From the street, The Mandrake doesn’t give much away. Located a few minutes' walk from Oxford Street, the converted office blocks fit in seamlessly with the swanky, refined surroundings of Fitzrovia; inside it’s a different story. We enter through a dark, nightclub-esque tunnel into the concrete, velvet-clad reception. It smells amazing, and the lighting’s low, seductive, setting the tone. The mandrake, a mystical, hallucinogenic plant (known most widely amongst Harry Potter fans) forms a loose theme for the hotel, the general idea being out-of-this-world eccentricity.
Behind the long bar a fantastical taxidermy creature is perched mid pounce in a glass case: half peacock, half kangaroo with the petite head of a deer. All over the hotel, there are similar curiosities: abstract sculptures, African masks and commissioned art works which change depending on the artist-in-residence. During our stay, there’s a lot of spray paint scrawled across the walls.
The hotel is the first from Beirut-born Londoner Rami Fustok, who converted two former office blocks to form this urban jungle. It has recently rained when we arrive and the wooden open air walk-way that surrounds the central courtyard on the upper floors gives off an exotic, musty smell that reminds us of humid climes. Plants hang down from the four storeys in glistening, leafy curtains. There’s not a huge amount of actual space, but it feels expansive and labyrinthine. We glimpse a cosy-looking greenhouse from an upper floor terrace and can’t work out how to reach it. Part of the joy is stumbling into hidden places. Past the main bar we discover a small library, then a private dining room with glossy red, lacquer walls.
Before dinner, we find ourselves in the basement where the hedonism is turned up a notch (you have to experience it, to know what I mean). Strangely, this is also where the spiritual wellness workshops take place. We’re here for a Gong Bath and we’re late. We trip our way over limp bodies to find spare mats. The leader tells us to relax, close our eyes; I’m shuffling anxiously, eyes wide open. The problem is with a place like this, you can’t be exactly sure that anything is what it says it is and I can’t help feeling that a ‘gong bath’ could easily descend into something more cultish. It begins very softly with something like jingling bells (eyes now closed), then what I assume are the gongs produce soothing, deep sounds that layer over one another, increasing in volume. It’s extremely calming and intense; it makes me feel the good kind of weird.
We rise blinking back onto the ground floor for pre-dinner drinks at Waeska. The cocktail ingredients list is a little baffling (Hemp Oil Washed Yaguara Branca is one) so we ask for recommendations. Passion Flower for me and Pine for my guest. Mine’s delicious, a flowery champagne infusion, but the mix of pine needles, shiitake, sake and bourbon is a little too off-the-wall for both of us. Dinner is just across the courtyard at Serge et le Phoque, the second outpost of the Michelin-starred, Hong Kong-based restaurant of the same name. The dining room’s a beautiful, soothing space with tables tactically arranged for privacy, aubergine-coloured chairs, pink tables and mustard velvet booths. The menu is sharing plates based around seasonal ingredients with a strong Peruvian influence and a mix of European flavours. Each dish comes when its ready, prettily presented and packed with flavour. The ceviche's our favourite.
Our room for the night is a Junior Suite with windows looking out onto the street. Each room is individually styled with its own colour scheme and quirks. Ours is cream, brown and gold, with an enormous curtained four poster bed; the television rises out of a leather cabinet at the foot of it. There are art-books casually placed on the sides for idle perusing, Grown Alchemist bathroom amenities? and an eclectic minibar featuring a variety of elixirs promising everything from romance to eternal health (or thereabouts). The lighting is perfect: lots of lamps, warm bulbs. We love it all. Even better, we’re far enough away from the bar and restaurant to enjoy absolute silence. As idyllic as the terrace rooms might seem with their sliding doors and fragrant falling flowers, it’s likely to be a late night whether you want it or not.
The next morning it’s a bit of shock to emerge out of the tunnel back into the heart of central London, back to reality. Staying at The Mandrake is a bit like tumbling into the pages of a story book that writes itself around you. It’s another-worldly experience.
For more information on The Mandrake Hotel, see here.
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