Mauro Colagreco at Raffles London

Mauro Colagreco at Raffles London: Pretty plates that leave little impression

01 May 2024 | Updated on: 02 May 2024 |By Richard Brown

Mauro Colagreco’s reputation precedes him. Does his new Raffles restaurant live up to expectations?

The Evening Standard described the curtain raising of Raffles London, which launched inside The Old War Office in Whitehall at the end of September, as ‘the opening of the century.’ Condé Nast Traveller added a caveat: ‘The London hotel opening of the 21st century,’ said the glossy travel magazine. Subeditors at the Financial Times were happy to continue the theme. ‘The biggest hotel launch in a century,’ declared the business broadsheet of Raffles’ first UK digs. Traveller claimed that it was the first publication to be allowed inside the sprawling, Grade II-listed former British Army headquarters. So did the FT. Codswallop! It was Luxury London that first got its foot through the door. It was my foot.

Last summer, we were looking for somewhere sparkly and new to shoot some sparkly and new watches and jewellery. We knew that Raffles was about to become BIG news – the opening of the CENTURY, in case you hadn’t heard – so we spoke to an insider who pulled some strings which led to a form that said we could go inside on the proviso that we didn’t smash the place up (no easy feat with a production headcount of 16 and a Muse gig’s worth of lighting equipment).

Mauro Colegreco at Raffles London

We were given free rein of a two-bedroom apartment that was on sale for £8 million. Half of Raffles is a 120-room hotel; the other half is divided into 85 private residences, one of which has reportedly been snapped up by Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor. We didn’t stay the night, granted, but we did get a look through the keyhole.

Two things struck. The sheer pomp and circumstance of the pile the Hinduja Group had inherited (originally opened in 1906). And the colossal amount of dosh the Indian mega group had spent tarting up the place (£1.4 billion, purportedly). Behind the vast Portland stone façade is a warren of elaborate mosaic floors, stonking period features, immense plasterwork, chandeliers the size of people-carriers, and universes of marble.

Since the Evening Standard, FT and Condé Nast Traveller trailed us through the door, plenty of other people have followed. The scores are in, and, for the most part, they are high. About Mauro Colagreco at Raffles London – the flagship restaurant of the hotel of the century – however, everyone seems to be saying the same thing. It’s all very nice, they say, but, well, a little bit meh.

Which is fair to assume probably wasn’t the reception Mauro Colagreco was hoping for. Or what Raffles was expecting when it invited the three-Michelin-star wonder-cook, UNESCO goodwill ambassador, and head chef behind 2019’s ‘World’s Best Restaurant’ (Mirazur in Menton) to head up its culinary proposition.

Mauro Colagreco at Raffles London
Mauro Colagreco

Colagreco had been a coup. On the international hospitality circuit, the garlanded Argentinean is hot property. To distil a distinguished résumé into two paragraphs: after dropping out of an economics degree in Buenos Aires, a 20-year-old Colagreco hotfooted it to France to study at the prestigious Lycée Hôtelier de La Rochelle cookery school. Then to Paris, and tenures under Alain Passard at the rarefied L’Arpège and Alain Ducasse at the legendary Hôtel Plaza Athénée. Colagreco opened Mirazur in 2006, aged just 29. It took all of nine months to achieve his first Michelin star.

The second arrived in 2012; the third in 2019, making Colagreco the first non-native to be awarded three Michelin stars in France. It was in that year that Mirazur was named the World’s Best Restaurant, having placed 3rd in 2018 and 4th in 2017. In 2022, UNESCO named Colagreco as its first goodwill ambassador for biodiversity. If, at the tail-end of 2022, you were looking for a zeitgeist-y super-chef to spearhead the gastronomic gamut of a zeitgeist-y new superhotel, few names would have topped ‘Colagreco’.

Mauro Colagreco at Raffles London is not a vegetarian restaurant, although you could be forgiven for thinking so from skim-reading the menu. Colagreco has a long history of making vegetables the heroes of his dishes (hence the UNESCO gig). His time at L’Arpège coincided with Passard’s efforts to revolutionise French cooking by putting vegetables first. It was a philosophy that Colagreco carried with him to Mirazur, where meat and fish play second fiddle to fruit and veg. At that sun-drenched Riviera restaurant, Colagreco has five wild gardens from which to pick his ingredients. In London, he sources his greens from a hydroponic farm in Elephant and Castle.

To the meat and gravy, then. Or, in this case, the lettuce and cabbage. Choose between a five-course tasting menu (£165), a three-course à la carte menu (£110), or a three-course set lunch menu (£60). Pair with wine for an extra £125, or £500 if you’ve got pockets deep enough to go top shelf.

The dining room itself – hushed, deferential, deep-pile – is a Georgian love letter to Vitruvius’ theories on order and principle. A symmetrical, beige-on-taupe-on-mushroom mood board that could inspire a million Pinterest pages. There’s frieze work to make the Royal Albert Hall jealous. And a fireplace large enough to seat a symphony orchestra (which might provide a welcome departure from the dreary, low-beat background music).

Bookended by painstakingly put-together amuse-bouches and petit fours so decadent they could send a diabetic into a hyperosmolar coma, main-event dishes are visual works of art, each arriving on a plate that looks like it belongs in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Named after their hero fruit or vegetable, the ‘Pear’ dish was actually a faultlessly-done duck breast with spiced wine, Bordelaise sauce and a ribbon of pear on top. ‘Squash’ was a knockout curried chicken on a bed of squash noodles. ‘Lettuce’ was flaky smoked haddock smothered in a vermouth cockle sauce and served with a warm-but-raw red oak lettuce. Everything tastes as fresh and crisp as packed snow, as if it were scootered over from Elephant and Castle that very morning (it may well have been).

And yet, despite the stateliness of the surroundings, the deftness of the dishes, the museum-worthiness of the crockery and the glitziness of the hotel in which it sits, somehow Mauro Colagreco at Raffles manages to feel less than the sum of its parts. The room is something from Architectural Digest, but not necessarily the most suitable of spaces for sociable get-togethers. It certainly doesn’t encourage intimacy. The food is beautiful and intricate and no doubt put together with tweezers and pipettes. But it’s not lip-smackingly delicious. And at these prices, you want something to write home about. It’s all very nice, but, well, a little bit meh.

Observer magazine was more restrained in its coverage of the hotel’s opening. It steered clear of century-related superlatives and simply described Raffles as ‘one of London’s most notable openings of the year.’ It’s headline: ‘Mauro Colagreco Is Ready to Disrupt the London Dining Scene.’ So far, the starry Argentinian is yet to cause the faintest of ripples.

Raffles London at The OWO, Old War Office Building, 57 Whitehall, SW1, visit

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