CHRISTMAS WONDERLAND AT THE DORCHESTER, LONDON

It’s a Christmas Wonderland at The Dorchester Rooftop in London, with the hotel’s first ever festive pop-up in full sway this holiday season. Inspired by the Frost Fairs that were held on the frozen River Thames between the 17th and 19th centuries when the river froze over, yesteryear Londoners celebrated the season by building markets, playing games, and cooking hearty dishes on its icy surface. It is not surprising that the hotel chose a historic theme for its traditional festivities this season, given it has an extraordinary history of its own.

It is hard to believe that the grand dame of London, The Dorchester hotel in Mayfair (the Money Mile as I like to call it), was once just square miles of strawberry fields. The area began to take shape in May 1686, when King James II granted permission for a fortnight of festivities. The festival ran for another 78 years and thus, born the name May Fair. The origins of the hotel go back to 1792 when the Earl of Dorchester, Joseph Damer, bought a house, and named it the Dorchester House. By 1910, the house had evolved into the American Embassy, as well as a hospital during World War I, before being demolished in 1929. It was then rebuilt into the world’s first hotel to be constructed with reinforced concrete, when it opened its doors on April 20, 1931 as the hotel we all know and love, The Dorchester.

The rooftop terrace, overlooking Hyde Park, has three Winter Globes for pod-style dining. With a choice of two set menus – a party menu of shared delights and a three-course Chef’s menu, both of which include a glass of Veuve Clicquot Champagne, given the pop-up is in collaboration with LVMH.

“We have created tantalising plates inspired by the finest flavours of the Frost Fairs including Lobster Stockings, Vacherin Fondue, Alpine Salad, Smoked Trout with Warm Potato Salad, Venison Wellington and Chestnut Mandarin Baked Alaska that is flamed table side, to name a few. The Winter Globes have been incredibly popular so far. People are excited to cosy up with friends and family with great views and traditional food this festive season,” says Martyn Nail, Culinary Director at The Dorchester.

You either get cosy or cosy up on the Dorchester’s rooftop, but there’s a warm inside too. Inviting hot drinks, a nibbles menu and wintry cocktails are available along with live entertainment, whilst you enjoy a cigar on the smoking terrace, sip on whiskey and port pairings, and savour classic cocktails with a twist such as a Bourbon Espresso Martini, Islay Hot Toddy, Hot Buttered Brandy and a Rosemary Negroni. Frost Fair themed cocktails like Thames Mead and the Golden Elephant will pique your interest – apparently, an elephant was seen on the Thames as a highlight of the very last Frost Fair (this elephant sure wasn’t treading on thin ice by the sound of it)!

The Christmas Wonderland remains open through to New Years and can be booked till January 3rd, 2023. You can also see the very first festive celebrations filled with holiday decorations by in-house designer florist Philip Hammond, within the transformed Promenade of The Dorchester and the new Artists’ Bar after an expansive renovation by designer Pierre-Yves Rochon.

The best time to go to the Christmas Wonderland is at sunset to watch all of London come alive with the holiday decorations and lights – the twinkling night scape is breathtakingly beautiful.

©Rubina A Khan 2022

Hindujas Repurpose Winston Churchill’s OWO With £1.2 Billion Into Raffles London Hotel

The Indian industrialist brothers – Srichand, Gopichand, Prakash and Ashok Hinduja, of the Hinduja Group, a multinational conglomerate with interests in oil, automobiles, banking and real estate, are making acquiring historic and heritage properties in London a game of Monopoly, buying not where the die rolls, but where their eye goes. In 2006, they bought 13-16 Carlton House Terrace, built in 1831, spread over 67,000 square feet in the City of Westminster, with Buckingham Palace close by, for £58 million from the Crown Estate and spent another £50 million in renovations before they could move in and call it home in 2011.

The brothers have since gone on to purchase Britain’s Old War Office (OWO) at Whitehall, for £1.2 billion in 2014. Designed by British architect William Young and originally completed in 1906, the OWO is a Grade II* listed building that has witnessed innumerable world-shaping events. The OWO’s 1,100 rooms and four kilometres of corridors, were used by Winston Churchill during World War II, leading Britain to wartime victory. Grand in size and stature both, with classic Edwardian baroque interiors, the OWO has since been renovated for over five years, in keeping with the rich legacy and the historical architectural elements of the building by the Hinduja Group at the helm of the 5,80,000 square feet redevelopment that cost a Gross Development Value of £1.2 billion. Interestingly, James Bond, the fictional MI6 icon of espionage, was conceived at the OWO when writer Ian Fleming worked in Britain’s Naval Intelligence Service, acting as key liaison with the department, overseeing Operation Goldeneye. As a result, the OWO has made starring appearances in 007 films like Skyfall, Spectre, License to Kill, A View to a Kill, Octopussy and No Time To Die over the years. 

Once the planning approvals came from the Westminster City Council in July 2017, Britain’s former Old War Office went from being a government building, to a mixed-use building with a 250 year lease from the date of acquisition. After being closed to the public for more than a century, the OWO, now repurposed into a luxury hotel called Raffles London at The OWO, is all set to open in the spring of 2023.

“The OWO is my greatest legacy to London for future generations to enjoy,” says Gopichand Parmanand Hinduja, co-chairman of the Hinduja Group. 

The 120 rooms and suites that comprise the OWO hotel, including a Winston Churchill Suite, have been designed by French architect and interior designer, Thierry Despont, known for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty in New York as an associate architect in the 80s and transforming landmark buildings like The Getty Centre and Maison Cartier. The 85 branded residences, a first for Raffles in Europe, come with a heady mix of history, mystery and royal glamour set in an enviable location, making them the most expensive in London to date. They are priced upwards of £7.1million for a two-bedroom residence, £10million for a two-bedroom residence designed by Albion Nord and £14.25million for a three-bedroom residence designed by Angel O’Donnell, with prices including fixtures and fittings, but not the artwork. A four-bedroom residence 5.02, on the fifth floor, is an ode to the espionage history of the building. It is accessed through the Spies Entrance, a door used by MI6 staff after covert missions, and the name has been retained from 1909 when the British Secret Service Bureau was established as a department of the War Office. It still makes for discreet arrivals and departures, but not without the 24/7 monitoring by on-site security. 

