News & Reviews Europe England Review: Raffles London at The OWO

In the illustrious post-Brexit era, England has been on an award-winning streak, collecting accolades we once could only imagine.  Among our proudest achievements, we boast the “Most Potholes per Square Kilometer” award, nestled alongside our trophy for “Longest Waiting Time to See a Doctor in the Western Hemisphere.” Oh, how we have risen.  And there’s one more feather to our cap.  We’re now the current champions at opening billion-pound hotels with opening rates exceeding £1,000 per night.  Our newfound prosperity knows no bounds – finally, the homeless have somewhere comfortable and affordable to lodge.  Thank you, Brexit.

After the opening of The Peninsula London comes Raffles, situated in Whitehall, a mere walking distance from the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and famous British treasures, like a guy in military uniform on a horse and crowds of protestors.  The location is for people that love history or the smell of bullshit, as it’s near 10 Downing Street.

I visited Raffles just after it opened and immediately felt the location would be its downfall.  However, having stayed there, I will say it’s more nuanced and depends on what you’re looking for.  It’s not what I’m looking for, but let’s talk about you for a change.  The stroll from the hotel to Knightsbridge is actually quite charming, weaving through St James’s Park, past Buckingham Palace, and 30 minutes later, you’re there.  You overlook the Royal Horse Guards.  But take the wrong turn, and a few minutes later, you’re amongst the chaos of the London Eye.  Or you might end up at Trafalgar Square, which, rumour has it, is where The Purge was dreamed up, a movie about offing strangers without consequence.

Impaling strangers with this artwork is what dreams are made of.

Raffles London boasts a stunning exterior with detailed stonework, ornate carvings, and timeless decorations.  Its majestic windows, elegant arches, and columns enhance its almost noble look, while the grand entrance reminds you of one thing: it was definitely not built recently.  In fact, it was built in 1906 and is a testament to our glorious, non-controversial history – a time when England wasn’t basically bankrupt and had the funds to construct exquisite buildings.  Buildings paid for by pillaging other countries, but it’s not our fault they let us take it..after we killed them.  It stands in stark contrast to the usual bore of personality-deprived modern hotels.  Were I to rank hotels purely based on the external facade, Raffles wins London.

It’s famous for being used by Churchill as a headquarters during World War II.  The OWO stands for “Old War Office”.  Quite frankly, the Germans deserved to lose if they didn’t know Churchill was in a building called the War Office.

OTT

My buddy’s a hotel inspector—the real deal, not the idiotic so-called bloggers kind, the proper this-is-a-real-job kind.  He is paid to stay in hotels anonymously, write detailed analyses, and then reveal himself at the end, like the world’s most boring magician.  He once got recognised, and they completely overwhelmed him with service, to the point they would bring the buffet to him to save him from getting off his throne chair.

It felt like that here.

The good thing is I know of another person who had a similar experience, so at least this review can be somewhat impartial.  That is until we arrived and found they upgraded our suite booking to a Heritage Suite, which costs £32,000 per night.  I finally found that elusive fan of my blog.

From the moment we entered the Raffles, the welcome was impressively personal; they greeted us by name right at the front door.  Once inside, we were whisked away to our room for a private check-in, where I noticed the lengths they’d gone with the room setup.  The pre-arrival communication was impressive, with a preference form sent over from their Director of Guest Relations.  It included the kind of questions I’m used to seeing hotels asking and then disregarding the moment you arrive.  I was very interested in seeing where they would go with it.  And indeed, they nailed it—except I got a whiff of some dark chocolate in there, though, so minus ten thousand points.  C’mon, people, we have to stop Dark Chocolate.  I’m capitalising it so it becomes a familiar, negative expression, like Fake News.

The room was amongst the most impressive setups I’ve ever seen.  Tucked in one corner was a children’s paradise: a teepee brimming with books and toys—though they dared to include Poppy and Sam, a series I’d confidently dub the literary low point of human civilisation.  And I’ve seen Adam Sandler movies.  Another corner was a kid’s feast, decked out with balloons, teddy bears, and a smorgasbord of goodies from cookies to teddy bear chocolates, juices, and personalised teddy bear cookies bearing (get it?) the girls’ names.  They even delivered on the milkshakes.  Well done, guys, you really paid attention and also fell for the oldest trick in the book – they were really for me.  Mwahaha, my glorious, free milkshake.

