THERE’S no sign at the entrance to the Mondrian, London’s coolest new boutique hotel. But it’s in Sea Containers House, one of the capital’s landmark buildings, in the middle of the happening South Bank. With nothing but footpath between front door and the Thames, passing unnoticed was never likely to be an issue.
The interior, the work of a team led by acclaimed designer Tom Dixon, pays homage to the days of the grand transatlantic liners crossing between America and England – but with a modern and occasionally quirky twist. It begins as soon as you step aboard; the lobby is built into a towering beaten copper wall curvaceously shaped like the hull of a ship, running the full width of the building.
Priceless original memorabilia, such as the scale models of ships including the Queen Mary, are on loan from the National Maritime Museum, and original fittings, such as the beautiful marble counters, have been repurposed. The 310 rooms and 43 suites, marked by understated elegance enlivened with signature Dixon fittings and chairs, are reached along long corridors replicating the approach to on-board cabins, with subdued floor-level lighting. Eighteen of the suites have balconies with uninterrupted water views, making you feel as if you really are on board a ship.
Dixon’s personal touches are everywhere, from the giant purple links of a mooring chain at the entrance, to his favourite steel mesh chair in the bedrooms, and life-size statues and installations dotted throughout the 15 floors. He even makes a personal appearance as an astronaut – floating in space and clutching his own beloved pet pooch – in one of the giant lenticular 3D pictures in the lifts. The traditional East End pearly king, whose eyes seem to follow your every move, is particularly captivating (or creepy, depending on your viewpoint).
The eat-drink-play parts of the Mondrian have premier positions maximising the hotel’s prime position and unique outlook. The rooftop Rumpus Room, which opens onto an open-air balcony, pumps out great music in the evening as well as providing panoramic views from its balcony tables and floor-to-ceiling windows.
Downstairs, celebrated mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana heads Dandylyan, an opulent bar that looks out to the Thames Path. Better known as Mr Lyan of the on-trend White Lyan at Hoxton, he has made a name for himself with his range of eponymous pre-made cocktails, also available in the hotel’s minibars. Combining science and nature, Mr Lyan’s drinks are designed to suit individual tastes, mood and time of day, with not an ice cube, slice of fruit or shaker in sight.
Celebrity American chef Seamus Mullen, of Tertulia in New York, is the culinary director of the large Sea Containers restaurant, with a mix of communal tables and more intimate spaces. The executive chef and the man charged with day-to-day operations is Australian-born Luke Rayment, formerly at Gordon Ramsay at Claridges.
Downstairs, below the waterline, is the cool, cocoon-like Agua Bathhouse & Spa, meant as much for male guests as female. As well as its pale and soothing private treatment rooms, there’s a spa-playground approach modelled on the group “we’re all in this together’ Roman bathhouse culture. What man isn’t going to turn to putty while being given billion-dollar brows or detoxifying thermal mud treatment amid hushed peace and a personal David Bowie soundtrack?
The building that became Sea Containers House was always intended to be a hotel but by the time it was completed, towards the end of the 1970s, it had fallen victim to the international financial crisis and was turned into offices. It’s now part of the Morgans Hotel Group, with up-market Mondrian and Delano hotels in the US. The transformation of Sea Containers House couldn’t be more timely. London is booming again and South Bank is right at the heart.
The writer was a guest of Visit England
GO2 MONDRIAN LONDON
Mondrian London at Sea Containers fronts the Thames at South Bank/Southwark. Nearest tube is Blackfriars, just across Blackfriars Bridge from the hotel. Rooms from £282 ($A535); ask for one with a view of the Thames.
The hotel is within walking distance of drawcards such as St Paul’s Cathedral, Festival Hall, the National Theatre, London Eye, Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe and London Bridge. The Lazarides Editions gallery (Lazarides managed Banksy for 10 years) is beside the main hotel entrance.