The OWO residences seem to have outperformed the Prime Central London market, with a new record for values achieved on a price per square foot basis, within months of their launch. A new benchmark of over £11,000 price per square foot was achieved on one of the unique turret residences, a four bedroom duplex. It is safe to say that the OWO residences, located in an unparalleled and iconic part of London, serviced by the Raffles team, are a coveted buy. 

Not only is the OWO the Hinduja Group’s first foray into the hospitality business, but it is also the first Raffles hotel in London, and the first Guerlain Spa in London, exclusive to the Raffles London at The OWO too.

Philippe Leboeuf, Managing Director at Raffles London at The OWO confirms the opening of the hotel, “This staggering piece of British history will be open to the public for the very first time from Spring 2023, thanks to the Hinduja’s tireless work in sensitively conserving this significant address, partnering with experts including English Heritage, MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) and EPR Architects. This beacon of British heritage and modern craftsmanship will also be home to Raffles first hotel in the city, Raffles London at The OWO and it’s a once in a lifetime project for the Hinduja family which will become a new icon of global hospitality. Since acquiring the OWO, the Hinduja family have overseen the meticulous restoration of Britain’s former Old War Office with a vision and commitment to preserve its heritage, all the while breathing new life into the landmark.”

The acclaimed Italian-Argentine Chef Mauro Colagreco of Mirazur (three Michelin stars) a modernist cuisine restaurant that he opened in 2006 in Menton, France, will be creating unique dining experiences set within the OWO’s most storied rooms, driven by a commitment to seasonality, local procurement, and sustainability. Chef Mauro was awarded the rank of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in the 2022 honours list by the French government. 

“Chef Mauro is undoubtedly one of the world’s most recognised chefs, with a phenomenal  reputation and we’re excited to see him bring his experience to Raffles London at The OWO with concepts that are tailor-made for our well-travelled guests,” says Stephen Alden, CEO of Raffles & Orient Express. 

Out of the nine restaurants and bars (including a rooftop restaurant and bar with expansive views across Whitehall, The Mall and Buckingham Palace) slated to open at the OWO, Paper Moon, a family-run Italian restaurant founded by Pio Galligani and his wife Enrica Del  Rosso in Milan’s fashion district in 1977, is the first independent restaurant to have been announced so far. Paper Moon is located in a space overlooking Horse Guards Avenue. There are plans to open restaurants serving Indian, Japanese and French cuisines which are still under negotiation.

“These vibrant new restaurants will be part of the dynamic dining offer which will place The OWO as a new epicentre for London’s culinary scene, and sets the stage for an entirely new hospitality experience for visitors and Londoners,” says Madani Sow of Westminster Development Services. 

This hospitality venture is the first of its kind in scale, spend and historical relevance, with an Indian business family restoring the history of a British landmark. It remains to be seen if the billions that The OWO has been bought, acquired and repurposed for, tempts the Hinduja family enough to make hospitality another key business for their group. 

This feature first appeared in Hindustan Times on November 27th, 2022

©Rubina A Khan 2022

India Tourism: How ‘Revenge Travel’ Saved The Industry | BBC

More than two years after the Covid pandemic halted travel, India’s tourism and hospitality industry is now cautiously hopeful. Independent journalist Rubina A Khan writes for the BBC on what’s driving the optimism. 

Tourism constituted almost 3% of India’s GDP and generated around 100 million jobs in 2019. But the sector was severely hit in India – like in other countries – when the pandemic struck. Only 2.74 million foreign tourists visited India in 2020 compared with 10.93 million the year before, official data shows. While the number of foreign visitors is still nowhere close to pre-pandemic levels, travel company operators and hotel industry executives say an upsurge in domestic tourists is making them more upbeat. 

After two years of being cooped up inside, Indians are now travelling with a vengeance – ‘revenge travel’, as the phenomenon is called. And many, experts say, now prefer to travel within the country instead of flying to more expensive destinations abroad. The industry is also benefiting from new trends borne of the pandemic, such as micro-holidays and workcations. Deep Kalra, founder and chairman of travel website Make My Trip, says the sector started seeing an upturn in the last quarter of 2020, and has been consistently recovering ever since. “In fact, the last three fiscal quarters have operationally been the most profitable ones for our company,” he says.

EXPLORING INDIA

Experts say the pandemic offered Indians an opportunity to explore their own country. India has always been a popular tourist destination. From historic forts and stunning palaces to dense jungles, there’s no shortage of options for visitors. But with international travel disrupted for months, more and more Indians became open to the idea of vacationing within the country, says Vishal Suri, the managing director of travel company SOTC. “The pandemic has given Indians a new-found appreciation for the outdoors,” Mr Suri says. He adds that there has been an uptick in demand for unexplored destinations – people are seeking ways to combine pilgrimages and spiritual trips with experiencing local food, cultural trails and adventure.

The pandemic also generated new trends such as staycations and workcations – combining remote working with vacations. “Travellers are now extremely comfortable with booking homestays that offer exclusivity, privacy, and the comfort of a home away from home,” says Pradeep Shetty, a senior official at the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations Of India (FHRAI). Mr Kalra from Make My Trip agrees – he says that people have warmed up to the idea of travelling within India whenever possible. “Even the travel frequency has changed and become more regular. The annual break has now turned into micro-holidays with people increasingly taking more breaks in the form of multiple weekend getaways and seasonal holiday breaks,” he says.

IMPACT ON HOSPITALITY SECTOR

This shift has turned out to be a revenue-spinner for hotels in India, as people are now willing to use the money they would normally reserve for their international vacations on better facilities domestically. Some luxury hotels dropped their prices at intervals in the pandemic, leading to a spike in bookings and short-term revenues. Puneet Chhatwal, the managing director and CEO of The Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL) – India’s largest hospitality company which operates the Taj chain of luxury hotels – says that after each successive Covid wave, the recovery was “stronger and quicker”. “The IHCL’s occupancy figures today exceed the pre-pandemic levels – a resurgence that is primarily fuelled by domestic tourism,” he adds.

Raffles Udaipur – run by international hotel chain Raffles – is situated on a private island and opened in August 2021, just months after the devastating second wave of the pandemic in India. But the hotel has seen a “healthy rate of occupancy” every month throughout its first year of operations in India, says Puneet Dhawan, the hotel’s senior vice-president for India and South Asia. “While we have no pre-pandemic metric to compare to, we have observed a steady rise in the response to our property,” he adds. Mr Dhawan says the hotel is gearing up for an even busier year ahead – starting with the tourist rush in winter and the upcoming wedding season. Mr Kalra says there are other positive signs too, such as the resumption of corporate travel – a trend that is likely to increase in the coming quarters, aiding overall recovery for the travel industry. 

