Thursday, 25 July 2019

Art & Culture: An Art Tour at This Colonial Hotel Takes You Down The Annals of History

Ranked as one of the top hotels in India, The Imperial New Delhi, in the heart of Lutyen’s Delhi, offers utmost luxury, fantastic restaurants, an unbeatable art collection and a space where history comes alive.

The most charming aspect of Delhi is the way the old exists alongside the new. The broad tree-lined avenues of Lutyen’s Delhi are interspersed with opulent gardens built by the Mughals. Swanky neighbourhoods of New Delhi still preserve various remnants of the past. Apart from the traces of the different dynasties that ruled over Delhi at one time or another, you will still find many monuments that were built during the British Rule. Whether Delhi prospered or was plundered by the various rulers is a debate-worthy topic for another time and place, for now we will stick to the premise that the city gets its inimitable charm from its various layers of history.

An Art Tour through the hotel reveals the rich collection of noteworthy
paintings and photographs portraying the rich history of Delhi.

Historical Relevance
The Imperial also enjoys its fair share of historical relevance. Lady Willingdon, the wife of the 22nd Viceroy and Governor General of India, Lord Willingdon, commissioned the construction of this hotel. Unlike many other heritage hotels, this was one hotel that was built as a hotel and at no point did it serve as a home for anyone. The hotel was designed by Blomfield to be one of the finest monuments of Lutyens’ grand vision of the Capital City’s original master plan presenting a unique blend of Victorian, Old Colonial and Art Deco styles. Located on the prestigious Queensway, now known as Janpath, it was inaugurated by Lord Willingdon in 1936, and was named and conferred the exquisite Lion Insignia by Lady Willingdon. It is also said that Pandit Nehru, Mahatama Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Lord Mountbatten met at The Imperial under congenial conditions to discuss the partition of India and creation of Pakistan.

A couple of paintings up close.

The Art Tour
Even today, the grand façade, painted a pristine white against the verdant lawns, the 24 king palms that lead up to the porch, high ceilings and period furniture, and a treasure trove of original art works and lithographs evoke a sense of nostalgia for guests.  It’s no surprise then that the art tour through the hotel is one of the best selling activities.

The walk that starts right at the porch by viewing the lion insignia and goes through Lahore Lounge, dedicated to the six Anglo-Sikh wars with the portraits of the two war heroes Sardar Hari Singh and Shyam Singh along with the medals won in these wars, transports you to a time warp. Then there’s 1911, the popular all day dining, but did you know about the relevance of this year? This was the year when Delhi was declared the capital of India, and also the year of coronation of the King and Queen of India. The corridors leading up to the restaurant are laden with beautiful paintings of the coronation, giving a glimpse into the kind of preparations that went into the event and so on. There is even a watercolour of the coronation ceremony of Queen Victoria that was supposed to happen at the erstwhile Calcutta but was cancelled at the last minute. This is also where one can see pictures of the Narendra Mandal, or the Chamber of Princes, a gathering headed by the Viceroy General of India, where all the Indian royalty would meet. Seeing the original pictures of India Gate and Rajpath is literally like taking a virtual history lesson. Besides the paintings on the walls, some select pieces of furniture are also noteworthy. Almost all the tables at 1911 are made of wood, except for one marble-topped table, which is even slightly longer than the other tables at the restaurant. This was Gandhiji’s preferred table! And people in the know (very few, we assure you) especially reserve a seat at this very table.

“The Imperial, proudly displays a priceless art collection of ‘British Art on India’. The collection includes the works of great artists who worked in India in the late 17th and early 18th century and produced etchings, wood engravings, lithographs, aquatints and mezzotints based on sketches of landscapes, architecture, topography and life and times of India,” shares Vijay Wanchoo- Sr. EVP & GM, The Imperial New Delhi. He adds that the hotel has three main art galleries and a collection of life size oil paintings of the Princely Rulers of India. The entire northern wing of the ground floor main Art Gallery adorns the established works of the Uncle and Nephew duo - Thomas (1749 – 1840) and William Daniell (1769-1837), including the famous ‘Oriental Scenery,’ published in 1808. The art on the first floor is dedicated to the ‘Views in Lucknow’ based on the siege and mutiny in Lucknow by Assistant Adjutant – General David Scott Dodgson. The first floor of the southern wing houses James Fergusson’s (1808-86) works titled ‘Rock cut Temples of India’ (1845). The Royal Ballroom, that exudes the exuberance and grandeur of the first ball inaugurated by Lord Willingdon, boasts of the 11 ft. by 22 ft. oil painting by Bourne and Shepard, titled The Durbar of the Nawab of Maler Kotla, and vividly depicts the generous luxury of the early 1900s.

