It has been a while since high profile hotels have opened in the capital. No fewer than two opened in the month of April. The Oberoi Gurgaon and the Leela Palace New Delhi have been keenly anticipated, but nobody could have imagined just how divergent the styles of both hotels would turn out to be, within the ambit of luxury.
The Leela Palace New Delhi is in the heart of Diplomatic Delhi, surrounded by embassies and huge parks – oases of green in the capital’s most prestigious locality. The site itself is not particularly expansive, being just three acres, yet space inside the hotel does not feel cramped because of the soaring height of the public areas and the ornate touches in the décor. Out of all the Indian hotel chains, it is the Leela group in their Palace properties that have perfected the art of the palatial design ethic. In any other hands, it would have merely seemed garish or ostentatious; the Leela Palace trademark use of gilt, brocade and crystal is merely a defining hallmark.
Presently, the Leela Palace has two restaurants and one bar open. The Qube, an all-glass space, open to the elements is a juxtaposition of a modern element onto a traditional one, rather like I M Pei’s pyramid at the Louvre in Paris. The Qube serves world food and has grills, western food, a Thai menu made by a Thai national, a dimsum menu, and a smattering of Indian food. The Library Bar is already on its way to becoming the happening place in the city, designed as it is like an old-fashioned gentleman’s club with overstuffed chesterfield armchairs and leather-bound books in glass cases. Jamavar is the most formal dining space and is only open for dinner. Its royal look makes it a great choice to take foreign visitors out for a taste of our cuisine. Neither does it stick to a single region of India: it serves the food of many parts of the country and is a loosely modeled branch of the other Jamavar restaurants in other Leela properties around the country.
In a few months, the most exciting dining options will be unveiled. One is Megu, the Japanese restaurant from New York and the other is Le Cirque, also from New York. These are Delhi’s first forays into fine dining with high profile brands from across the globe and all eyes are on the top floors of the Leela Palace New Delhi, to see how the restaurants will unfold.
Meanwhile, the ivory white Rolls Royce Phantom in the portico is flanked by two cream coloured elephants carved from Qatar stone, and it is as good an indication of things to come. Inside, the rooms and suites embody the decadence of a palace with the luxury that the present century affords: iTouch pads that control everything in your room, down to the movies that you can watch and small TV screens inset into the bathroom wall. When it’s off, it is virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding gun-metal finish mirror; when it’s on, you can have an hour-long bath and never notice time passing.
The Oberoi Gurgaon
Even the forest on one side of the steeply sloping driveway to the hotel is brand new, and it sets the tone for the spanking new Oberoi hotel. You don’t enter the hotel from the ground floor, but from the 5th, or top, floor. That’s where the lobby is, all pristine white and blood red. Though there’s no dearth of real estate here – the hotel is built on nine acres – hanging gardens are the order of the day: huge walls with plants growing on them: this is slated to be tomorrow’s gardens, in an age where every square foot of land has to be optimized, gardens are going to go upwards.
The Oberoi, like the Trident next door, has a plethora of water bodies as its defining architectural feature. While the one at the Trident looks contemporary Indian, all domes and chattris reflected in the ultramarine pool of water at the entrance, The Oberoi Gurgaon is modern by international standards on the outside, and fairly unremarkable except for the water bodies, the forest and the upward curving driveway. It is the inside that has the wow factor.
The theme of The Oberoi Gurgaon is space, light and height. The lobby has full height glass walls, and the ceiling soars to an impressive 25 feet height. It couldn’t be easy maintaining that intensely white marble floor. The rooms are far larger than the international average, and though there is little that is ethnic in them, the wallpaper is, on closer inspection, actually silk fabric on which tiny floral motifs have been embroidered in zardozi. The craft connection does not shout: it whispers, which makes it all the more appealing.
There are two restaurants in The Oberoi Gurgaon: threesixtyoneº and Amaranta. The former is an all-day dining space, but a less formulaic space cannot be imagined. It looks out onto a deep cobalt water body, with a small wooden deck set with bright yellow upholstered seats and tables. Those twelve seats are the hotel’s “hottest tables”, with every guest trying to book a table there.
Inside, there is a Chinese counter with two chefs from China for main courses and dim sum respectively, a sushi counter with a Japanese sushiya at the helm, a teppanyaki counter, Indian food and a western section. There is a pizza oven as well as a wood-fired oven: the intense flavours of slow-roasted lamb with root vegetables and couscous that I ordered on my first visit still linger in my mind.
threesixtyoneº is on the ground floor of the hotel, and directly overlooks two structures of glass and steel that look like jewel boxes. They are slated to house the upcoming shops and delicatessen that will be unveiled in a few months from now.
Upstairs, there are more surprises. Amaranta is an extremely ambitious speciality restaurant, featuring not a regional cuisine, but the food of coastal India. That means that you will get food from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Bengal. It’s not an easy task, and it is further compounded by the restaurant’s determination to do things the difficult way: nouvelle flourishes with the authentic, traditional flavour. However, Executive Chef Ravitej Nath is nothing if not a genius, so he has managed to pull it off with his customary flair.
The Leela Palace New Delhi and The Oberoi Gurgaon are two very different styles of hotels. It is a good thing that they are not next door competitors. It will be interesting to see how both shape up once the famous “honeymoon period” with the public is over.