CHALLENGES

But despite the optimism, people in the industry say that domestic tourism alone cannot take the sector back to the pre-pandemic-level of growth. In September, India’s tourism minister said that the government was working towards the all-round revival of the tourism sector. But foreign arrivals continue to be dismal – data shows they dipped by 44.5% in 2021 compared with the year before. “India has not released a single campaign inviting the world to us. What we need is a stellar marketing strategy that excites travellers enough to choose us, especially the 60 million people that used to travel to China and aren’t today,” says Dipak Deva, managing director of the Travel Corporation of India, one of India’s best-known travel agencies. He adds that the government also needs to restore its e-visa facility – especially for countries such as the UK from where a large number of tourists visit India – as the current procedure is too cumbersome.

However, Mr Kalra feels that both domestic and international travel are “here to grow together, and not against each other”. “With international travel now returning to the fore, we are confident that in a few quarters, international travel will also be able to recover completely.”

This feature first appeared on BBC on October 7th, 2022

©Rubina A Khan 2022

RUBINA’S REVIEW | MANDARIN ORIENTAL BANGKOK’S AUTHORS’ LOUNGE AFTERNOON TEA IS DELICIOUSLY ROYAL

In the mid-nineteeth century, when Thailand was still known as Siam, a rest house established for travelling foreigners on the banks of the Menam River (Chao Praya River), became one of the greatest hotels in the world – The Oriental. The Oriental, now Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, was the first luxury hotel in the Kingdom of Siam. In 1865 the hotel’s original structure was destroyed in a fire and was replaced by the current structure in 1876. It was a Danish-born sailor, H.N. Andersen, who gave the Siamese capital a new hotel, a modern, luxurious Oriental Hotel. On 17 December 1890, His Majesty King Chulalongkorn paid a private visit to The Oriental to assess the ability of the hotel to host royal guests. The King was so impressed that he decided to accommodate the Crown Prince Nicholas of Russia, who became Tsar in 1894, at The Oriental in April 1891. It was the beginning of a long lasting relationship between the legendary hotel and Thailand’s Royal Palace. Today, 146 years later, the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok is a proud landmark in Bangkok, a beautiful building that links the glorious years past, present and those to come in Thailand.

The Authors’ Lounge, on the ground floor of the original Oriental Hotel, lends an old world charm, reminiscent of the early 1900s, with turn-of-the-century style wicker furniture and hand-painted fabrics, alongside framed photographs of the famous writers who have stayed at the hotel since the late nineteenth century. Apart from the telling literary history of yesteryear Siam and its people, The Authors’ Lounge is renowned for its traditional afternoon tea, and is also one of the most photographed locations in Bangkok, if not Thailand. It was a beautiful rainy afternoon, with the sun playing hide and seek, that I sat down to experience the Summer Afternoon Tea Set at the Authors’ Lounge. A beautiful hostess, Parichat, led the way and I chose a table overlooking the garden and the Chao Praya river. The distinguished jewel jade and white tones of the lounge add serenity to the regal elegance of this historic lounge.

The afternoon started off with the most delicious Earl Grey infused peach sorbet and Champagne foam, followed by the setting down of the Somerset book on the table by the elegant Pansamon – an event in itself – sliding out the most decadent pastries and savouries from the mock book, with theatrical precision and sophistication. The Prawn roll brioche bun, Spicy tuna salad wafer, Charcoal choux with smoked salmon and sunflower seed crème and Egg salad with Avruga caviar sandwich and the selection of pastries – Blackberry flower cake and coconut cloud, Green coffee bean tiramisu, tangerine marmalade and cardamom, Charlotte cake apricot, pistachio and thyme, Raspberries and yuzu New York cheesecake, Hazelnut and milk chocolate textures, Brioche feuillette, strawberries and vanilla custard – they all looked too pretty to eat, but eat I did. You could measure each sandwich and pastry and they’d be the exact same size and dimension, just like they came out of a royal kitchen for high tea. Then came the warm traditional scones with a selection of home-made jams, Devonshire clotted cream, mascarpone and butter. Everything tastes divine and it’s hard to pick a favourite from the tea set. I went with an iced coffee, instead of tea and it was just as fine, watching the rain come down, from the warm confines of the Authors’ Lounge, thinking of all those writers and travellers who stayed here before, and created literary legacies.

You need to reserve a table on Mandarin Oriental Bangkok for the Afternoon Tea and the team very graciously accommodates your food specifications. They also have an Oriental Afternoon Tea Set as well as a Vegan and Gluten-Free Afternoon Tea Set.

Through its 146 years of existence, The Oriental’s grandiose façade has greeted travellers, dignitaries and literary figures from around the world like The Prince and Princess of Wales, The Queen of Sweden, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. British spy novelist John le Carré, wrote The Honourable Schoolboy at the hotel and Barbara Cartland named one of the heroines in Sapphires in Siam after an Oriental employee. Others, like Noël Coward, simply admired the riverine views, declaring: “It is a lovely place and I am fonder of it than ever.” Joseph Conrad, the sea captain and writer, was a frequent visitor to the bar of The Oriental and Vaslav Nijinsky danced in the ballroom in 1916. Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok’s affinity with the literary world is best exemplified in the Authors’ Wing, which houses the Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward and James Michener Lounges. In these specially created salons, images of these literary greats are juxtaposed with scenes from The Oriental during those eras, as well as quotations from the authors’ books. Khun Ankana’s Study, also situated of The Authors’ Lounge, pays a pictorial tribute to the inimitable Ankana Kalantananda, The Oriental’s longest-serving employee who joined the hotel in 1947 and worked there for over 60 years.

The Mandarin Oriental Bangkok’s staff, right from Jed at the entrance to the hostesses, servers and spa staff are all marvellous and wonderful, and exemplary in their service. It’s a beautiful world they have all created inside this grand dame of a hotel in Bangkok.

Like W. Somerset Maugham said in The Mixture of Before, “Now it is a funny thing about life, if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.

Rubina’s Rating: 10/10

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2022

RUBINA’S REVIEW | BANGKOK MARRIOTT HOTEL THE SURAWONGSE IS MODERN LUXURY WITH A THAI HEART

Night views of the city of Bangkok from the Yao Rooftop Bar at the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse

The Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse on Thanon Surawong in the Bang Rak district of Bangkok opened in April 2018. Bang Rak is one of the fifty provinces (khet) of Bangkok, that lies on the eastern bank of the Chao Praya river, and it is rich in multicultural Thai history, with the British Club, the Neilson Hays Library and the mixed-use, pixelated skyscraper, the King Power Mahanakhon building in the area. The contemporary high-rise hotel, a 40-minute drive from Suvarnabhumi aiport, is the first Marriott hotel in Bangkok to offer a combination of 303 guest rooms, suites and residential suites from one to three bedrooms for short and long-term stays, making it a very popular choice for both leisure and business travellers, and as a wedding destination, given it won the International Hotel Award for the Best Wedding Venue for Thailand in 2020. The tree-lined, sun-dappled neighbourhood of Surawong equipoises vintage and contemporary Bangkok culture with a steady pace, with exciting stand-alone cafes, bars, restaurants, tailoring shops and foot spas that you can discover walking around, without the noise and traffic snarls of the very busy Sukhumvit, which I had experienced on my first trip to Bangkok on work, for a Bollywood film. I walked in the rain and a thunderstorm on my very first evening out in Bangkok their time around, not of my own volition of course, and drenched as I was, I still found the area of Surawong charming and beautiful.

As you step inside the hotel, the most intoxicating aroma of fresh, Thai jasmine flowers embraces your person in the lobby – a beautiful way fo saying ‘Welcome to Thailand’ without any words. The check-in is seamless and very quick, as are the lifts and the speed of their wi-fi. The hotel’s design is modern, minimalistic and discreetly luxurious, with a hark back to traditional Thai culture in its hand-painted walls and glass murals of Thai country and court life in its design story. There’s a gallery in the lobby that displays authentic Thai hand crafts, alongside some beautiful bronze sculptures. Floor to celling windows in the rooms add length and breadth to them, as do the varied shades of grey furnishings and glass murals in the one bedroom residential suite, that also comes with a washer and dryer right by the entrance of the room. It is an important addition to the in-room amenities in the times we live in. The bathrooms are spacious, with rain showers, ensuite bath tubs and ample counter space. The housekeeping and hygiene standards of the hotel are faultlessly stellar and a top priority for them – the kitchen, living area, bedroom and bathroom looked as good as new every day of my stay and it was very impressive as cleanliness in a non-negotiable factor for me when booking a hotel. The one bedroom residential suite starts at THB 7886 per night including taxes, equivalent to INR 17,400 or USD 223 approximately. My room was a haven of peace and calm, where I could hear my own thoughts at my pace, through the blurred lines of reality, drinking my sweet Thai coffee with three shots of espresso – something I created to balance the dominant sweet flavour.

The breakfast at the Praya Kitchen is just the best, with every kind of food imaginable for a global palate. You can get in some cardio first thing in the morning just walking around the restaurant, getting your breakfast items, and there is nothing you could want at breakfast that they don’t have, including Indian. I used to look forward to going down to Praya on the third floor for breakfast every day. I loved their Truffle Scrambled Eggs, fresh coconut water, carrot juice and Thai milk coffee every morning. And I picked and grazed on other dishes. The soft and pillowy croissants were made from riceberry flour, a rice variety manmade in 2002 by the Rice Science Center at the Kasetsart University in Thailand, which is a cross breed of fragrant black rice and jasmine rice, resulting in a deep purple whole grain rice, also known as Forge Husband or Khao Leum Pua from the Tak province. Riceberry is rich in antioxidants, fibre and Omega 3 fats and is considered a Thai super grain. The Praya Kitchen’s buffet dinner, Thursday to Sunday, serves up delicious Thai street and Western food, from Som Tam salad, Yellow Thai curry with crabmeat, Pasta with Bamboo Shoot Beef Ragout, Ribeye Steak with Pepper Sauce, Beef Fried Rice in Chilli Oil, Goose liver foie gras to spicy Beef Chilly Thai style to fresh Phuket lobster and my favourite dessert, Tub Tim Grob. The Praya Kitchen is the busiest at breakfast and during the dinner buffet, but the attentive staff make it an absolute pleasure for every diner with their affable and responsive presence, every single time.

Hand-painted mural on the Praya Kitchen wall at the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse

The Infinity Pool, a good size for a city hotel, is on the 18th floor, with stunning views of the city during the day and at night. The Quan Spa too is on the same floor, as is the 24-hour gym and the kids clubroom. I loved the Aroma Fusion treatment with Rose Oil (a very healing and therapeutic blend) and my therapist was incredible. Interestingly, the oils used for the Aroma Fusion treatment are decided by the time of day – so given my time was mid-afternoon, I was prescribed the Rose Oil. The Muay Thai treatment, very popular with Thai boxers, is their signature therapy, which I will definitely try the next time I am in Bangkok.

The striking King Power Mahanakhon building is a short 13-minute walk away from the Marriott Surawongse, where you can go up to the 76th floor in a lift that takes you there in 47 seconds, and then get on another hydraulic glass lift that takes you to the 78th floor where you can walk all over Bangkok, on a glass tray, 314 metres above ground. Walking on glass is not as easy as walking on the ground people, and if you’re afraid of heights or glass cracking under your feet, it’s a no-go. I walked, but barely! The views from up there are breathtaking and so worth the fear of walking on glass, a terrifying thrill to say the least! Interestingly, the Thai name for Bangkok, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, is actually a short form of the capital’s full name, which is almost a sentence to describe the city than a name: Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet. The Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun temples are 15-minute cab rides away from the hotel, as is the Iconsiam shopping mall, with queues outside the Louis Vuitton and Hermes stores. The hotel also runs a complimentary regular shuttle van service to Sala Daeng BTS skytrain station for its guests. The Marriott Surawongse has a 101 Things To Do in and around the hotel in every room, which is a thoughtful cultural touch towards its guests. It’s a google concierge on paper that outlines the neighbourhood and Bangkok for you that’s rather helpful in a country where English is a conversational barrier.

Views of the pixelated, mixed-use skyscraper, Mahanakhon, from the infinity pool of the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse

Watching the sun go down on Bangkok from the Yao Rooftop Bar, Bangkok’s first Chinese influenced restaurant and bar, on the 33rd floor of the hotel will have you taking selfies against the stunning skyline with sweeping views of the Chao Praya river and the Mahanakhon, toasting your life. The bar is busy, the music heady and the menus are lit – they light up on touch and that’s a genius move because no one wants to read a menu full of Cantonese and Shanghainese delicacies in the dark. The retro Chinese themed Yao rooftop vibe is all about endless dumplings, dimsums and drinks, delicious living at its best, with a Thai summer breeze caressing your every move.

