Hotel Review: The Leela Palace, New Delhi
Trooping off a 10 hour flight, I went straight off to attend the Google ‘Big Tent’ gathering with the cream of India’s Tech and Communications industries, then on to a meeting at the British High Commission. Gratefully, I selected probably the best place possible to rest my weary head after a very long day – The Leela Palace Hotel.
I was in New Delhi, India’s largest ‘metro’ with a population in excess of 21 million and a reputation for being the most expensive city in India for visitors. Loughborough University’s World Cities Study Group rates it as an ‘Alpha City’. It’s big.
In summer, temperatures range from 25°C to a heady 46°C, but in the winter the cold can take things as low as zero and conversely, up to a respectable 29°C. It’s important to note that India’s monsoon rains arrive at the same time as the English summer. It’s mid-march and today it’s hot and I dream of good air con and some reassuring home comforts.
Firstly I’m staying in Chanakyapuri, an affluent neighbourhood and diplomatic enclave established in the 1950s, which is only 14km from Indira Gandhi International Airport. I enjoy a 5 minute bout of Embassy spotting before entering what has been impressively described as ‘representing the magnificent architecture, grace and elegance of Lutyen’s Delhi’ – The Leela Palace Hotel. Instant impressions are positive.
You enter to a very grand and extravagant lobby area peppered with strategically arranged period furniture. It’s sumptuous and it makes you want to sit, but after 18 hours of travel and business meetings I avoid that option as I may never be able to rise.
A greeter stands before me, places a floral arrangement around my neck and a red spot on my forehead before placing a cool drink in my right hand. