Expect the unexpected at the £45m Mandrake in London's Fitzrovia,which is anything but a typical family-run hotel. Katherine Price reports
Subversive, hedonistic, sensual and spiritual are all apt descriptions of the West End's latest boutique hotel, the Mandrake, the first hotel from Beirut-born entrepreneur Rami Fustok. He's the son of the sculptor Bushra Fakhoury, and his interior designer sister Tala Fustok created the look of the hotel, which features art pieces from both Fakhoury herself and his brother Malec. However, this is not your typical family hotel business.
Altogether they have spent £45m on transforming what was a Royal Institute of British Architects award-winning office block on Newman Street in London's Fitzrovia, just a short walk from Oxford Circus, into a 34-bedroom hotel, which opened in September.
The property features the first outpost of Hong Kong's Michelin-starred Serge et le Phoque restaurant from French duo Charles Pelletier and Frédéric Peneau.
You don't necessarily see the hotel at first while walking down Newman Street - there are no flags, branding or eye-catching logos.
And even when you realise which door it is - an ornate black gate with an eye above the doorway - the dimly lit black corridor that you walk into, completely bare and with eerie operatic music playing, does little to reassure.
But then that's the point. Fustok wanted to create an environment to subvert expectations and surprise people, and has done so by flying in the face of all trends and advice.
While everyone was telling him to emphasise the hotel's central London location, he chose to create a hotel that has no sense of place - a quiet oasis that has no front-of-house views of the city or nods to its location. Fustok has opted for decadence and opulence, sumptuous fabrics and provocative artwork to
create a truly unique space.
Once through the unsettling darkened corridor, guests enter a double-height lobby with concrete walls, a gothic 30-candle chandelier by Lara Bohinc hanging from a black grille ceiling, and a Jonas Burgert artwork that is both dark and vibrant with its neon splashes of colour on the wall.
Resin cubes with petrified wood by artist collective Nucleo are dotted around the lobby next to sumptuous plum and aubergine armchairs and sofas, flanked by a purple curtain draped over the smooth concrete walls.
Bespoke rugs from Ateliers Pinton in the same colour palette soften the look.
A copper pine tree sculpture by South Korean artist Lee Gil Rae 'grows' along the wall, drawing attention to the juxtaposition of the jasmine and passion flower hanging gardens and pinewood terraces visible in the central courtyard, and the industrial metal and concrete materials inside the reception.
Above the reception are windows into the hotel's artist in residence space, which recently hosted American tattoo artist Mark Mahoney. Actor Johnny Depp has apparently popped in to get inked up.
Waeska is the Mandrake's bar, where a 'taxidermied' gazelle-beetle-peacock fantasy hybrid creature, created by Cuban artist Enrique Gomez de Molina, leaps across the wall. The labradorite bar, with its vivid turquoise patches, matches the bright blues of the scales and peacock feathers of Molina's hybrid. The artefacts and artworks here are from the Fustoks' personal collection and include a lion's skull, African masks and pieces from a diverse array of artists, from German street artist duo Herakut to English sculptor Lynn Chadwick.
These are 'talking points' that are fascinating individually but together appear part of a collection, and will be changed regularly.
The 34 bedrooms range from 18 to 115sq m (a little more than the size of a parking space to just under half a tennis court), with three types of suite (penthouse, Mandrake and junior) and three types of rooms: terrace, Newman (streetfacing) and Mandrake (rear-facing). They vary from the black Mandrake to the entirely white east-facing penthouse suite.
Fustok says: "It's in the east part of the building, so it's white, where the sun rises, and our Mandrake suite, which is in the west, is black. There's a thought process in everything we've done in the hotel."
The bedrooms have more muted colour palettes, with orchids and Marshall speakers on the writing desks, bespoke and vintage furnishings, and organic Naturalmat mattresses from Devon. All rooms feature their own masks for guests to play with, sourced from global artisan producers.
Fustok hopes to host masquerade events further down the line.
The Mandrake bathrooms are marble-clad affairs with organic toiletries from Grown Alchemist and Fired Earth tiles. The marble in every bathroom was sourced to match the colour palette of the bedroom. The jacuzzi sits under a retractable roof, so you can literally bathe in the rain, and the shower space can also be a steam room, where the copper showerheads in the bathrooms will oxidise over time to match the blue-tinted marble.
Encased in white Veronese marble, the penthouse suite features a huge bespoke 'Mandrake-sized' bed. As well as its own eight-seat dining table and marble sofa, there is also a bespoke chandelier by jewellery designer Lara Bohinc and a horned, animalhair 'throne' by Pernille Otzen.
The dark Mandrake suite features a freestanding bathtub, a black and silver wave marble bathroom and a Bedouin-style tented bed. The Mandrake's junior suites have vintage crystal chandeliers, antique hammered brass fittings and Carrara marble bathrooms.
The hotel hosts the London outpost of Serge et le Phoque (named after Frédéric Peneau's son and his maginary pet seal), a 60-cover restaurant with a 16-cover private dining room. It has a noticeably softer design than the rest of the hotel, with purple and teal Studiomama dining chairs, caramel velvet banquettes, pink Formica tables and pastel pink walls.
"In a restaurant, the food does the talking," says Fustok, explaining the more modest design. The pastel palette clearly has some of the DNA of the original Hong Kong restaurant, designed by Charles Pelletier, who has also had a hand in the design here. However, it is still in harmony with the rest of the hotel.
The restaurant is decorated with sensual, food-themed art pieces in pastel colours, commissioned from Francesco Clemente, often depicting food or scenes of eating (or of being eaten).
The bold private dining room is more than slightly reminiscent of a Fifty Shades of Grey-style red room. Specialist painters from interior design company Henry van der Vijver handpainted 26 layers of bright red lacquer during the course of two-and-a-half weeks to create a space that glows blood red in the evening. The restaurant serves modern French cuisine.
Dishes on the menu include aubergine roasted with miso (£12); pigeon with arroz negro (£28); and lamb with pomme purée and smoked eel (£26).
Fustok says he doesn't have any further properties in the pipeline. For him, it's still early days, and with the Mandrake being his first hotel and such a personal project, he wants to oversee every aspect of the bedding-in process first. However, if he does do another hotel, he says it will be one that pushes the boundaries, and people's expectations, even further.
Contact and details
The Mandrake hotel,
20-21 Newman Street,
020 3146 7770
Owner and operator Frederami and PHG
General manager Dean Culpan
Opened September 2017
Room rate £250-£6,000
Manalo & White www.manaloandwhite.co.uk
Tala Fustok firstname.lastname@example.org
Bureau Bas Smets www.bassmets.be
Ben Whistler www.benwhistler.com
Alma Leather www.alma1938.com
Speakers in bedrooms
Marshall Amps www.marshallamps.com
Private dining room lacquer paint
Henry van der Vijver www.hvart.co.uk
Bespoke private dining room carpet
S2G Design www.s2gdesign.com
Dining room chairs
Lobby and penthouse chandelier
Lara Bohinc www.larabohinc.com
Resin reception desk
Officina Coppola www.officinacoppola.com
Ateliers Pinton www.pinton1867.com
Petrified wood in resin cubes