by Philip Ashby Rudd
If Hugo Drax, the James Bond villain in Moonraker, had escaped the doomed space station with his beautiful entourage, he might have landed in Fitzrovia and opened, as his new hideout, The Mandrake Hotel.
This eccentric hotel hideout is truly unique, and like a magic show, turns out surprise after surprise. Unusual artworks and sculptures lavish each room, and the vibrant velvet purple and red decor, gold-plated mirrors and steely-topped coffee tables, set the decadent tone for an experience; both mysterious and exotic.
The Mandrake, a boutique hotel, with 34 rooms including the penthouse suite, is set between two unassuming office buildings on Newman Street. Blink and you will miss it! The Mandrake opened its doors in 2017 and iis the first hotel project undertaken by owner Rami Fustok; a known global art collector. Between Fustok and his sister Tala, who is responsible for the extraordinary designs within, they have created a hospitality come art experience like no other.
YOPO, the Mandrake’s restaurant, is equally visionary. Follow the low-lit corridors that wind their way through the hotel, and you will reach a glass lift, which is transported up to the restaurant space and into a towering Amazonian courtyard on the first floor. The courtyard iron railings rise up around you, and festooned with Jasmine, hanging passion fruits and vines, draped from the top of this four floor building, to the bottom. At the very top of the courtyard, sits a statuesque gargoyle over-watching diners’ experience. In addition, sculptures are playfully placed at unusual angles around the courtyard, challenging you to consider their purpose and origins, at each turn. All these details add movement and imagination to this oasis.
Fustok has chosen his staff well. Young, energetic, beautiful, and friendly. They move about from customer to customer with professional grace and confidence. With a slight twist on conventional roles in the hospitality industry, it is refreshing, and no doubt, a deliberate theatrical flourish, to see that the females owned the floor. The male waiters on the other hand, carrying the dishes on large black trays, remained silent for a majority of the time. A notion that in true Mandrake fashion turned any preconceived ‘Bond’ conceptions, completely on their head.
The head chef at YOPO is New Zealand born George Scott-Toft who is well travelled through Argentina, Chile and Peru. Consequently, the tastes of South America are present throughout the menu. However, Scott-Toft also draws inspiration from Asia and Europe to create true fusion food of the highest quality.
The fare arrived swiftly and clearly with careful consideration. The Crab, Fennel and Caviar Brioche (£19), accompanied by Iberico Chorizo, Pickled Peppers and Marcona Almonds (£13), opened the proceedings, and served with a delicious house Champagne; the Veuve Clicqout Brut Yellow Label. Everyone loves the “Widow”!. The wine list boasts some truly fantastic collections of Champagnes, which at the high-end (think 2002 Bollinger, or 2010 Dom Perignon) test the budget of even an MI6 expense account. For a little whimsical touch, try the Muira cocktail (£20) with your appetiser served in a chilled Easter Island ceramic head. The cocktail is a twist on a Bacardi Rum punch and truly delicious. Aubergine is notoriously simple to prepare, but equally difficult to get right. The chef achieved this to perfection, with the addition of popping sesame and soy; this dish alone was worth the visit.
Following up swiftly, our attentive waitress, called on her waiter to present us with the main course; Roasted Iberico Pork Pressa, Romesco and Onions (£29), accompanied by Turbot cooked in Banana leaf and Pistachio Mole (£37) and Yellow Tail, and Aji Tiradito (£17). For a little guilty pleasure finish off with the Strawberry and Buckwheat Cheesecake (£9). It will not disappoint.
The Mandrake is in its entirety, a special place to spend an evening. The food is superb and not over expensive. The décor, artworks and the staffs’ professional performance is mesmerising. Within these walls, be prepared to discover the chic in the surreal, the unconventional within the conventional, and exotic in the traditional. All in all, a magical treat.