The hotel is situated diagonally across the privately-funded 101-year-old Neilson Hays Library, founded in 1869, that’s been designed in a neoclassical style by Italian architects, Mario Tamagno and Giovanni Ferrero. The library houses 20,000 books, with a variety of contemporary fiction and non-fiction, with new titles every month and it has one of the largest collections of English language titles in Bangkok. The library seeks to promote English literacy in the country and encourage a love for literature, particularly among younger generations. It is also the oldest non-profit organisation in Thailand and you can support it with 100THB to use the library’s facilities. It has events ranging from musical performances to cultural conversations for both children and adults. It has a cafe the same compound too, Palam Palam, which means “sweet taste” in Thai. The British Club of Bangkok, a private members’ Club on Thanon Surawong, founded in 1903 as a British businessmen and diplomats’ club, but has since developed over the past century to become a social, sports & cultural centre for the English-speaking community in Bangkok, is also a short walk from the hotel. The British Club organises tours on request.

This was an Eat, Sleep, Seek, Shoot and Spa trip to Thailand for me and the exemplary service at the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse made it a flawlessly memorable experience.

Rubina’s Rating: 9/10

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2022

RUBINA’S REVIEW | MANDARIN ORIENTAL DOHA IS A CULTURALLY COHERENT REGNANT OF QATARI HERITAGE

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DOHA, QATAR: The main entrance of the Mandarin Oriental, Doha in Qatar.

The Mandarin Oriental, Doha opened in March 2019 in Msheireb Downtown Doha, a planned, smart-city district in Qatar, and the world’s first sustainable downtown regeneration project. The sand-hued hotel overlooks the enchanting Barahat Msheireb Town Square, the largest open-air covered town square in the Middle East, encompassing 7000 sqm with the biggest retractable, climate-controlled cooling roof in the region. The design concept of the golden square references the welcoming and luxurious sitting rooms of traditional Qatari homes, and the backlit onyx cladding at night in translucent honey tones, echoes the inherent spirit of the desert. Msheireb Downtown Doha, developed by Msheireb Properties, whose Chairwoman is HRH Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, adheres to the highest standards in green building in re-creating a way of indigenous Qatari living and culture, in the centre of the capital city. Qatar is not just kicking ball by hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it’s venerating its history and heritage through artistic avant-garde advancement in every sphere. This 11,000 km desert kingdom is on its way to becoming a nonpareil cultural capital of the world.

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DOHA, QATAR: The Mandarin Oriental, Doha overlooks the Barahat Msheireb Town Square in Msheireb Downtown Doha, Qatar.

The Mandarin Oriental, Doha is not a glass and glimmer skyscraper tearing into the blue skies, as one is wont to think of luxury hotels in the Middle East, blazoning the apodictic wealth of the country. It confutes the very notion the second your car rolls up the narrow, stone-cobbled alleyways, especially designed thus to give you a feel of old Qatari residential neighbourhoods, but not without a distinct, contemporary finesse befitting of a luxury hotel. Brick, mortar, wood, metal and a whole lot of soul make up the architectural and design language of the Mandarin Oriental, Doha that is culturally coherent with Qatari living and the heritage of the desert nation. The ferej, an intrinsic part of Qatari homes, built to provide shade from the desert sun and for air circulation (a natural air-conditioner so to speak) for respite from the heat, makes its modern-day presence felt in the hotel’s corridors and landings.

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DOHA, QATAR: A street view of the main entrance of the Mandarin Oriental, Doha, Qatar.

The shifting shapes of sand dunes inspired the key design element for the interiors of the property. Right from the imposing entrance pillars to the walls, marble floors and ceiling reliefs, an artistic representation of sand dunes runs through the hotel consummately. The design is as conspicuous and as unobtrusive as you want it to be. If you want to see it, you can see it everywhere and if you don’t, well, then you don’t. But the sand dunes of Qatar are there, hearkening the travelling bedouin origins of Qatar to the current day on your calendar.

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DOHA, QATAR: A general view from the Mandarin Oriental, Doha of the ferej or narrow alleyway sstreets in Doha, Qatar

The fretwork sand dune panels, with a painted eggshell finish on the ceiling, with a brass veil, influenced by the awnings and canopies of Arab dhows and ocean waves, designed by the David Collins Studio and Alexander Lamont’s straw marquetry adorn the lobby of the hotel. The brass veil, alongside the straw marquetry, is a breathtaking design genius.  Lamont used dried straw stems, spliced open and flattened, inlaying them individually on wood, creating a sustainable quintessence of his own. The straw fibres reflect light, changing with the time of day in the lobby and the Baraha Lounge, lending a natural sheen to each panel.

Apart from the fretwork sand dune panels that run through the entire hotel, the rooms and bathrooms resonate with elements from the rich seafaring, maritime history of Qatar, albeit subtly. The metal studs on the walls are a contemporary interpretation of the old wooden beams that extended horizontally from the walls of Qatari homes called danshal, procured with great difficulty by the bedouins due to the lack of natural vegetation in the region, to build sturdy roofs for their clay homes. The beautiful lamp shades are asymmetrically shaped, inspired by Arab dhows and the mirrors in the bathroom hang from ropes that were used at sea for fishing and pearl-diving. The black and white tile work wall behind the bathtub and jacuzzi honours the weaving traditions of Qatari women. I love the heady fragrance the Atelier Cologne Rose Anonyme bath line, a Rose Oud, that’s congruous to the landscape’s Desert Rose crystal formations, used by Qataris as talismans for protection and spirit guidance.

A serene sense of calm envelops you, once you’re inside the pristine and quiet (I loved that!) of your room, and the plush bed is meant for sleeping, especially after an exquisite Oriental Essence treatment at the Spa with its very own indoor swimming pool. Flight fatigue what? Though I worked through most nights on my bed, and that was snug and restful too. Imagine discovering a yoga mat, a jaanamaz and a hair straightener (not just a hairdryer) in your room, not to mention the mini-bar snacks packaged in exclusively designed tin boxes bearing palm trees – this is artistic design commingling with human desires and essentials in a manner most natural and decorous.

