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The new Raffles London hotel is Licensed to Thrill

Raffles London at the OWO

The instructions were to arrive at “the Spies Entrance” in Whitehall at 6 o’clock sharp. This intriguing missive was not an assignation with M or Moneypenny but an invite to take a “first look” at Raffles London at the OWO (the Old War Office) – the Singapore hotel brand’s inaugural UK outpost, owned in part by the Hinduja Group.

Completed in 1906, the building was the centre of operations through two world wars and home to the British secret service. Lawrence of Arabia had a desk here and James Bond creator Ian Fleming was a regular visitor. It’s no coincidence that several Bond films had scenes shot at the OWO including Skyfall where Daniel Craig’s 007 stands on top of the building looking moodily over the rooftops. Alas the hotel will not be open in time for the 60th anniversary of James Bond in film, October 2022.

Raffles London at the OWO

As it turns out the Spies Entrance, formerly frequented by agents, is discreetly positioned at the back of the building and is now the access for the Raffles’ luxury apartments. The main hotel entry is on Whitehall itself, the road running between the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square that also gives its name to the wider area. 

While the Edwardian Baroque façade of this vast building is currently hidden behind hoardings, once inside the sheer scale of the place is immediately noticeable. And although the transformation into a 120 roomed luxury hotel is still in progress, what’s already apparent is the restored original features such as oak panelled walls, grand fireplaces and cornicing on the soaringly high ceilings.  

From the entrance hall leads an impressive marble staircase on which successive statesman have stepped. Overhead is a balcony where Winston Churchill would address the staff, Raffles London managing director Philippe Leboeuf (who has moved from the Mandarin Oriental Group) tells us. And on the upper floors the mosaic laid corridors – some two miles of them – were once abuzz with running messenger boys. 

Raffles London at the OWO

The former secretary of state’s office that at varying times belonged to Lord Kitchener, David Lloyd George, Churchill and John Profumo is being turned into a sprawling suite. The space directly overlooks Horse Guards, the historic military headquarters and home to the Household Cavalry Museum. 

We’re also shown inside one of the turrets facing Whitehall complete with huge, curved glass windows which is a spectacular space for a guest room. In the middle portion of the hotel overlooking a large courtyard another suite, The Poppy, will occupy three storeys.

On completion the hotel will have a total of eleven restaurants and bars to be rolled out gradually. Three of them – a brasserie, a fine dining room and a chef’s table – will be overseen by chef Mauro Colagreco who has a three Michelin starred restaurant in France.

Raffles London at the OWO

A new addition is four subterranean floors underneath the existing building that will house a spa and health club including a swimming pool, gym, yoga studio, sauna and steam, partnering with Guerlain and Pillar.

Raffles at The OWO is due to open between this December and March 2023. The hotel will also be open several days a year for tours, making the building and its fascinating history accessible to the public (as well as guests) for the first time.

Feeling Like Royalty at Raffles

[UDPATE: Raffles Singapore, currently closed for restoration, is now accepting bookings for August 2019 onwards with updates including three new suite categories and a restaurant under the direction of Alain Ducasse.]

Checking into Raffles is an uplifting experience. When you pull up the gravel driveway outside the white wedding cake of a hotel in the heart of Singapore, you’re greeted by a toweringly tall sikh doorman, bearded and turbaned and wearing an imposing sashed uniform. He ushers you into the lobby, all cool marble flooring and fluted columns that reach up three lofty storeys. There is none of the hubbub of other hotels – only guests or “residents” are allowed inside – so the atmosphere is reassuringly calm and rarified. To borrow from Holly Golightly, you feel as though nothing bad could ever happen at Raffles.

No wonder it has attracted so many celebrities including Queen Elizabeth the second, Michael Jackson, Ava Gardner, a honeymooning Johnny Depp and Amber Heard and Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Raffles’ lofty and serene lobby

We’re shown, not to the Presidential Suite, where William and Kate recently stayed, but to the Somerset Maugham suite, number 102, overlooking the Palm Court. There have been many additions and alterations since Raffles first opened 125 years ago in December but this wing is the most serene. The view invites you to sink into a rattan chair on the balustraded veranda and sip a welcome Singapore Sling brought to you by your butler. So we do.

All the suites (there’s nothing so hum drum as a room at Raffles) are vast compared to modern hotels. They come with a veranda and a sitting room to the front and a huge bathroom to the back. Don’t expect a zen wetroom but instead Victorian tiles, a liberal amount of marble and brass fittings. Number 102 was Somerset Maugham’s favourite and is now the hotel’s most frequently requested suite. As well as the usual dark wooden floors, half tester bed, oriental rugs and antiques, our suite has framed pictures of and letters from W Somerset Maugham lining the walls, a writing desk and a smattering of the author’s novels. I suddenly feel under pressure.

