Churchill, Profumo, and Lawrence of Arabia are famous figures who visited the site.
It’s not often you can be neighbours with the British Prime Minister, but at Raffles London at The OWO you’re following in the footsteps of political icons. Located in Whitehall and the heart of government, the new five-star hotel is near historic attractions: 10 Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, Horse Guards Parade and the Houses of Parliament. And, it is an attraction in its own right – the OWO stands for Old War Office, and has welcomed Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and inspired Ian Fleming’s James Bond.
Over eight years, the building has been transformed to its former glory. The Palace of Whitehall was on the site and was home to Henry VIII. In 1906, the building was completed and used by the Ministry of Defence. The Grade II listed building was later sold for £350 million and recently reopened as the first Raffles hotel in Britain: Raffles London at The OWO.
It would be easy to dismiss Raffles London at The OWO as a celebration of a colonial has-been, especially post-Brexit with Britain is finding its spot on the world stage. India’s Hinduja Group is behind the development, and has taken care to honour the rich heritage, yet offer contemporary cultural influences. While offices were once used by David Lloyd George, John Profumo and T.E Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia, there are suites named after female spies such as Christine Granville, and international artwork from Bangladesh’s Rana Begum to British Nigerian Yinka Shonibare.
Raffles London at The OWO knows how to make an entrance, from the flags flying on Whitehall to the courtyard on Horse Guards Avenue. When we made our way in from the downpour, the venue enveloped us with old world charm. The warm fireplace and warmer welcome made us feel like we were checking into a hotel as well as another era. The luxurious lobby’s hand-laid mosaic floor, two-story chandelier and grand marble staircase have launched a thousand selfies.
Rooms and suites
Raffles London at The OWO boasts 120 rooms and suites, which start from £1,200 a night. Thierry Despont is behind the design that oozes sophisticated splendour and a story behind every corner – take the corridor’s red curtains, which are a nod to the Horse Guard’s uniforms.
If Raffles London at The OWO’s walls could talk, we would love to listen. Concierge Emiel Danneels’s must-visit tours share secrets. We checked into the Astor Suite, named after Britain’s first female MP in the House of Commons, Nancy Astor. Inspired by Eltham Palace and Queen Mary ocean liner, the décor includes custom made furniture and statement artwork.
The grand Edwardian suite includes a living room, bedroom and bathroom, and is big enough for a six-seater table. The features include high ceilings, dark wood panels, leather suitcase holders and floor-to-ceiling windows, which offer an I’m-in-London moment. When we lay in the king-size bed, we had our heads in the clouds – we could see the sky, red buses, Union Jacks and hear Big Ben chime.
The hotel successfully combines the old and new. The décor may be traditional, but the features are modern – a yoga mat, TV in the bathroom mirror, and tablet that operates everything from the curtains to butler requests. While we couldn’t find a full-length mirror, almost every detail was covered, from the pillow menu to the bath salts.
The butler service was spectacular – we requested a frilly frock to be ironed and a bath to be drawn. The request exceeded our expectations; not only was it the perfect temperature, but had we done it ourselves, it would have resulted in Goldilocks grunts of it being too hot or too cold. Plus, the bathroom’s bespoke 1906 products added an air of exclusivity.
Restaurants and bars
The OWO and Raffles London will be home to nine restaurants and three bars. The concepts include Café Lapérouse, Paper Moon and Pillar Kitchen. Saison is the all-day dining restaurant at Raffles London, and it is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The breakfast buffet is on the minimal side, but the à la carte menu is bursting with beautiful dishes.
Chef Mauro Colagreco oversees three restaurants. The Argentinian chef is behind the three MICHELIN Starred Mirazur in France, and brings his finesse to the fine dining restaurant, Mauro Colagreco at Raffles London at The OWO. The menu will change the way you think about vegetables, and elevates the humble veggie to a thing of beauty. The five-course tasting menu was filled with surprises, including locally sourced vegetables from Elephant and Castle, no less.
The Drawing Room is a cross between a gentleman’s club and a library. The atmosphere transforms for morning meetings, afternoon tea and piano playing. The Guards Bar and Lounge is a sleek spot for the Signature Slings. The Spy Bar is for guests’ eyes only, and is an ode to the espionage stories. Not only do you enter through a secret door, but you’ll be shaken and stirred by the No Time to Die car on the bar.
Raffles London at The OWO’s The Guerlain Spa and Pillar Wellbeing encompasses a health club, gym, swimming pool and vitality pool. Spanning 27,000 square metres, it’s a serene spot with soft tones and textures. We had a one-hour massage in the VIP Spa Suite, which had its own bathroom and exuded plush privacy.
Service at Raffles London at The OWO is excellent. The staff have an infectious passion for the project, and drop story after story about the site. With great stories comes great responsibility, and the team have succeeded at not just retelling the past but writing a new future. The legacy of the building will no longer just be The OWO, but Raffles London at The OWO.
GO: Visit www.raffles.com for more information.