The location of the Mandarin Oriental, Doha is enviable, given it’s a short 20-minute drive from Hamad International Airport and is adjacent to the Amiri Diwan, Qatar’s seat of government and the Emir of Qatar, HRH Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s palace. It is a five-minute walk to the Msheireb Museum and the redeveloped and very lively (not noisy) and alive Souk Waqif, with its Falcon Souks, a Camel Pen and of course, the Gold Souk. The Museum of Islamic Art, designed by the late I.M. Pei and the National Museum of Qatar, designed by Jean Nouvel to look like the natural Desert Rose crystal formations that are found in Qatar, with inward-curving disks, intersections and cantilevered elements, with 1.5 kilometers of gallery space, giving voice to the unique story of Qatar and its people in an immersive and experiential manner in three chapters — Beginnings, Life in Qatar and The Modern History of Qatar are a short drive away and stand testament to the invested vision of the country’s love and liberal furtherance of the arts. The recherché National Museum of Qatar is a must visit. To give you perspective, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York’s annual budget for new acquisitions is USD 30 million and the Qatar Museums’ is USD 1 billion, chaired by HRH Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
gettyimages-1188450522-2048x2048The food is exemplary at all the four restaurants in the hotel, and at the Mandarin and Baraha Lounges. My first meal was an Angus Beef Burger at Aqua, the alfresco rooftop restaurant and bar that serves up easy-sharing dishes like Arabic mezze, sliders and pide.  Mosaic, the specialty nine-kitchen restaurant on the eighth floor is where the vibe is relaxed and the sun filters in through the metal grills inspired by traditional windows with intricate lattice panels called mashrabiya. Even the lifts bear a prominent pearl motif on the metal grills in honour of the pearling history of the country. Volcanic Torched Tuna Sushi, the Thai Beef Salad with a Lucha Libre cocktail here are to live for! I had a Turkish Pide (flat bread made of wheat flour) with Beef Pepperoni and Olive with Oregano and Parmesan for the fist time, and it was great. Mosaic is also where the elegant Qatari ladies breakfast and that says a lot about the food. I loved the Malika Honey, a delicious Qatari honey that’s harvested from the Busaif Apiary, of which 15 beehives are owned by the Mandarin Oriental, Doha as part of their sustainability program. It’s something that should really be sold to the guests at the hotel, it’s that good. The cream-filled Pistachio and Red Velvet Croissants, the Apple Detox Water, the Beef Cecina and all things beef honestly made me extremely happy to breakfast at Mosaic everyday.

Izu, the Mediterranean cuisine restaurant facing the Barahat Msheireb town square, with three seating areas – an indoor ground and mezzanine level and the popular outdoor terrace is where the culinary artistry is at, led by Nigerian chef, Izu Ani. Chef Izu is beyond gifted – Fried Organic Eggs with Foie Gras and Truffle Sauce, the Wagyu burger, Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs with Padron Peppers, the Burrata with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil, Watermelon and Feta Salad, the Mandarin Gelato, the Le Verger drink made with fresh basil leaves, lemon and apple juice – there’s a discernible Izu addition to the simple classics, that takes his creations to a whole new level of delectable, and memorable flavours. He’d Izu’d everything I ate and drank, and loved, from the very first bite and swill to the very last! You have to be Izu’d at Izu people.

The English afternoon tea service at the Baraha Lounge, overlooking the Barahat Msheireb town square, and at the Mandarin Lounge from 2-6PM everyday, is immensely popular with the Qataris and locals. Gilded cakes, pink rose madelines and savouries with bespoke blends anyone? Gelato, the frozen dessert and gelato restaurant, also overlooking the Barahat Msheireb town square hits everyone’s sweet spot with its vast array of flavours, from vegan chocolate to Arabic coffee to anything your heart desires. If The Secret Bar at Izu is rather rad whilst Ambar is its sophisticated equal to quaff in at the hotel.

Newer luxury hotels, unlike the Mandarin Oriental, Doha, aim to make you feel like you could be anywhere in the world once you’re inside, and that just does not cut it for me. I have my own bed at home where I can imagine such inanities in my pyjamas on my own time, thanks, but no thanks! I don’t need to take a flight to Doha to imagine that I am in the Seychelles! Every morning, when I woke up and had my morning Nespresso, I knew I was in Doha and not in a ‘home away from home’. I so despise that sell! Everything in the room, and outside my window overlooking the modern ferej, told me so and this is what I loved the most about staying at the Mandarin Oriental, Doha. I felt like I was invited into the luxe confines of a Qatari home that’s most certainly not mine, or like mine, and I am a treasured guest of theirs for the weekend. And that’s how you feel like you ‘belong’ innately to a new place. The Mandarin Doha team is ebullient and professional, led ably by their General Manager, Martin Schnider.

No evening at the Mandarin Oriental, Doha felt complete without looking out at the molten glow of the Barahat Msheireb town square or a ‘cool’ walk around it, literally. Doha will always be ManDOHArin for me!

Rubina’s Rating: 9/10

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

@Rubina A Khan 2019

Italian-American Cuisine At The BlueBop Cafe, Mumbai

Rubina A Khan reviews The Bluebop Cafe, Mumbai: “Italian-American gluttony with live jazz performances.”

The Bluebop Cafe is a new jim-dandy of a bar cafe in Mumbai, serving Italian-American cuisine along with a musical side of jazz blues and bop, live. Inspired by the musical evolution of jazz, which came to mean jazz music in Chicago, USA, around 1915, and bebop, which is a style of jazz that came to be in the United States of America in the 1940s, Eesha Sukhi, the owner and creator of The Bluebop Cafe, decided to name her first independent culinary space thus.

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The Bluebop Cafe entrance | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The restaurant is located right on Linking Road, Khar, and not on some long-winding inner bylane with the dreaded no-entry signages. As you walk into the inviting, verdure (a rare sighting in Mumbai) courtyard with wrought-iron benches and an old Peepal tree leaning into it, you are instantly drawn in. I can just imagine myself sitting on one of the benches on a December night, breathing in fresh oxygen from the Peepal tree.

I loved the Asparagus and Polenta that set the tone for the Italian-American food gluttony ahead – the crunch of the freshly sautéed green asparagus spears, along with the polenta and the manchego cheese was delicious. There’s grits of the American South, and then there’s the vegetarian, Indian version, of the classic Italian polenta right here in Mumbai at Bluebop.

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Asparagus & Polenta | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The Spaghetti Aglio Olio was flavoursome, as was the creamy Mushroom Risotto, accompanied by a Citrus Spritzer cocktail. The New York style pizzas, and I’m not a pizza person at all (I owe all my indulgent allegiance to burgers and fries) were great. I tried the Goat Cheese and Spinach as well as the Jerk Chicken pizza and it’s the dough that really makes all the difference to the overall taste as it is made in-house.