For us, positioned on the long dining table, engraved key cards with our initials, along with some vegetables with dip, champagne, and a fruit cake, and whilst I am usually not a fan of macaroons, here they tasted like they’d been crafted from the essence of awesomeness.

To top it all off, a treasure hunt, cleverly devised with cards and clues scattered around the room, leading us on a chase to uncover some Peter Rabbit bunnies.  The entire setup was incredible, and the attention to detail spread to every corner – literally, as they had corner protectors on the tables to prevent the kids from hurting themselves.

Room

As upgrades go, I suppose this one was okay—in theory, it was only a three-level category upgrade, so it wasn’t the best I’ve ever had.  In reality, it was the most expensive suite I’ve ever stayed in.  We booked a suite; they gave us The Churchill Suite, one of their five signature Heritage Suites.  At 143 sq m (1539 sq ft), let’s just say we weren’t bumping elbows.

This suite once served as the command centre where Britain’s top military minds plotted their strategies during the Second World War.  Now, it is where my children fight over a chocolate egg.  Its towering ceilings, wall-to-wall windows, and sweeping views of Horse Guards Avenue all contributed to its grandeur.  This luxury was only enhanced by my children, who decided to further decorate the lavish carpets with bits of macaroons.

I wish I could have appreciated it more and dive into all the historic significance of it with you, but I am a simpleton whose appreciation is limited to whether or not they have a Japanese toilet.  This seems to be genetic, as my 3-year-old validated.  She seems gearing up for a career as a hotel critic, judging by her dismay at the toilet’s lack of sound effects and absence of a butt dryer – barbaric.  She approached me and said, “This toilet doesn’t make noises,” which translates to “There is only one Toto toilet, which is in the main bathroom; the guest toilet does not have it.” Later, she asked, “Why is light coming in from above the curtain?” This was her way of saying that it was not truly blackout.  I’ve never been more proud.

Still, the suite is quite something, with a living area so spacious it could comfortably host all eight of my blog readers, my zero friends, plus still have space left over for a battalion.  And we’d still have enough room to accommodate that guy opposite who seems really fond of that horse.  The suite boasts an enormous living space, cleverly designed to include two separate seating areas and a dining area in the centre.  However, it’s sharply contrasted with the modest bedroom and the compact bathroom.  It reminded us of The Connaught’s Sutherland Suite in that the bedroom is essentially a superior king, the bathroom is nothing to shout about, and the living room is enormous.  Whilst there is storage space, it’s not at the level you’d hope for in a suite of this size and cost.

Tech-wise, there is an iPad to manage lighting, temperature, curtains, the TV, and order in-room dining, but there are actual easy-to-use light switches around the place, too.  Plugs are offered beside, including USB-A (maybe left behind to celebrate the Churchill era?), but I did miss having a wireless phone charging option, too, which is becoming more common.  There’s also a TV in the bedroom and living room, in case you want to turn on the news and decide which country you want to topple today.  That’s what I assume people staying in this room are doing.

Facilities

Stepping into the property, you’re greeted by a stunning staircase famously used by Churchill to address his generals.  Raffles exudes a profound sense of history and has been crafted with meticulous detail to ooze character and grandeur.  From the art-adorned concierge to the revitalised hallways, the secret Spy Bar in the basement, and the rose petal artwork in the function room, every corner tells a story.  The hotel masterfully plays with light, bathing some areas in brightness while others are not dark but noticeably absent of it in comparison.

A major focus is the Pillars Wellbeing program, which quite frankly sounds a bit cult-ish.  It is essentially their holistic approach to wellness, combining healthy dining at Pillars Kitchen with a state-of-the-art gym, spa, and pool.  Additionally, there’s L’Atelier Guerlain for those seeking top-tier hair and beauty treatments.

The basement houses an exquisite 20-meter pool that becomes downright cinematic with the fireplaces lit.  Adjacent to it, the gym is equipped with the latest TechnoGym equipment.  It’s interesting to note the design similarities with The Peninsula’s gym overlooking the pool, but Raffles takes the cake with more equipment and a more thoughtful layout.  The gym’s size is modest relative to the hotel, but it’s thoughtfully arranged with a broader selection of gear.  They also have a Movement Studio, which I assume is where they bill you when you show up and say, “Ta-da, you moved”.