The restaurants are not only aesthetically designed, but also contain many
original works of art worth appreciating. 

Another point worth mentioning is that The Imperial has the largest collection on display of land war gallantry awards in India and neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan, Burma, Bhutan and China apart from a sizeable record of orders and decorations bestowed by the King, the Emperor of India as an honor to the local Maharajas and ruling Princes of different states of India. You will find most of these at the blue room called Lutyens and Baker Room at the 1911 Bar. The Patiala Peg is another bar dedicated to Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala. There is an interesting anecdote about how the Maharaja tricked his British opponents over a match of tent pegging, a popular cavalry sport during the early 1900s. Thinking that his team was sure to lose to the better-trained British team, he hosted a party for his rivals a night prior to the game and served them copious amounts of alcohol. Sure enough, the Patiala team won and thus was born the famous Patiala peg. As an ode to Punjabi style of hospitality, even today the last drink of the evening at this bar is served with an extra 15 ml alcohol. 

There are many more anecdotes, history trivia and beautiful art to marvel at during the tour through the hotel. In keeping with the hotel’s hospitality style, the enriching walk culminates with a lavish high tea at The Atrium.

Details: Rs 1,750 ++ without high tea; Rs 3,000++ with high tea.
Ph: +91-11 41116306 

This article was first published in a luxury lifestyle magazine in July 2019.

Monday, 22 July 2019

Family Dining | This Swanky Spot in Aerocity Is Introducing A Fab Sunday Brunch

The Hong Kong Club is a well-established high-energy bar, where one can rock the night away, especially on weekends. Uptil now it was open only in the evenings but with the introduction of the Sunday brunch it promises to be a great day out with the family.

Although the space features dramatic modern Chinese art, it is the multi-level amoeba-shaped bar counter itself that is the focal point. And I am happy to report that the place looks even more beautiful in the day with the tall glass walls flood the interior with natural light and overlook the landscaped lawns of Andaz Delhi.

The gorgeous interiors are flooded with natural light and greenery beyond.  

Like the art adorning the walls, the food on offer is a mix of modern Cantonese and Hong Kong street-style. In fact, I don’t think I have had better crispy pork belly in Delhi and this is one of the very few places that serves chicken feet! Yes, The Hong Kong Club is where I had a taste of chicken feet for the very first time, despite ample hesitation, but took an instant liking to. The gelatinous meat surrounding the soft bones is actually very comforting and the mildly spiced broth is extremely flavourful what with all the poaching, frying, marinating and steaming that goes in their preparation.

Add a buzz to your Brunch with specially crafted cocktails
or a glass or two of bubbly.

Since I said that the bar is the focal point, let me jump in with what’s on offer. The friendly bartenders whip up classic cocktails as well as cater to specific requests. Mixologist Agnieszka Rozenska is brilliant behind the bar and a pleasure to chat with. Of Polish origin and popularly known as Agni, this globetrotter likes to get to know her guests and happily talks about her experiences in India along with sharing the nuances of making perfectly balanced cocktails.

While bellinis and mimosas are on offer too, there is plenty that celebrates the drink of the season – Gin. From chamomile infused gin to a spur-of-the-moment creation of Punch of the Brunch - gin with orange juice, star anise, cardamom and orange zest - there is plenty to keep you happy. Or you could simply opt for the champagne brunch and keep the Taittinger flowing. The live band, a special group of internationally acclaimed artists, Mikhail Jones, Emerald Sarter and Leroy Kromberg who have come together to form The Jade, only enhances the vibe and keeps your foot tapping.

Dimsum galore.

In keeping with Hong Kong’s traditional dimsum teahouses, the dimsum menu has it all from crystal dumplings to shumai, crispy fried to boiled, and of course baos with assorted fillings. If you like the soupy xiao long bao opt for the Shanghai dumplings from the menu. Available in two variants, mixed mushroom and pepper, and chicken, broth, ginger and scallions, they hit the right spot!

Save some appetite for salads and wholesome mains.

But of course there’s a lot more to choose from. I give a thumbs up to both the salads. The chilled tofu is a beautiful chunk of silken tofu topped with a delicious picante peanut sauce. And the duck salad is a signature dish of the restaurant and is again tossed in a tangy peanut sauce with pomelo, pine nuts, beansprouts and shallots. Among the appetisers, the fried potato is addictive not only for its crunch but also for the chian kiang vinegar and chilli oil that is drizzled on it. And although the mains are limited in choice, they are wholesome and satiating. String beans, tofu and mushroom, cumin lamb and crispy chilli chicken are more than enough to round off a langorous brunch, along with wok fried rice and street-style chow mein.

