Adelaide’s The Playford has always been a showstopper, but a magnificent refurbishment, completed in early 2023, has injected a renewed vitality into its allure. And then there’s its award-winning restaurant…
I love to wander around hotel lobbies before checking in, peering into alcoves, niches and recesses, checking out common spaces, and soaking up the general feel of the place. Upon arrival at The Playford, I’ve only taken a few steps before noticing a huge mirror halfway up the sweeping grand staircase. It’s imposing in size, yes, but it’s the ornate exterior that has me staring upwards. The wood framing the colossal glass surface appears to shimmer with a reddish hue under the ambient lighting, casting an inviting spell on all who pass by.
A front desk member cautiously asks me if I am OK and, upon learning of why I’m spellbound, tells me the mirror’s frame was designed by internationally renowned violin maker Malcolm Rowe, along with various other intricate woodwork dotted through the stunning hotel.
Before I’ve even visited my suite, I realise that this hotel has a story to share…
Past to present
Built on the site of Rupert Murdoch’s Adelaide newspaper, The News, the Sparr family opened The Playford Hotel in 1998, naming it The Playford as a tribute to South Australia’s former premier, the progressive Sir Thomas Playford. The hotel quickly earned recognition as one of the country’s pioneering art hotels, attracting visitors to its elegant aesthetics and prime position in the heart of Adelaide.
The Playford was rebranded into an MGallery hotel in 2014, joining a prestigious portfolio of Art Nouveau-inspired boutique hotels around the world, and has recently undergone a $25 million refurbishment. Completed in early 2023, the refresh was extensive, with every corner receiving the royal treatment. Guests’ rooms were revamped, and common areas reimagined. A new highlight was also introduced: Luma Restaurant and Bar, which now serves as the centrepiece of the hotel.
Following the renovation, the hotel has garnered a multitude of awards, including the ‘One Chef Hat’ recognition bestowed upon Luma Restaurant by the Australian Good Food Guide, as well as the Best Bar Design award at the prestigious 2023 Restaurant & Bar Design Awards Australia & Pacific.
With 72 suites and 110 rooms spread out over six floors, the Playford is home to more suites than any other hotel in town, and it’s the only hotel to have mezzanine levels in some of the suites. I’ve been allocated a North Terrace Junior Spa Suite which, much as the name suggests, faces north. The views of the North Terrace Promenade – encompassing the Festival Plaza, Adelaide Oval, Convention Centre, and lush parklands — are some of the best in town.
Upon checking in I do my usual thing – soak up those vistas, tinker with the entertainment, lounge on the bed experimenting with all the different pillows, and in this instance I run a bath. I’m not usually a huge bath person, but the size of the bath is very inviting, and it’s the bubbles setting that seals the deal. The wait to fill the generously-sized tub is well worth it, and for a good half hour, I find myself repeatedly switching the bubbles on and off – my personal way of unwinding.
Luma lights up
Although I’d peeked into Luma earlier, arriving for dinner and drinks offers a completely different experience. The name Luma is derived from Latin, while in French, lumière means light and, now that the sun has set, the Luma lights run the show.
The ceiling light installations are like nothing I’ve ever seen before – a magnificent chandelier of curving rivers unfurling across the ceiling. The design of the mesmerising installation was inspired by The Playford logo, and upon closer inspection of the logo it’s easy to see why. Both the logo and the Luma’s ceiling feature coiling gold lines – an echo to the Art Nouveau style of décor which was prominent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
I’m with a group and we sit down by the bar for drinks first. Champagne and conservations flow freely, and we savour tasty bites like mini cheese souffles which almost evaporate in my mouth, leek croquettes (perfectly crisp on the outside, and wonderfully gooey within) and duck waffles (just all round delicious!) Eventually, we move to our main meal, our group migrating from the bar to the restaurant space.
Dinner is a lavish affair. Passers-by can tell it’s a good night by the clinking of glasses and friendly banter, but it’s the food that seals the deal for me. The menu at Luma is designed to be shared, and we indulge in a multi-course feast of the senses. The Port Lincoln smoked kingfish and beetroot tacos look (almost) too beautiful to eat with the white flesh of the fish and pickled beetroot contrasting strikingly. There are thick hand-made ribbons of tagliatelle studded with crab and prawns; perfectly tender barramundi alongside goat’s curd, fennel and grilled tomatoes, and a 36°south beef fillet that melts in my mouth. When teamed with the charred onions, the taste explosion is something to shout about…. Although the steak comes with mash, I can’t help but dig into a side of triple-cooked potatoes and wonder how many the chef needs to sample to ensure they are just right. I imagine quite a few… just to be sure.
The Playford has always been a showstopper, but the refurbishment has injected a renewed vitality into its allure. Melbourne-based architecture and interior design firm, Hachem, reinvigorated the interior with a modern take on Art Nouveau, and the hotel is now characterised by a unique blend of Australian art, plush furnishings, and elegant materials.
Australian artist David Bromley’s (who is originally from Adelaide) works adorn guest rooms, event spaces, and public areas, along with pieces by Adelaide-based filmmaker and photographic artist Alex Frayne. And although the art in picture frames is eye-catching, so is the functional art… in particular South Australian artist’s Jeremy Herbert designs – from candelabras and chandeliers to seagull lighting in the corridors, railings, and other metal works.
Behind the elegant exterior, every staff member I meet is courteous and kind, and everyone seems to have all the time in the world for guests. I regularly bump into General Manager Steve Finlayson and it’s refreshing to see him so involved in the day-to-day running of the hotel. Business Development Manager, Vibushan Kumaravel, takes me on a mini tour to the conference rooms when I ask (I just had to walk up that grand staircase to eye off that mirror close-up). And the hotel’s amenities are of a high quality.
I’ve visited quite a few hotel gymnasiums around the world over the years, and no longer tend to check them out anymore. I opt for a scenic run along River Torrens on my first morning, but after overhearing guests talk about how good the hotel gym is, I venture down the next morning. They aren’t wrong. There are a variety of cardio machines, alongside weight-training machines and free weights. Everything I need for a good workout is there… but after seeing the pool I dash to my room to get my swimmers.
I’d like to say I then spent the next hour gliding through water, but the truth is I bump into a friend, and instead we both venture down to breakfast. The barista-made-to-order coffee is as good as it gets.