Next to the pool is a hydrotherapy pool kids aren’t allowed in due to chemicals.  I understand why.  I got a mere whiff, and now I’m one step away from sniffing glue.  There’s also a steam room, an experience shower (broken) and a sauna (which had gaps in the door, allowing cold air in).

Just be mindful of the crowds.  An early Sunday pool visit started in solitude but quickly gathered a crowd by 9 am.  Kid-friendly hours are limited, particularly at the weekend, which was annoying.  I rely on the water to exhaust my kids and save me from parenting.

Lucie enjoyed her facial but wasn’t impressed with the results. The treatment focused on a line of skincare products but only got a drip of it at the end. It’s like saying you’re going on a track day to drive a Porsche, but then they pick you up in a Vauxhall Corsa and, right at the end, let you lick a 911.

Food

They’re accurately aware that their location is not Mayfair, which is generally home to the capital’s best restaurants, so instead, they have tried to make it feel like Mayfair by having an absurd number of restaurants.  There are nine restaurants and three bars, although Kioku by Endo is not due to open until the end of April, and Langosteria opens (checks notes).  I have no idea.  It’s a bit disingenuous to call it nine restaurants, though, as both Paper Moon and Café Lapérouse are in the hotel courtyard and are not associated with it at all – you cannot even sign the bill to your room.

So when you take it down to what it is currently, we ate at almost all their restaurants, excluding the fine dining, as I ain’t got that much free time.  It sounds more impressive than it is until we realised in our first 24 hours of staying we had tried most of them.  Still, the selection is vast, and with each venue individually designed, it once again shows off the investment and focus on the guest experience.

Pillar Kitchen serves a variety of healthy snacks that focus on nutrition in an upmarket cafe style.  It offers dine-in or take-out, and its avocado tikka wrap is a highlight.

The Drawing Room, adorned with a grand piano, offers a quaint setting perfect for afternoon tea.  Its concise menu features selections like steak and salad alongside a snack page, with options for kids too.  However, the Caesar salad with chicken was underwhelming.  But where is it?  Why do I keep doing this to myself and ordering it?

Saison, doubling as the venue for both dinner and breakfast, presents a modest menu that caught my eye, complete with a separate children’s menu.  The room is a delight, boasting stylish decor and tall ceilings bathed in natural light.  For breakfast, a small but decent buffet spread of pastries, yoghurt, bread, and fruit, with cheese and meat available upon request.  The standout lemon cake and their signature pancakes were highlights, and the offer to pack takeaway pastries for the kids was a thoughtful touch.  As London’s breakfast rooms go, it’s not quite as impressive as Lanesborough, but it’s not far off.

On a Saturday lunchtime, both Paper Moon and Café Lapérouse were as empty as a porn store that only sells pics of your nan, so we tossed a coin and picked the latter.  The main course swiftly arrived and was despatched even swifter due to its pitiful size.  I’ve had more nutrition from insects flying into my mouth.  The next day, a trip to Paper Moon for lunch, where they sent the wrong starter, and the main course missed something called the ingredient of flavour.  I enjoyed our first visit to Paper Moon, so they have one more opportunity to get it right; otherwise, they’re more dead to me than the England squad after we inevitably lose on penalties in Euro 2024.

Service

Where do I even begin?  From the moment we arrived, the experience was nothing short of amazing.

There are some very, very passionate people working at the Raffles.  Spending time around them is almost intoxicating, as their enthusiasm even made this grouch happy.  You may think, “Any property at this price point should deliver this”, but I refer you to the entirety of this blog that proves otherwise.  They opened within weeks of Peninsula London but offer a service level so superior we may as well be talking about the difference between flying private jet and flying on that Alaska Airlines plane without a door.  If Raffles wants to succeed, it has to offer an incredible hard product, complemented by world-class service.  It does just that.  Perhaps some of the lower-tiered hotels are starting to deliver the best experiences, as that is the logical way to survive.

At times, it felt like a sitcom, with the regular cast of characters seemingly ever-present and delivering on any request required.  The doorman running after us to help carry the strollers; the breakfast staff asking Lucie how her spa treatment was; the butlers seemingly knowing where we would be and waiting for us before we arrived.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, that works here has drunk the Kool-aid and is exceptionally friendly, considerate, professional and service-orientated.