The hotel’s Palm CourtTime for a cocktail. We cross the courtyard into the main building to the Writers Bar. Some people will encourage you to visit the famous Long Bar and throw peanut shells on the floor but the Writers Bar is lovelier; an exclusive little nook off the lobby. Billecart Salmon Ultra Brut champagne is on offer here – an exclusive in Singapore, cleverly chosen for its lightness in the searing Singapore heat.

After the resident pianist plays Noel Coward’s I’ll See You Again at 8pm on the dot, we move into the adjoining Raffles Grill for dinner. An engaging waitress talks us competently through the menu and to start I choose the steamed foie gras which has a delicious salty topping and served with a pear that’s been poached for two hours in red wine.

The halibut main course comes with a nice crust of butter on the skin with punchy tomatoes on the side and is paired with a wonderful minerally Pouilly Fume. To finish, there’s a chocolate souffle which is all that it should be. Eric appears with a gigantic bottle of ’88 Armagnac and it would be churlish to refuse but after that it really is time for bed.

The next morning we climb the Gone with the Wind staircase that leads up from the lobby and head to the swimming pool, tucked away on the third floor. Set in a walled roof terrace with trellises covered in climbing plants, terracotta urns, flowering trees and striped towels on sun loungers, it’s part Italian garden, part beach club. Wonderfully I have the pool to myself save for a dragonfly.

The outdoor swimming pool oasis at Raffles Singapore

The outdoor swimming pool oasis at Raffles Singapore. I’m just about hungry now so we go for breakfast in the Tiffin Room – an airy, colonial style restaurant with white pillars and ceiling fans on the opposite side of the lobby to Raffles Grill. There’s the usual five star buffet arrangement which is very well done but also an interesting a la carte menu. I order the Raffles Omelette – a spicy empire days inspired dish of eggs, peppers and chilli powder. Just the trick after a late night.

We return tot he Tiffin Room for lunch to try Raffles’ famous Indian buffet (while you’re staying here you really should eat inside the glorious main building as often as you can). the buffet is a spread of northern Indian hot and cold starters, chutneys, curries and vegetables with standouts such as cucumber masala salad and vohrnignt cooked black lentils. The highlight though is the chef’s specially prepared curry (on this occasion a rum soaked lamb dish) served as a generously proportioned amuse bounce and mopped up with freshly made naan breads.

The grandfather clock in the lobby is chiming signalling that it’s time to leave. I do so reluctantly. So long Raffles, I’ll see you again.

http://www.raffles.com/singapore

Feeling Like Royalty at Raffles

One of the three imposing doormen at the entrance to Raffles

 

Checking into Raffles is an uplifting experience. When you pull up the gravel driveway outside the white wedding cake of a hotel in the heart of Singapore, you’re greeted by a toweringly tall sikh doorman, bearded and turbaned and wearing an imposing sashed uniform. He ushers you into the lobby, all cool marble flooring and fluted columns that reach up three lofty storeys. There is none of the hubbub of other hotels – only guests or “residents” are allowed inside – so the atmosphere is reassuringly calm and rarified. To borrow from Holly Golightly, you feel as though nothing bad could ever happen at Raffles.

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Raffles Rings in the Changes for the Singapore Sling

Raffles 1915 gin by Sipsmith Raffles 1915 gin by Sipsmith

[UPDATE: The Long Bar at Raffles Singapore is closed from today for refurbishment until 2018 but Singapore Slings will be continue to be served at the hotel’s Bar and Billiard Room during 2017.]

Take equal measures of quality and tradition, add a dash of modernity and a splash of serendipity, and you have the perfect recipe to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Raffles Hotel’s Singapore Sling.

The gin-based cocktail is said to have been invented at Raffles, Singapore by barman Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915. By chance Sam Galsworthy, the co-founder of Sipsmith artisan gin, visited the iconic hotel and requested a meeting with the F&B director the year before the landmark anniversary. And Galsworthy happens to be a descendant of Sir Stamford Raffles – the British statesman who founded Singapore and after whom the hotel was named.

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Some thoughts on the first Singapore Michelin Guide

Michelin announced the first selection of the MICHELIN guide Singapore 2016-2

The Michelin Star winners in Singapore

Before the inaugural Michelin Guide Singapore was launched on July 21st I was sure of two things: that at least one hawker stall would gain a star and that Joel Robuchon would be awarded three. The former because I could see the headlines about “the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant” pinging around the world (and so could Michelin, I’ll wager) and the latter because Robuchon tends to collect three Michelin stars around the globe as naturally as breathing.

And so, as you’ve probably heard, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle and Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle became the proud recipients of a Michelin star apiece while Joel Robuchon clocked up another three stars for his fine dining establishment in Singapore (read on for the full list). All announced, in a world first for Michelin, to much fanfare: a songstress in glitter crooning When You Wish Upon a Star and dancers in chefs uniforms waving giant forks and spoons. Even the three star reveal had some drama: director Michael Ellis teased us at first that not every location was worthy of three Michelin stars before announcing he did indeed have a red envelope and that it was not empty.

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