Background Open since 1917, and formerly known as the Grand Hotel de Pékin, the property became a five-star Raffles hotel in 2006. Throughout its 95-year history, the landmark hotel has been subject to the tumultuous events that have taken place on its doorstep – during the 1930s, it was occupied by the Japanese, and during the 1940s, it served as a hotel for American troops.
What’s it like? Raffles Hotels and Resorts has maintained the authentic French-Orient character of the property, including the hotel’s elegant façade, which stands out from the monolithic Soviet-style buildings it is nestled between. Inside, the early 20th-century décor is luxurious – cream and gold hues prevail, and silk furnished chairs, mahogany antique furniture and Ming vases adorn the public spaces.
The majestic marble lobby has a double staircase with golden handrails, and broad ceiling arches with large chandeliers that give the grand space a warm glow. Polite staff were always there to greet me whenever I entered through the revolving doors.
Where is it? On Chang An Avenue, less than a ten-minute walk down the road from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, and around the corner from the Wangfujing shopping district.
Room facilities I stayed in a Landmark room at the front of the hotel in the main part of the building, which had large windows looking out on to Chang An Avenue. As it was 46 sqm, it felt very spacious, and this was enhanced by the neutral colours and pretty furnishings, such as the silky, cream sofa by the window.
The various cultural influences of the hotel were reflected in some elements of the décor; upon the dark wooden floor was a simple-patterned orange, cream and yellow rug, while on the wall there was an Impressionist-style painting. There was a fruit bowl and a vase of fresh flowers upon the coffee table when I arrived, as well as a few magazines, including Time Out Beijing.
One of my favourite features was the bed – it was large and padded with soft linen. Facing it, there was a large flatscreen TV, complete with a DVD player and a decent selection of TV channels, including BBC World and CNN. The various lights around the room could be controlled by a touchpad either side of the bed but it did take a while to figure out which buttons corresponded to which lights, as there were so many. The white wooden work desk had a plug socket to one side, with UK adaptor plugged in when I arrived. Wifi was free and fast.
The marble bathroom was divided into two areas: one with twin sinks, and a roomy rainshower; the other with a bath. Both had a large mirror. Raffles Amrita Spa toiletries, a dental kit and shower cap were provided. Other in-room amenities included tea- and coffee-making facilities, a minibar, a hairdryer, a laptop safe, a robe, attractive silk slippers, an iron and ironing board, an umbrella, a lint brush and a shoehorn. The free bottled water was replaced daily, and the turndown service was very thorough – whenever I returned to my room, it looked as neat as it did when I first arrived.
The State Building at the back of the hotel contains the Executive Wing, which comprises 60 Business rooms and 70 Executive rooms. Both have more contemporary décor than the rooms in the main building – the difference being that the Executive rooms include access to the Raffles Inc business lounge on the fourth floor, while the Business rooms do not. Access to the lounge in room categories other than Executive costs RMB500 (£50) per room per night. Guests in Executive rooms are also entitled to free suit pressing and one-hour free usage of the meeting room in the business lounge.
Restaurants and bars Chairman Mao was known to take a turn on the dark timber dance floor of the hotel’s famous Writers Bar. Framed black and white photography upon the walls documents his visits, as well as many other famous faces, and this bar is perhaps the best place to be to get an idea of the hotel’s rich history.
All-day dining with an international menu is available here – I tried one of wanton soups and found it a little bland, but the gourmet hot dog, topped off with crispy onion pieces, was very good. Raffles’ lime green signature “Beijing Sling” cocktail is vodka based with a delicious (very sweet) blend of peach and melon, garnished with a piece of pineapple and a glace cherry. In the evenings, there were live guqin (a seven-stringed Chinese instrument) performances that added a relaxing, authentic tone to the ambience.
Jaan is the hotel’s romantic fine-dining restaurant, serving French cuisine, and headed up by executive chef Christian Rose. The food was exquisite, and the menu innovative – I tried a selection of cheeses that had been prepared as they would have been in France, only with local ingredients, and it was interesting to identify the subtle differences in taste.
East 33 is a vast frescoed international restaurant with an incredible amount of choice. The extensive breakfast buffet is served here from 6.30am-10.30am, and the options included hot Chinese breakfast dishes, pancakes, custom-made omelettes, fresh fruit, cereals, pastries, and hot English breakfast foods, as well as a variety of juices and smoothies. Tea and coffee were served at the table by smiley staff.
An à la carte menu is available for lunch and dinner, and there’s also a dinner buffet. I had an enjoyable meal in the restaurant’s private dining section, where we shared the tender Peking duck dish with the help of a grand Lazy Susan.
Business and meeting facilities The hotel’s layout can be a little confusing at times – it’s divided into “ blocks”, and leads directly into the neighbouring Beijing Grand Hotel in places, so it can be difficult to tell where it begins and ends. For example, when you pass through the end door of the Jaan restaurant, you find yourself in the Golden ballroom, another landmark space where many historical Communist Party-affiliated gatherings have been held, but this is not owned or operated by the hotel. However, Raffles Beijing has its own traditional ballroom that can hold 450 delegates for a reception, as well as six other meeting rooms ranging in capacity from 20 U-shape to 90 theatre-style.
The Raffles Inc business lounge (below) is decorated in the same style as the rest of the hotel. It’s a quiet, luxurious space, where those with access can enjoy free snacks, soft drinks and tea and coffee throughout the day, as well as one hour’s use of the meeting room for free (after which is costs RMB800/£79 per hour).
Leisure facilities The large gym with Matrix equipment is open from 6am to 11pm and there is an indoor pool (swimming hats must be worn).
Verdict A stunning property in an ideal location, which caters well for business travellers as well as leisure guests.
How many rooms? There are 171 rooms – in the main building, 70 Landmark rooms, nine Landmark suites, nine personality suites, five Grand Hotel suites, and a Presidential suite. In the State Building, there are 60 Business rooms and 70 Executive rooms.
Room highlights The generous size of the room and the useful amenities, such as free water and wifi.
Price Internet rates for a midweek stay in December in a Landmark room ranged between £119 and £148 depending on flexibility.