The Matcha Mousse is innovative, and the Tiramisu is made for the Indian sweet palate. Bluebop sources all its produce locally and makes a sincere effort to keep its dishes authentic to the regions of Italy and America that they originate from. 

The wine-hued walls, patterned flooring, cane-backed chairs with arm-rests and seating booths lend a 70s vibe to the cafe, but not entirely, as the illuminated bar breaks away with its contemporary design, with mixologist Dinesh Mondkar concocting and crafting the heady cocktails. The culinary team is led by Chef Saurabh Raturi, who interestingly, also moonlights as a musician (a guitar hangs above the kitchen entry) when he’s not developing and perfecting a new dish for the cafe. The Bluebop team is knowledgeable, curious and willing to adapt, without a trace of the “I know it all” affectations, in an ever evolving and extremely competitive business.

The BlueBop Cafe is open all days, from 12:00PM-1AM.
Sunday Brunch: 12PM-3PM.
The BlueBop Cafe
318, Linking Rd, Khar West,
Mumbai 400052 India
+91 22 62366444 | 93 722 02586

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

@Rubina A Khan 2019

Unmasking Sustainable Food At Masque, Mumbai

Rubina A Khan reviews the Chef’s Tasting Menu at Masque, Mumbai: “an indulgent and wondrous night of sustainable culinary artistry, Indian style.”

The ‘it’ word right now, worldwide, is sustainable, making it lit to use it in any parlance. Sustainable and sustainability is used rather loosely by most fashion and food companies to sound evolved, aware and green-conscious, making the veracity of their sustainable credo rather questionable, but not at Masque, a wilderness-to-table restaurant in the erstwhile mill lands of central Mumbai. Masque’s ingredient-driven sustainable food experience is real, and how! Together, as owners of Masque, Chef Prateek Sadhu and entrepreneur Aditi Dugar have created an indigenously Indian culinary experience that is inimitably theirs, since September 2016, incomparable to any in the country.

Fern Mallis, creator of New York Fashion Week and the host of Fashion Icons With Fern Mallis at the 92Y, believes “sustainable is the new black”. A well-travelled, food enthusiast like Fern, not to mention fashion legend, made for the best company, unmasking sustainable food at Masque, starting the night off with a round of cocktails. She went with The Calabura, from their Wind series, made with Grey Goose Vodka, Aperol, Lemon, Panama Berries and Sweet Lime and I had the heavenly Aquacollins cocktail, from their Earth line, also made with Grey Goose Vodka, Rose, Fennel Seeds and Saffron Soda, which took me back to my time in Kashmir, watching my grandfather see off dinner guests at home with a box of the elusive saffron strands.

Masque’s 10-course chef’s tasting menu, a first for an Indian restaurant, comprises of seasonal dishes made from ingredients sourced locally and sustainably in India. The restaurant’s first course is always served on their pristine white kitchen counter, which is very conducive for the ‘gram. We chose to have all our courses atop their bar stools, amidst the harmonious and seamless action in the kitchen with a Harvey Specter (Suits) quote of the day courting us through the night. No screaming or flying pots and pans here – just a very decorous and synergised team alongside Sous Chefs, Kamlesh Negi and Rahul Sharma, creating art on our plates, taking us through the finest dining experience in Mumbai.

The first course kicked off with a sweet and savoury explosion of flavours with Kanji, made from seasonal black carrots usually found in Northern India, but are being grown on a land patch outside of Pune, especially for the restaurant. Next up was fresh Barramundi fish, not flown in from Australian waters, but from our very own Andaman Islands, with Raw Mango and Cucumber, followed by Masque’s version of a Caesar salad on a bed of ice – Romaine Lettuce with Garlic, Shrimp and Cured Egg Yolk which was beyond delectable. I had the the Eggplant Gujiya – twisted on its sweet ‘Holi’ head into a savoury creation akin to a Latin American Empanada, with Beetroot Yogurt and Fern had the Carbonara Gujiya. The Pani Puri was accompanied by a Cherry Tomato Tart after which the fresh Mackerel on Buckwheat Toast just blew me away! I have never had mackerel that didn’t come out of a tin, and definitely not one as delicious as this. By the time the Lobster Tzir Czot (Kashmiri style) with Gooseberry, the Katlam with Buffalo Tongue, Brain Butter, Salsify (a root vegetable I’d never heard of, let alone ever eaten) with Garlic Chive Butter, another round of Barramundi in a Curry Leaf and Coconut Broth and the Duck Liver with Gutti Aloo, Morels and Seaweed Butter came up, we were both overwhelmed by the culinary artistry of the chefs at Masque. “I could be anywhere in the world right now – it does not feel like Mumbai at all. This food is just unbelievable!” said Fern and I couldn’t agree more. The night ended only after four rounds of desserts (yes, four!) were washed down with the most deliciously warm Kashmiri Kahva (tea) with almond slivers.

Masque aims to use ingredients and produce that is locally grown and sourced, with exceptions like the duck, that doesn’t fly in from a freezer in China, but fresh off Gayatri Farms in Gurugram, Haryana or the Barramundi fish from the Andamans. The owners travelled across India to bring back the country’s forgotten ingredients, specifically from the Himalayan belt and it shows. There is no hard-selling of the food at Masque – it is all about the food you want to experience, with every dish telling it’s own flavourful story – from the roots it was made of to the salt sprinkled on it. The mountainous berry, Kaafal, a favourite, found in the Tehri Garhwal region, is what the chefs are working on to make desserts from, for their summer menu. The menu does not have any pretentious names for the dishes – just the ingredients, with the chefs expanding on how, and why, way they came to be. Informed chefs leading an engaged team is what makes for a memorable culinary experience at Masque. Occasionally, the restaurant hosts pop-ups with Michelin-star chefs, the next one coming up in May with Chef Jordy Navarra of Toyo Eatery in the Philippines.

In a world afflicted, and unfortunately accepting of mediocrity, Masque is unparalleled in India in every aspect of hospitality – right from the reservations team, to its owners, bartenders, mixologists, management team, chefs and the star of the restaurant – its incredible food! Masque was an indulgent and wondrous night of sustainable culinary artistry, Indian style.

