If it's true that you can judge a hotel by walking through the foyer, then just a couple of steps across the white marble floors of the revamped The Langham Sydney promises a luxurious stay indeed.
The Langham has just emerged from a $30 million makeover flushed with a new wash of light and calm. It's virtually a brand-new hotel, where every detail has been touched by luxury, from custom cornices and bespoke pendant lighting to the five marble fireplaces in the foyer. But the best gift of the renovation has been the reveal of new harbour views.
"The views were always there," says general manager Sonia Lefevre. "It's just that they were only visible from inside my office, so our first decision was to change that and share the view with our guests."
It took two years to determine what needed doing, and just four months to do it, she says. "I'm not a designer but I know what our guests like. I needed to keep the feeling of returning home, and also bring back luxury. And this is what I'd like to call modern luxury."
The biggest structural changes were made in the foyer. Walls fell, pillars were moved and the light was let in, along with westerly views to the Anzac Bridge.
"The first question we get from international guests is always 'Where's the water?' And now here it is," says Lefevre.
The hotel's sense of place has also been given a boost by an impressive collection of Australian paintings bought in consultation with Sotheby's.
Brett Whitely and Albert Tucker are represented, and The Langham now has seven Sidney Nolan pieces, making it the largest privately held Nolan collection in the country.
The new interiors are classic, with lots of soft grey and teal. "I think this is the only hotel in Sydney with such a strictly classic interior," says Su Ball, executive director of London-based design firm GA Design, who oversaw the refurbishment. The firm is fluent in five-star hotel design, with Langham fit-outs for Hong Kong and Chicago under its belt as well as design work for the St Regis and Four Seasons groups.
All the furniture, lighting and carpets were custom designed by GA Design to fit a simple brief. "Keep it intimate. Keep it residential. Make it light," says Lefevre. "We want our guests to feel at home here."
Each of the bespoke furnishings is beyond elaborate: custom-designed and made by hand with the highest-quality materials. The super-king beds in the rooms measure up to a ridiculous 2 by 2.1 metres, while the crackled-lacquer finish of the reception desk took a week's careful work to complete.
Mismatched and eclectic ornaments, such as brass bowls by Tom Dixon and carved marble candle holders, also help make this feel like a stylish home rather than a hotel, as do the floral arrangements. Today's selection is lavender stock, hydrangeas and peonies, a joyous celebration of natives and traditional English buds and leaves arranged in wabi-sabi fashion on every available surface.
It's obvious someone around here is good with details. "We knew what we wanted, from the glassware, crafted solid silverware, the right crockery and the special silver bowls that hold the house-made lemon parmesan olives and truffle popcorn we serve as bar snacks," says Lefevre, who was very hands-on in the selection process, travelling with the GA Design team to manufacturers in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore to approve each of the pieces.
All of this makes the Langham a nice place to be. It's also a five-star pet-friendly hotel, where pet guests receive custom Langham pink pillow beds and bowls and enjoy in-house pet-sitting and dog-walking services that make the most of city walks.
"I think the new foreshore walk from Circular Quay to King Street Wharf is one of the best harbour walks in the world," says Lefevre.
The Palm Court, where afternoon tea takes place, is still the heart of the hotel. It has become that little bit more special with the addition of the Langham custom Wedgwood range of afternoon teaware decorated with deep Burgundy roses, and a tea sommelier pouring a choice of 14 teas. The new White Bay views make it a super sundowner spot, too. The hero of proceedings will always be the impressive multilayered cake stands brimming with the likes of vanilla scones, pistachio, cherry and chocolate opera cake, coffee, cardamom and chilli macarons, and coconut and lemongrass pannacotta with pineapple all from the in-house pâtisserie.
The dining room has been rechristened The Kent Street Kitchen. It's a colonial-inspired space with dark wooden floors and crisp white walls and shutters, which sounds grand but it has been given an intimate feel. To the side of the dining room is an open dining kitchen, dominated by an impressive marble table, so heavy and delicate it took a team of 10 to install it.
The kitchen is the domain of chef de cuisine Daniel Rudolph, who counts Sydney's Est and Paris's Guy Savoy restaurants among his curriculum vitae. Asked what he was aiming for here, Rudolph says it's all about being involved in the food. "Guests who are interested in the food can wander up with a glass of wine and see all the action and immerse themselves in what we love most - putting forward amazing food. It's a working kitchen, so we'll have up to five chefs in here at once as well as a full-time sushi chef," says Rudolph.
"We approached it from what Sydney needed rather than what the hotel required."
Rudolph has a passion for charcuterie, and it figures prominently on the ever-changing menu. "Our charcuterie room is a labour of love," he says. "For me it's about making something by hand, from the very beginning."
The young chef also has plans for a micro-herb and flower garden to grow the ingredients for his detail-oriented styling.
We tried a standout terrine of rabbit, pork, pistachio and apricot and a fine La Boqueria salami. Other highlights included a bracing green-tomato gazpacho and roast duck breast with a celeriac, grilled endive and date jus. But don't expect to necessarily find these dishes when you visit. "The menu will update monthly, but will always be modern Australian with French execution and precision," says Rudolph.
The Langham opened on deadline, something unheard of in the land of big-budget hotel renovations. A key consideration was the progress of the $6 billion-dollar development at Barangaroo, which sits snugly to the right of the hotel, just out of range of the new view.
"When that project swings into full construction there will be no tradesmen left anywhere in Sydney," says Lefevre. The completion of the development will bring huge benefits for The Langham and this end of town. Sandstone stairways will connect the hotel to Barangaroo's new waterfront parks and marinas, a harbour walk from Circular Quay to King Street Wharf and impressive new places to eat, such as Matt Moran's three-storey food temple, slated to open in March 2016.
It looks like this sleepy pocket of Sydney's CBD is finally opening up around The Langham. Could it be that Kent Street just got cool?