What is it? A just opened "design-led, lifestyle hotel" in London's buzzing West End. It's the first British hotel by world-renowned architects Foster + Partners and the first for which the firm has designed both interiors and exteriors.
What's different about it? The architecture and design, which is monochrome, sleek and sophisticated. The centrepiece is a nine-storey pyramid-shaped white marble atrium, with the reception at the bottom. The dramatic, slanting geometry found here is repeated throughout the hotel. Black angular marble-lined corridors give way to all-white rooms with projecting bay windows that you can walk into for dizzying views of the city.
Sounds a bit austere. Is it? Not really. The white walls are lined in textured leather and the guest rooms have beautiful handmade carpets on the floors, woollen blankets on the sofas and silk throws on the beds. Candles, floral arrangements and coloured lighting effects complete the look. The ME by Meliá concept is about captivating all five senses. In practice, this means music in all common areas, and strong scents and mood lighting in the bars and restaurants. At night, the music gets louder and faster. If you find ubiquitous soundtracks irritating, ME London is probably not the place for you.
With so many restaurants on the doorstep, is it worth staying in at night? Absolutely. There's a bar (called the Marconi Lounge) and two restaurants on the ground level. Cucina Asellina serves delectable Italian food and wine in a warm but glamorous setting whereas STK is billed as a female-friendly American steakhouse (there are outlets in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami and New York). It serves beef cuts that range from the dainty (for those of the fairer sex, obviously) to the heart-stopping, as well as raw fish and seafood, retro desserts and classic cocktails from a glossy black central bar. On Friday and Saturday nights the DJ ramps up the decibels and punters take to the floor (and tables) to shake their booty to 1980s and 90s pop anthems by the likes of Michael Jackson, Madonna and Queen. It's not for everyone, and if that includes you then make a beeline for Radio (bottom), the hotel's rooftop bar and wraparound terrace. The views take in Tower Bridge, St Paul's Cathedral and the Shard - and that's just in one direction.
Where can I go to get away from it all? There's no in-house spa but in-room organic facials and massages are available. If you stump up the £1,290 (HK$15,150) plus tax for a passion suite, your bathroom will include a white Corian bathtub so vast it resembles a small pool. It's not for the eco-minded (it takes a good 20 minutes to fill) but it delivers pure indulgence and romance. Otherwise, kick back on the massive snake-shaped white sofa in the atrium and watch mesmerising light installations (jellyfish, on our visit) float up the glossy white walls.
What's the bottom line? Rooms start at £340 plus tax, excluding breakfast. The Suite ME comes in at a whopping £3,180 but spreads over two floors and offers 360-degree views of the city from a circular glass lounge (above).
ME London is at 336 The Strand, London, Britain;
Appeared in South China Morning Post (Post Magazine), 31 March 2013