Whether you're rabidly amorous (moi) or reluctantly romantic (Mr Smith), Hotel Indigo Shanghai on the Bund simmers with sensual opportunity. For starters, on our first night at the bar, Mr Smith remarks that my mouth reminds him of ‘a blooming opium poppy’. Haute heavens, am I wearing a new Chanel shade? Ah, my lips may be nude but the hue in the room is flush scarlet. Score one for Indigo's lighting design.
Hitting the scene in 2011, Hotel Indigo boasts an enviable location in this vivid metropolis of 23 million – on the scenic Huangpu River, where we watch Willy Wonka-worthy leisure cruises power past oafish industrial barges. The Bund, Shanghai's most iconic artery, lies below, fringed by the historic Shiliupu Dock, Bladerunner-esque skyscrapers of Pudong rising on the opposite riverbank. Steps away are the Cool Docks, a trendy assembly of cafés and bars frequented by the young and the strapless.
While the city's neverending building boom may be a bane to some privacy-seeking couples, I'm not throwing in the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign yet. Hotel Indigo feels like a low-density haven, offering a beautifully balanced way of life – energising breakfast smoothies and dollhouse-cute Apple stations with the latest Mac gear. It’s posh enough to be precious but relaxed enough to put anyone (under 65) at ease. Just that wee bit quirky, sweeping you into the spirit from the get-go with a welcome cup of hot chocolate. An artisanal hub of playful magnetism, the lobby houses a restored rickshaw alongside contemporary installations and a revolving curation of local artists. The attentive multilingual stable of bright young things never misses a beat.
On entering our Deluxe Bund Pudong View Room, Mr Smith marvels at the vast array of porcelain and ceramic vessels in which to brew Bund Tea Company sachets, while I nod in approval at the 42-inch flatscreen TV, Bose sound system, iPhone-iPod dock and charger. Of the 184 Indigo rooms, including 23 suites, a majority offer striking views of the Pudong skyline. Interiors emphasise traditional Shanghainese rugs, silk lamps and bamboo sofa-desks with a 21st-century twist, all backdropped by archival photos blown up into a wallpaper mural of nearby Yuyuan Garden. The design scheme inhales deeply from the local Old Town district, using Shikumen bricks to give a sense of place.
From a ‘mix me a Martini’ Bombay Sapphire blue to a red-light district ‘come hither’ scarlet, the mood lighting is genius. In this cinematic setting Mr Smith’s chiseled looks take on a seductive power, worthy of a Wong Kar-Wai film.
But, let's get back to brass tacks. The measure of an ideal make-out suite all comes down to a sublime bed. Hotel Indigo's are a king-size study in wedded, bedded bliss. Once you slither in, there's no going back – the sheets, buttery and crisp, are simply delicious.
If roses, cupids and hearts revolt you, then this place should be up your alley. Great romantic hotels are a delicate balance of familiarity, exotica and intrigue. Accordingly, the hotel sets up whimsical environments where the everyday and the unexpected stand cheek by jowl. Case in point: cuddling up to watch the infamous Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams kiss in The Notebook gets predictable, but reliving it in the screening pod's widescreen glory is an entirely new proposition. The pods are basically futuristic love nests, ‘if the nest was designed by the lovechild of Karim Rashid and Mariko Mori,’ muses Mr Smith.
A brimming bowl of fresh popcorn can be yours if you reserve one of the two complimentary pods for private use. Staffers remain on standby to ferry over food and drink. We spend most of the first day in bed, interrupted only by outings to the sixth-floor library and adjacent pod for three episodes of Downton Abbey, then onto more horizontal hedonism with two nearby free reclining massage chairs, with more settings than a space shuttle. Tucked away side by side in a remote corner, Mr Smith and I are able to ooh and ahh to our hamstrings' content.
A superb 17-metre swimming pool offers backstroke heaven the next morning, my arms windmilling as I take in the glass atrium and soothing jade light features. A well-equipped gym keeps Mr Smith occupied while I float off the jet-lag.
With the Opposite House and the Upper House as my gold standard for small hotels in China's urban capitals, my palate is initially wary of imitators – big-brand franchises in boutique clothing. Refreshingly, Hotel Indigo on the Bund shows me its own voice and distinct flavour, most notably, from Char on the 30th floor. From this vantage point, the entire city is laid out like an endless electric carpet. There are few more drool-worthy settings for a cozy glass of pinot noir, followed by no-nonsense, beautifully crafted steak and seafood. The Aussie-inspired resto offers plenty of made-for-sharing dishes well suited to romance – from oyster towers to a whole black cod served on a painter's palette plate with star anise sauce and paintbrushes, giving lovers artistic licence over presentation.
Using the highest quality imported Australian beef – Blackmore's wagyu, Cape Grim Tasmanian grass-fed T-bone and Tajima fillet – executive chef Julie Donohoe is in her element. We decide on one of the house specialties – 1KG Stockyard Tomahawk 70-day grain-fed young rib fillet served with a dramatically long rib bone. The juice level borders on obscene while the succulent marbling melts in the mouth. Mr Smith enjoys Char's steak knife selection process, while I obsess over table-side artisanal salts and mustards. Less formal all-day dining is available at Quay, serving a cross-section of Shanghainese and Western fare.
Hotel Indigo's opiate may lie in its frisky charms, but what's undeniable is the irreverent blend of old-world emblems and futuristic energy, where even new-world steaks get old-school sexy.