It’s rare that a new hotel can open and already have over a century of history, distinct character, and unique soul. This is precisely the case for Raffles London at The OWO, which, after years of anticipation, has finally opened its doors in London’s neo-Baroque Edwardian-era Old War Office. The Grade II listed property is one of two billion pound hotel developments in the UK capital to open in September – alongside the also long-anticipated (and similarly delayed, Peninsula London) – but out of the two, it’s clear Raffles is capturing the imaginations of travellers – and for countless reasons…
If the walls could live, they would tell stories of Sir Winston Churchill and John Profumo – of spies and wartime secrets, and will now have more stories to tell under its new guise as a luxury hotel. Classical British rooms and suites will fill the palatial space – with suites themed on iconic figures from the office’s history, while restaurants include openings by Chef Mauro Colagreco. Expect a sprawling spa and wellness centre – the first Guerlain branded in the UK capital – and rooftop bar with views of London’s most iconic sights. Here are 10 fascinating facts about Raffles London at The OWO, London’s most exciting, fabulous and opulent new hotel.
The building is bursting with history
Singapore-based hotel brand Raffles chose a befitting location for its London debut – the former HQ of MI5 and Churchill’s war office, and a building that has hosted royals, spies, and iconic historical figures. Built on the site of the former Palace of Whitehall, it was regarded as one of the most remarkable buildings of the Edwardian age when it was completed in 1906 – an epic landmark of more than 1,000 rooms linked by two-and-a-half miles of corridors.
It’s hosted some colourful characters…
In the decades that followed, the palatial, Baroque building would host iconic historical figures – largely political and military leaders – like Churchill, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ T. E. Lawrence, John Profumo, Sir Ian Fleming and Lords Kitchener and Haldane, to name a few. Today, the legacies of the Old War Office’s iconic cast of characters continue in the names of the suites and rooms of Raffles London at The OWO.
…And served some unusual roles
During the First World War, the Carrier Pigeon Service – an essential wartime mode of communication – was based at The War Office, with 380 pigeon handlers overseeing a staggering 20,000 pigeons.
This illustrious history inspired Bond novels
Inspired by the building’s resident spies and its time as HQ for the UK’s Secret Services MI5 and MI6, Ian Fleming conjured the idea for 007. From within its grand walls, he devised the iconic series and title character – James Bond – and used its resident historical figures for inspiration. The first-ever chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Mansfield Cummings, served as the inspiration for ‘M’, and it’s reported, that Flemming used Christine Granville, his rumoured love interest and Churchill’s favourite spy, as inspiration for his character, Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. The building has since appeared in numerous Bond films, posing as the MI6 headquarters in Octopussy (1983), A View to a Kill (1985), Licence to Kill (1989), Skyfall (2002) and Spectre (2015).
The transformation took six years
Transforming the Old War Office and bringing it up to the standard of an ultra-luxurious, 21-century hotel took six long years. Among the projects undertaken was the painstaking restoration of its period features, with hundreds working on the hand-laid mosaic floors, rich oak panelling, magnificent chandeliers and the dramatic marble staircase to make them the grandest they’ve ever looked.
Restaurants include three concepts by Mauro Colagreco
Argentinian chef Mauro Colagreco is one of the hottest chefs in the world right now, the man behind three-Michelin stars restaurant Mirazur in Menton, France, and a host of global concepts, such as the Riviera Restaurant at Maybourne Riviera and, until recently, Celebrities at One&Only Royal Mirage. So it’s only right that Raffles London at The OWO’s fine dining restaurants is by the star chef. The hero concept, fine dining Mauro Colagreco, serves hyper-local, hyper-seasonal, Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, while a smaller offshoot, Mauro’s Table, hosts intimate dinners of up to 20 people with an open kitchen. All-day Saison is also the work of Colgreco and champions his philosophies in a bright and airy setting of the magnificently restored atrium.
The French-inspired spa is a wellness haven
With such space to play with, Raffles London at The OWO’s wellness centre, spa and fitness area is one of the most extensive and most encompassing in the capital. There’s a beautiful heated 20-metre pool, nine treatment rooms, a gym complete with shiny Technogym equipment, a relaxation lounge, vitality pool, sauna, steam room, experience showers, movement studio and Pillar Kitchen and Juice Bar. The hotel has also partnered with elite performance coach Harry Jameson to offer personal training sessions and tailored fitness programmes.
Suites are unique and some of the grandest in town.
Raffles OWO boats 120 beautiful rooms and suites, with many suites completely unique and named after iconic historical figures tied to the building. Clustered at the heart of the hotel, superior and classic rooms are bright and spacious, while five heritage suites – crafted from the former offices of influential politicians and military leaders – are grand with oak panelling and gilded chandeliers. 24 Ministerial and Westminster suites are white and bright with soft blue and green touches and exceptional views, while junior suites, executive and deluxe rooms are timeless and comfortable with historic charm. On paper, many of the building’s historical figures were men, and as a result, the initial round of suites were all male, but the hotel team made it its mission to discover the stories of the incredible women who worked here. Eight corner sites are now named after famous women and female spies – occupying the cupolas and overlooking horse guards.
Its hotel breakfast is seriously impressive
Sharing a teaser of what’s to come in the days before the opening, Raffles London at The OWO captured our imaginations with a video of its lavish breakfast spread. Served at Saison, Maruo Colgreco’s smart-casual all-day restaurant, breakfast includes cold cuts, cheeses, freshly baked pastries and bread, fresh fruits, champagne, English breakfasts and eggs, healthy dishes and green juices, waffles and so much more.
You can buy a part of this history
Saying at Raffles London at The OWO could feel like a dream, but for those wanting to make it a full-time reality, the hotel also has 85 ultra-luxury residences available. Uniquely designed, meticulously appointed and shaped by the storied interiors of Britain’s former War Office, these stunning residences include grand panelled walls, private terraces with iconic London views, and kitchens with bespoke cabinetry by Smallbone, smooth Perla Venata surfaces and Crema Marfil stone floor. Sophisticated detailing by 1508 London includes Waterworks tapware, onyx marble vanities and free-standing bathtubs in select residences, and amenities – exclusive to residents – include lounges, a private dining room, gym and fitness studios, treatment suite, 16-seat cinema, games room, and secure parking.
Doubles from AED5,000 a night; raffles.com