In a Nutshell: Ideal for families, the Brunch includes swimming pool access, cooking classes {if you get there well in time}, and a crafts corner where your li’l ones will be happily occupied in making Chinese lanterns, face masks, et al.

The Hong Kong Club, Asset No. 1, Northern Access Road, Andaz Delhi, Aerocity, New Delhi.
Ph: +91 85888 42919
Timings: Sunday Brunch

Pricing: Food and soft beverages Rs 2,500++; Food and alcoholic beverages + sparkling wine Rs 3,900++; Food, alcoholic beverages + sparkling wine + champagne Rs 5,900++.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Steal Deal | This Award-Winning Restaurant Offers a Fantastic Tasting Menu for Solo Diners

Here’s an offer that you wouldn’t want to miss. Chef Matteo Fontana has been serving some very exquisite food at The Leela Palace New Delhi’s ambient rooftop restaurant, Le Cirque. He literally has the crème de la crème of Delhi eating out of his hand. In fact, one of the most famous food columnists of the country chose this restaurant to celebrate his birthday on the same evening that I went to experience the newly-launched Bite Size menu. 

Conceptualised for single diners and for guests interested in a less formal dining format, the Bite Size menu is served at the bar counter, for which just five seats are dedicated every Thursday and Friday evening. It comprises an eight-course tasting menu of Chef Matteo’s delicious creations. Keeping in mind the smaller portion sizes, the price has been pared down to Rs 1800, and I can vouch that the quality offered is top notch. This means that it’s a great opportunity for diners to experience the Le Cirque gastronomy, without burning a hole in their pocket. And in case you’re wondering if “bite-size” will be enough for dinner, let me assure you that each course is more than a couple of bites and highly satiating.

Top: The beautiful bar at Le Cirque.
Bottom: Seating at the bar counter; a fancy bread basket.

So without further ado, let me get started with telling you all about the food! As you’re seated you’ll be served freshly baked bread with two types of butter – salted and mustard – along with some sea salt. Then the culinary journey begins, and I am happy to describe it in detail not only to entice you but also to go over the flavours in my head all over again.

Top: Chicken liver pate; Pan seared wild scallop.
Bottom: Chilled Heirloom Tomato Consomme; Ravioli stuffed with
braised duck leg.

Chicken liver pate comes with three mini brioches and four jams – pumpkin and coconut, mango relish; berry compote and tomato jam. The highlight is the thin layer of chicken jus on top of the silken pate that lends it a beautiful finesse. 
Pan seared wild scallop is served on a bed of puy lentils. Although Chef endearingly says that it is French/Italian dal, it is cooked risotto style with oodles of butter and parmesan and drizzled with basil oil giving it more of an oomph. 
Chilled Heirloom Tomato Consommé is ideal for the current weather with a quenelle of tomato sorbet sitting in the centre and topped with three types of caviar – basil, lemon and balsamic. Served with a simple but beautiful tomato salsa on a crostini this course really celebrates this fruit in the most wonderful and seasonal way. 
Ravioli stuffed with braised duck leg is both delicate in its technique and rich with flavour as the duck is braised in Barolo wine. A wonderful balance is achieved with pairing this with parsley foam and again some flavour-packed bits of morrels swimming in the velvety pumpkin velouté.

Top: Green asparagus and barley risotto; Paupiette of Chilean Sea Bass
Bottom: Sous vide pork belly; Tiramisu in a Chocolate Sphere.

Green Asparagus And Barley Risotto is rather self-explanatory, except that it is cooked with basil pesto and sprinkled with dry tomato powder to lend it a hint of acidity.
Paupiette of Chilean Sea Bass is supposed to come with crispy potatoes, as per the menu. In case you’re wondering about the crispy potatoes, they are present in the beautifully thin and crunchy crust that coats the fish.
Sous Vide Pork Belly is cooked for 21 hours and the meat melts in the mouth, yet the top layer is beautifully crisp. It is served with smoked mashed potatoes and crisps of apple and red cabbage. Although the meat is succulent on its own, do not skip the accompanying jus, it is a must-have!
Tiramisu in a Chocolate Sphere is the finale to this beautiful meal. Here, Chef has gone far away from the traditional tiramisu in that a chocolate powder coated white chocolate sphere gives way to a filling made with almond custard. This is the only course that I would say is “not bad”, not because it is not delicious, but because I am a purist when it comes to tiramisu as it probably is one of my favourite desserts ever!

In a Nutshell: Would I go back for the bite-size menu? A definite Yes! Should you go and try it out? Yes, please!

Le Cirque, The Leela Palace New Delhi, Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi 110023.
Timings: The Bite-Size menu is available for dinner only on Thursday and Fridays. Only 5 seats available at the bar hence prior reservation is a must.
Meal for one: Rs 1,800++.