Masque is open Tuesday-Sunday, with 7:30-8:00PM and 9:00-9:30PM seatings for dinner. Closed on Mondays.
Sunday Brunch: 12:30PM onwards.
Masque Restaurant
Unit G3, Laxmi Woollen Mills, Off Dr E Moses Road,
Mahalaxmi, Mumbai 400011 India
+91 22 4973 7431/32 | 98 190 69222

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

@Rubina A Khan 2019

Maharashtrian Food Festival At Tiqri, Mumbai

Rubina A Khan reviews the Maharashtrian Food Festival at Tiqri, Mumbai: “a sweet and spicy culinary experience of Indian coastal cuisine.”

Maharashtrian food is delicious! And it’s not just about Vada Pavs and Kothimbir Wadis! From Nagpur Pudacha Vadya (Fried Gram Flour Snack) to Sungte (Fried Spicy Prawns) to Jowar Bhakri (Sorghum Bread) and Techa (Green Chilly and Garlic Chutney) to Tamatoche Saar (Spiced Tomato Broth), it is an expansive food realm that should traverse across India with its flavorous coastal cuisine as I found out at the ongoing Maharashtrian Food Festival at Tiqri, the all-day restaurant at Taj Santacruz, Mumbai.
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Chef De Cuisine, Dinesh Joshi, has curated a well-rounded menu to exhibit some of the many delectable dishes of Maharashtra, Vada Pav included. Joshi loves traditional Indian recipes and he’s most inspired by Maharashtra’s culinary history in the kitchen. “Maharashtrian food is very light, and it consists of fresh produce, from dry coconuts to fresh coconuts, procured from the coastal regions as well as the ghats (mountain passes). The cuisine is an amalgamation of the varied influences of the early settlements in Maharashtra from the Portuguese to the Mughals to the Koli fishermen,” says Joshi of the cuisine.

This festival was a great introduction into a whole new world of Indian food, and I even managed to pick up some words of the Marathi language of which I’m the least proficient in. The succulent and fiery Kolhapuri Muttonacha Rassa (Mutton Curry) with Bajra Bhakri was flavourful, as was the Tamatoche Saar (Spicy Tomato Broth), Masale Bhaat (Spiced Flavoured Rice) Kothimbir Wadi Canape (Coriander Fritters), Chicken Sukka Bhakri Roll and my quintessential favourite, Vada Pav. The Vada Pav was better than any “famous” street stall in Mumbai – the Vada (potato patty) was spiced just right, the crust was golden and made the right crunch on first bite, with the accompanying burnt red and green chutneys. The imaginative new dessert on the menu is Joshi’s version of a Maharashtrian festival favourite, Puran Poli (Sweet Indian Flatbread) where he’s taken the Puran made with jaggery and swirled it into an icecream wonder! My new favourite is the coastal sweet, Naralachi Karanji, also made of jaggery and fresh coconut shavings. It’s an addiction in itself wherein you just can’t stop at one. As is amply clear, I enjoyed every dish I tried on the festival menu.

If you’d like a cocktail to go with the spicy Maharashtrian culinary delights on your plate, then the sprightly Preeti at the Tiqri bar will shake up a neat Pometini for you made with fresh pomegranates, elderflower and bitters or an Espresso Martini or whatever you’d like. And, a cheerful bartender is always the best bartender. An afternoon like this, taking in a novel culinary experience, made for an indulgent, lazy weekend in Mumbai.

The Maharashtrian Food Festival is on from January 11-30, 2018.

Tiqri is open 24 hours, except Monday when it is closed from 11.30PM – 6AM
Taj Santacruz Mumbai
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (Domestic Terminal)
Off Western Express Highway, Santacruz (East) Mumbai 400099 India
+91 22 62115211  Tiqri 

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

@Rubina A Khan 2018

Christmas Brunch At Tiqri, Taj Santacruz Mumbai

Rubina A Khan reviews the Christmas Brunch at Tiqri, Mumbai: “the delectable turkey, carved beautifully, turned a sunny Christmas Day brunch into an exceptionally merry and indulgent one.”

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Roast Butterball Turkey

What’s Christmas without roast turkey, plum cake, mulled wine, gingerbread houses and Santa Claus bumbling around with merry ho-ho-hos? Tiqri, the all-day dining restaurant at the Taj Santacruz Hotel in Mumbai had all that and more. Watching the turkey being carved onto your plate in the sun-dappled restaurant, with its glass ceiling rising 60-foot upwards into the airport skies, alongside an inlayed mural of the Tree of Life was delightful, with the anticipation of it all adding to the excitement. The bird was succulent, with just the right amount of crackling and glaze with accompaniments ranging from the classic Brussels sprouts and carrots to panko-crust fried haricot beans and snow peas. The cranberry sauce and turkey gravy was exquisite in taste and texture, enhancing the intrinsic flavours of the roasted butterball turkey, a definite star of Christmas Day Brunch. Joy to the world!

Only in India can a Christmas menu comprise of Indian favourites like Mutton Biryani, Keema Kaleji, Appam and Vegetable Stew, Dahi Kebabs and Multi-grain Chillas, alongside Oysters, Cold Cuts, Caviar and Beetroot Ravioli and holiday essentials. But everyone seemed to have a favourite from the expansive menu. The fluffiest and most delicious appams, like clouds on a plate, made by Chef Subodh Katre, distracted me from the turkey so much so that I made a little Christmas Turkey Appam Wrap of my own. It was so good!

The dessert station, which was literally a mile long, was sinfully sweet. The Stollen, inspired by the traditional German holiday bread, was wonderful with a marzipan centre akin to Niederegger Lübeck, a favourite of mine. The Christmas Plum Cake was extremely addictive, and you just couldn’t stop at a single slice. That would be a travesty in itself to the hard work and innumerable hours put in to making it, along with the rest of decadent sweet heaven by Pastry Chef, Pankaj Chauhan.

Tiqri’s band of chefs did justice to a bird that most often than not, goes cold turkey in India, turning it into a memorable part of the decadent feast. With all that food and hotel staff warmer than the Mumbai sunshine, it was the happiest place to be on a Monday afternoon celebrating a joyous holiday with food, laughter and a fit and cheerful (albeit carb-starved) Santa.

Tiqri is open 24 hours, except Monday when it is closed from 11.30PM – 6AM
Taj Santacruz Mumbai
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (Domestic Terminal)
Off Western Express Highway, Santacruz (East) Mumbai 400099 India
+91 22 62115211  Tiqri 

@Rubina A Khan 2017