Those 1960s brutalist buildings that once served as run-down separation barriers between the city of Dundee and its waterfront are reduced to rubble, and the two are being reconnected.

The V&A has still to come, along with a green square and a new station building, but already the difference is stunning.

The new Malmaison is right in the heart of all the action. In fact, this must be one of the jammiest locations of any Malmaison. From the brasserie you can see the road bridge, the mast of the RRS Discovery, and look over the silvery Tay to Newport.

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The Malmaison building itself is splendid. Back in the day when this part of Dundee was riddled with eyesores, they blotted out gems such as this, the old Mathers Hotel that dates back to 1899. More Belle Époque than sternly Victorian, the building might have served as a set for Wes Anderson's film The Grand Budapest Hotel. You half expect Ralph Fiennes to greet you wafting his trademark Air de Panache cologne, along with a lobby boy to carry your suitcases. The Malmaison has a spectacularly vertiginous wrought iron staircase that leads up steeply from the street to the lobby, then continues onwards and upwards like a helter skelter towards a fabulous domed atrium. This is a staircase fit to inspire Roman Polanski and Alfred Hitchcock.

So why did the Malmaison chain make such a hash of the decor? It feels tacky, and that's some achievement given the innate beauty of the building. Thankfully, the effect is superficial. Some lucky tradesman might eventually get the job of scraping all the embossed paper off the walls - not least the trompe-l'oeil wooden panelling and leather look - and the pleasure of painting over the gloomy black, aubergine, mercury and cacao tones.

The furniture, with its velour, gilt, and silver, reminds me of the cheap Chinese stuff you see in TK Maxx, more suited to a nail bar or tanning salon than a stunning heritage hotel. The stair carpet in its particularly fetching shade of puce engenders a hangover effect before you even order a cocktail.

This is a very last-century attempt at "boutique" hotel that now looks like a cheap casino. It is so gloomy and crepuscular that in all but the most hostile weather, it would create a yearning to be outdoors.

If the decor is dated, the menu is so bang on trend, so predictably fashionable, it might feature in a museum display cabinet at some future date reading "typical menu enjoyed by aspirational classes circa 2014". There are no surprises, not one leftfield dish, although having said that, there is an unpleasant surprise in the prices: £20 for the cheapest steak, rump, not even rib-eye; £14 for the most basic burger; £13 for mushroom risotto. You don't even get free bread. The bill comes in a folder that reads "The Damage". Don't laugh, the damage will be considerable.

Our roasted tomato soup had a queer acidic kick to it that caught the back of the throat. Carpaccio of beef needed more oil, lemon and shavings of parmesan, rather than a few grudging specks from a seized-up mill.

I liked my sesame-crusted seared tuna with its raw centre, and its juicy bok choi, capably cooked with thin shreds of fried, finely shredded ginger. Its black, treacly soy dressing was slap-you-in-the-face salty, but in total, this was a dish that worked. Rack of lamb seemed underseasoned, but pink and succulent, with a perky salsa verde-like "mint sauce". Side orders - buttery, floury truffled mash, a spinach gratin - were very edible, as you'd expect at £3.50 and £4 respectively.

My dining companion wanted to know why I'd ordered pineapple carpaccio when I complained that it was too sweet and smelt like aftershave. It was because it sounded more interesting than sticky toffee pudding and crème brulée. The Valrhona chocolate soufflé, although arguably undercooked with its near liquid centre, was a much better choice.

A round of applause, please. The Malmaison has found a use for this fabulous Dundee landmark. The food is reasonable, if steeply priced. Let's see if Dundee is prepared to cough up. As for the designers, if only they'd lighten up.