They were complimented by some side characters, such as senior management, including the General Manager and hotel manager, who personally greeted us—a real rarity.

Staying in a Heritage suite came with our own butler, a service currently reserved for the top-tier suites but planned to be extended across all suite categories.  As is now common, communication via WhatsApp is offered, but there was little need as our butler was always one step ahead of us.  Their attention to detail was so meticulous that had I mentioned the bed felt slightly cold, I’m convinced one of the senior managers would have personally jumped in to warm it up for me before tucking me in snugly.

I started to lose track of all the little things they did, but some of the highlights were the popcorn machine that appeared during turndown; the star projector for the kids; the playful fruit plate delivered the next day, and the constant restocking of all the juices and macaroons (except on the final day, c’mon!).  Thoughtful turndown gifts; colouring books always presented to the children the moment we sat down; breakfast preferences always remembered, and endless gifts.  I appreciate anywhere that bothers to make your room on the final day, although they didn’t restock the macaroons.  Savages.

There were so many gifts we filled half my suitcase with them.  All the food and gifts were turning into Willy Wonka – no, not that shit version in Glasgow.  The final gift (I think, who really knows what they’ll send us in the post) was a set of Frozen-themed armbands after Isabelle mentioned her love for the movie.

It truly felt like they had been told the guest experience is all that matters; make it so.  Raffles does not operate like a city hotel; it works like a small resort.  Much of it reminded me of Aman, even the way so many came out to wave us off.

The Good

  • Location – depending on what you want
  • Dining options

The Bad

  • It’s not Mayfair—it’s also hectic outside, which I assume is all the tourists flocking to try their £440 facials.  Or stare at a guy on a horse.

The Luxurious

  • Service
  • Accommodation
  • Spa
  • Design
  • Sense of place

Rating

Luxurious

Conclusion

How Raffles won this, I do not know.  It’s like they stumbled upon the rights to this place in an actual raffle – “Number 27?  Oh, that’s us, we’ve won a hotel!”  But won it they did and they’re doing an excellent job.  In recent months, both Waldorf Astoria and Raffles have thoroughly surpassed my expectations, leading me to question every life choice.

This review may stink of being upgraded, but whilst the room was impressive, I don’t get the value from it that others might.  I’m too jaded and spoilt to be impressed by a nice room.  It’s certainly not worth £32,000/n to me—I’d rather be on Thanda Island, cheers.  Not that I’m complaining, I promise.  The reason I’m so impressed is how the whole product comes together, notably the service.  They seem to be given free rein to do whatever it takes to make guests happy, which reminded us of the old Maybourne (owners of The Connaught, Claridge’s, The Berkeley and soon The Emory) days.  It’s not that they no longer care, it’s that their occupancy rates are so high they don’t have to try as hard anymore.  Only The Beaumont can rival Raffles for London’s best service.

Your experience may not match mine, but from a selfish standpoint, my stay was fantastic, and isn’t that what really matters?

I’m sure you’re all reading this and going, “Only £32,000 per night, take my money!” and I say form an orderly queue, and you can contact us to book it.  However, if your budget isn’t quite that high, The Corner Suite, at around £4.5k a night, is my top pick. It is truly stunning and, in the grand scheme of London prices, reasonably priced for what you get. I expect to get burned at the stake one day after writing such things.  The biggest downside to the Raffles is that I find all the other rooms, including their suites, extremely mundane, so just like I gave Amanyara a top rating if you take a villa because the rooms are so disappointing, I’m only giving Raffles a top rating if you take a Corner Suite or above.

Raffles brings a distinctive charm that sets it apart, posing the question of whether it can lure guests from the traditional luxury haunts of Mayfair and Knightsbridge.  For some, it just might.  What is very clear is that it’s a passion project.  The owner has heavily invested in creating a beautiful hotel with real character, but more than that, they have allowed the characters running the hotel to create a beautiful home for the guests.  It is one of the finest hotels in London—as long as you can afford to experience it the right way.

In Summary

  • Kids Friendly

    Yes, but they have designated pool hours for kids, with none offered during the afternoons at the weekend.

  • Activities

    Normally I’d say you’re in a city hotel, but they do actually offer some things here, such as historical tours and chocolate making courses.

Corner Suites start from £4,500 per night

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 28th Mar '24

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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