mayfair and Knightsbridge’s culinary jet set, closed behind their own gates and prestigious residences. Where there was demand, we captured it and delivered, to literally generate any possible revenue in the face of extremely challenging adversity.
LM: What are the unique selling points of your property?
Anjana: Above all, what sets St. James’s apart is our notoriety for warm, understated and discreet hospitality, matched with a very private location offering incredible gastronomy that in itself is very much a culinary destination in its own right.
We have many guests from around the globe who return to stay here just to experience William Drabble’s famed seven-course Menu Gourmand with matching wines, with over 900 to choose from to make the perfect pairing each and every time.
Furthermore, we are not only a luxurious boutique hotel, but a Club that reciprocates with over 600 other clubs worldwide, and have found that we are able to maintain the fine equilibrium for our esteemed guests to experience the enchantment of a very British club (originally launched in the late 1800s for travelling diplomats) as well at the same time, deliver warm hospitality in a relaxed and understated setting.
Our clientele very much frequent St. James’s to be incognito, rather than to ‘be seen’, and for this reason, we have continued to attract celebrities and other well-known personalities over the years, as they can count on the hotel’s discreet ambience and an incredible location to match.
LM: You have recently launched ‘1857 The Bar’, offering the widest selection of port wine in London. How popular has this proved with guests?
Anjana: With human nature adoring the ‘first of’ and ‘only of its kind’ offerings these days, we have steadily grown real appeal in only four months amongst both those in search of Port Wine, as well as those who are in the discovery phase, newcomers who simply want to try something new and different.
Launching in partnership with Symington Family Estates, we were able to position 1857 The Bar on the destination wine bar map, tapping into a younger audience and moving away from the stereotypical reputation of Port being an ‘older persons drink’, offering port cocktails, for example.
We launched with a signature Port Sour, specifically intended for the bar scene that would appeal to non-traditional Port drinkers. These are paired with bar nibbles formulated to include produce that pairs exceptionally well with Port, including Stilton cheese, foie gras, tuna belly and burrata.
In a relatively short space of time, we are seeing our regular guests staying in the hotel, as well as those frequenting our Michelin-starred restaurant (Seven Park Place by William Drabble). All express excitement, curiosity and delight as they experience the new port focussed offering here at 1857 The Bar. It’s starting to become a real destination in its own right, too, with more and more outside guests visiting uniquely to sample what this Port wine bar has to offer.
Without doubt, there is much intrigue, and thankfully tasting taking place, especially as we build a reputation for serving the oldest wine in the UK to be sold by the glass – the exceptionally rare Graham’s 1882 Ne Oublie Port that dates back to the arrival of Andrew Symington in Portugal that year. We are the only bar where this is currently served to the general public.
LM: What plans do you have for 2022 in terms of expanding your offering to visitors?
Anjana: As we steadily continue to build our reputation as the ‘must experience’ destination for both the traditional and modern takes on Port, our plans centre very much around building awareness of Port Wine and how it pairs sensationally well with many diverse culinary items.
William Drabble very much crafts his menus seasonally with ingredients from around the British Isles, and you can expect to see our bar grazing menu to really be developed and diversified as the months roll on, paired with the arrival of several truly unique Port vintages.
LM: Who is your main clientele, and has your customer profile changed due to the pandemic?
Anjana: The forefront of our clientele from a food and beverage perspective has very much been dominated by a loyal British following for many years, and William’s gastronomic masterpieces and consistent Michelin star continue to draw our culinary audience time and time again; the majority of these being outside guests dining at Seven Park Place.
Since the launch of 1857 The Bar late last year, we are really starting to see many more of our in-house guests, notably from key markets of the US, Switzerland, France and Germany, opting to dine and discover ‘in rather than out’. Without a doubt, the pandemic restricted our international guests from frequenting the hotel. However, as restrictions have been gradually lifted, we see these dominant key markets starting to make a long-awaited return, and our team couldn’t be happier to see this.
LM: William Drabble is the man behind your Michelin-Starred Seven Park Place eatery. What’s on the menu at the moment to entice guests?
Anjana: William always has a culinary delight up his sleeve to compliment the seasons. Right now, his Griddled Red Mullet Fillet accompanied with Squid and Blood Orange is a must to try, not to mention his classics, such as the splendid Pan-Fried Hand Dived Scallop with Champagne and Salsify. I mustn’t forget my sweet tooth, however – I love his Rhubarb with Lemon Apple Tart with Prune and Armagnac Ice Cream!
LM: What luxuries do you enjoy when not at the hotel?
Anjana: I absolutely love to challenge myself with cooking new recipes for my family and friends across several world cuisines and truly get lost in the creativity of the moment. It’s a great feeling when I successfully create a dish that everyone enjoys! Aside from this, I genuinely enjoy Kathak – classical North Indian dance. It takes me away from the moment, and it’s really relaxing – and I would say a particularly satisfying pastime.
LM: What do you enjoy about working in the hospitality sector?
Anjana: For me, it’s about the opportunity every day to be creative and to really see how this positively impacts our guests, creating not solely an experience but memories for our clientele. I love brainstorming with my team exploring the ways we can do things differently to delight the guests and make their time here, whether staying, dining or both, something they will remember.
I couldn’t do this as a leader without the fantastic people and team I have built and continue to re-build as we operate with fewer restrictions in the new normal of what we hope are post-pandemic times.
LM: Thank you for your time Anjana, and it has been a pleasure speaking with you.
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