'And do you like the black brick?" I nod my approval as I run my hand over the age-smoothed building blocks that have been used to create the hotel's impressive lobby and cool bars.
"The designer found a village in China that was built entirely in these black bricks," the hotel's manager explains, before adding: "So, he had it demolished and shipped them all here."
"So," I ask, "are the villagers living in tents?"
"No, they all got new homes," he insists a little unconvincingly.
Welcome to The Setai, the newest, slickest hotel on Miami's South Beach. The Asian-styled venture is owned by Adrian Zecha, the man who made his name with Amanresorts, the mini Chedi chain and the Datai, Langkawi. And his Floridian outpost shows his characteristic unrelenting attention to detail. So there are tables topped with ancient Beijing paving stones, mile-long bar counters covered with glinting mother-of-pearl, door handles with stingray "leather". From the Acqua di Parma toiletries in the black-tiled showers (you're noticing a colour theme here) to the French walnuts in the minibar, Zecha wants you to know that nothing is too much effort. Take the pool - well, there are three, each warmed to a slightly different temperature. The second you lie on your lounger, there's someone on hand with an ice-encrusted flannel, a face mister, a bottle of Evian, the offer of an iPod. You can thank the exotic pool manager - he's from Sidcup.
And then there are the other treats they can arrange for you. Want to hire a car/yacht/plane? No problem. Need a personal trainer? He'll be here in a second. Sure, get carried away and your bill could soon resemble the debt of a Third World country. But The Setai is not alone in its efforts to lure the smart set. There's been a number of glamorous openings aimed at bringing high-rollers to the South Beach strip.
Gianni Versace's ocean-side mansion, Casa Casuarina, has just reopened as a boutique hotel and private members' club. (It's $30,000 to join, and if that doesn't put you off, Jon Bon Jovi is a founder member.) After the White House, Casa Casuarina is the most photographed house in the US. It's certainly a glorious folly, but most people snap away for the morbid reason that the designer was gunned down on its doorstep. The new owners have remained true to his way of living and have decorated it with the same more-is-more abandon. So while most of the hotels on South Beach are pastel fondant fancies, Casa Casuarina is more of a cloying slab of apple strudel. But Americans will love it - you can even stay in Versace's bedroom.
Next door is the 91-room Victor, which has already become something of a music-star hangout. The atmosphere is laid back, tropical, sexy, and I don't doubt the hotel's claim that it will "once again make Miami a hotbed of sizzle and European pizzazz", even if I am not sure what that means. But here are the things I do know. It has the best hotel aquarium ever - home to an entire wobble of jellyfish. The interior design, which often uses the jellyfish as a motif - think lamps with trailing tentacles of cut-glass beads - is testament to the genius of Parisian Jacques Garcia.
And the food is amazing. Our waiter, Eric, talks through the menu like Ralph Fiennes reciting Shakespeare. Every ingredient, it seems, is exclusive to the hotel, the rarest, the most coveted... Not that the food is precious: puddings include "cake and shake" (a hunk of chocolate cake and a glass of malted milkshake), or a cookie the size of your head. When I order my coffee, however, I am given a certificate, so exclusive is the bean (Kopi Luwak from South Sulawesi) that it is made from. I decide to test Eric. Where are the glasses from? "Villeroy and Boch, sir." Which company made the paper that the coffee sweetener is wrapped in? "I am not sure, sir, but I can find out." Eric is a good thing.
Also upping the "sizzle and pizzazz" is Casa Tua, an impeccable Italian restaurant, private members' club and boutique hotel - actually, with just four rooms, perhaps that should be corner-shop hotel. Tucked away a couple of streets back from the beach, it looks as if it should be in a Ralph Lauren shoot, with its walls covered with pictures - "this one was taken by Bruce Weber" - of owner Michele Grendene's perfect family and bookshelves lined with fashion tomes. He gives me a tour of the rooms, which have impractical white carpets because he "wants everyone to feel as though they are the first person ever to stay in any of them". And here comes that extreme South Beach service ethic again: guests can choose what type of sheet they desire - linen? Cotton? Oh, and if you like your sheets, you can buy them when you leave.
But despite the fierce competition, The Setai is cutting its own peerless luxury furrow. Its 75 suites are either in the former Dempsey Vanderbilt art deco hotel or the new tower and they all beat most of the competition on size alone: they run from 900sq ft to 3,500sq ft. And the rooms come with life-size kitchens, whacking plasma-screen TVs and sensuous (read annoyingly dark) lighting.
The Setai is not to be outdone in the culinary competition. It has a champagne, crustacean and caviar bar where you can gnaw on a global convention of seafood: prawns from Canada, US mussels, Australian lobsters. The mixologists, meanwhile, will bring you one of the $100-a-hit giant cocktails which, before you get carried away, are supposed to be drunk by four people. The main restaurant is in the hands of chef Shaun Hergatt and picks up the hotel's Asian theme with a menu that's "trans-ethnic", that is, it takes the best of Thai, Indian and Chinese dishes. It's even got a cute pukka naan oven.
Then there's the spa, with acupressure facials, hot-stone massages, Malaysian baths and Langkawi body polishes. I opt for the Balinese massage, which I would love to tell you about but I was asleep within minutes.
And they keep the holiday feeling going to the very end. You are chauffeured to and from the hotel in a black Range Rover with darkened windows. Make no mistake, South Beach is on the road to St Moritz status.
Some final good news: the manager later tracks me down to assure me that the black bricks were taken only from buildings that were beyond repair.
Andrew Tuck stayed at The Setai with Latitude (0870-443 4483; latitude-online.co.uk), which offers three nights in a studio room, with return flights and private transfers, from £1,100 per person, based on two sharingReuse content