Raffles at The OWO review: a quintessentially British stay

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TheWeek The Week US Edition US UK SUBSCRIBE & SAVE Less than $3 per week × Search Sign in View Profile Sign out The Explainer Talking Points The Week Recommends Newsletters Cartoons From the Magazine The Week Junior More Politics World News Business Health Science Food & Drink Travel Culture History Personal Finance Puzzles Photos All Categories Newsletter sign up Newsletter Home Culture & Life Travel the week recommends Raffles at The OWO review: a quintessentially British stay This heritage building has been given a twist as a luxury hotel in the nation’s capital Newsletter sign up Newsletter The Old War Office has been host to notable people including Winston Churchill and Ian Fleming (Image credit: Raffles at The OWO) By Leaf Arbuthnot, The Week UK published 10 June 2024 If you’ve walked from Big Ben to Trafalgar Square, or meandered from St James’s Park to the Thames, the chances are you’ve seen – and admired – the Old War Office. The turreted, dove-grey building is one of the jewels of Whitehall, completed in 1906 to house Britain’s imperial military machine. For much of the 20th century, its offices were inhabited by Britain’s leading politicians, from Lord Kitchener to David Lloyd George, along with their armies of staffers, cooks and typists. For a time it was the workplace of T.E. Lawrence, later Lawrence of Arabia. In 1914, he lamented to a friend that the grand marble staircase at the heart of the building was allowed to be used by “field marshals and charwomen” alone. Subscribe to The Week Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives. SUBSCRIBE & SAVE Sign up for The Week’s Free Newsletters From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox. From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox. Sign up A century later, in 2016, the Ministry of Defence sold the building for a reported £350 million; and last year, after extensive but historically sensitive renovations, it opened as a five-star hotel, The OWO. From the street, The OWO looks much as it has since it was constructed but, inside, a transformation has taken place. Two new floors have been built, as have three new basement levels to make room for a ballroom, a swimming pool, an underground car park and more. Thousands of square metres have been added to the building’s already considerable acreage, taking its total footprint to some 76,000 square metres. The result is easily the most major hotel to have opened in the capital in a generation. Why stay here? London isn’t short of ultra-high-end hotels, but The OWO distinguishes itself from its peers in several ways. Its location couldn’t be better: situated opposite Horse Guards Parade, it is ideally placed for visitors wishing to walk around the capital, or needing a central place to stay while doing business. The hotel also has a tangible sense of place. You couldn’t wake up in one of its rooms thinking you were in any major world city: it feels deeply English. The interiors, which were overseen by the feted designer Thierry Despont, skilfully marry old and new, allowing visitors to appreciate the old-world aesthetics of wood panelling and other original features, while enjoying high-tech loos, vast, comfortable beds and generously sized marble bathrooms. The staff are knowledgeable and helpful, as willing to suggest childcare options as they are to come up with last-minute wardrobe help (during my stay, my dress’s zip broke; within five minutes, room service had sent up a bag of safety pins). There are also a serious number of them: the ratio of staff to guest room is an astonishing 3:1. Rooms and suites (Image credit: Raffles at The OWO) There are 125 rooms and suites to choose from, none of which are the same, and none of which come cheap. Prices start at about £1,100 per room plus service and tax (and may not include breakfast, so look out for that). Many of the grandest suites are named after the great figures that worked in them: the Haldane, for instance, was occupied by successive Secretaries of State for War; while the Churchill Suite was originally the army council room, where critical decisions were made during the Second World War. There are also 85 residences – privately owned apartments with access to the hotel amenities. Eating and drinking (Image credit: Raffles at The OWO) The OWO has nine restaurants and bars, including a rooftop restaurant with views over St James’s Park. If you don’t want to order room service for breakfast, it can be taken in a light-filled atrium where the buffet options are superb (the almond croissants are particularly good) and the menu options even better. Acclaimed chef Mauro Colagreco is in charge of three of the nine restaurants, which include Mauro’s Table, a private dining room with views over Whitehall. A pre-dinner drink at the Spy Bar, the hotel’s “speakeasy”, is a must, and gratifyingly hard to find. Other things to see and do (Image credit: Raffles at The OWO) The spa is a big draw. Situated far beneath the ground floor, extending over four floors and designed by Goddard Littlefair, it features the usual steam rooms and saunas, and a large pool in a hall that is surprisingly tall for a room so deep underground. For those fussy about lighting, the spa – and in fact the rest of the hotel – knocks it out of the park: the lighting is warm and not abrasive; subtly different according to each space’s requirements, but always exactly right. Look out for the hotel’s remarkable collection of art, too: there’s a six-metre high sculpture by Saad Qureshi and an oil painting, “Naval Officers of World War I”, by Sir Arthur Stockdale Cope, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, among other works. The verdict What the impressive statistics of The OWO don’t capture is the hotel’s style and grown-up charm. Notable too are the warmth of its staff, and the intelligence with which this most storied of buildings has been coaxed into the 21st century, making this a truly unforgettable stay. Leaf Arbuthnot was a guest at Raffles London at The OWO, Old War Office Building, 57 Whitehall, London SW1A 2BX; raffles.com/london Explore More London Hotel Reviews In Review To continue reading this article… Create a free account Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month. register for free Already have an account? Sign in Subscribe to The Week Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more. Subscribe & Save Cancel or pause at any time. Already a subscriber to The Week? Unlimited website access is included with Digital and Print + Digital subscriptions. Create an account with the same email registered to your subscription to unlock access. Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us Sign up for Today’s Best Articles in your inbox A free daily email with the biggest news stories of the day – and the best features from TheWeek.com Contact me with news and offers from other Future brandsReceive email from us on behalf of our trusted partners or sponsorsBy submitting your information you agree to the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and are aged 16 or over. Leaf Arbuthnot, The Week UK Social Links Navigation Latest Today’s political cartoons – June 10, 2024 Cartoons Monday’s cartoons – fresh water, presidential maths, and more By The Week US Published 10 June 24 Who will win the battle to become Westminster’s ‘third party’? 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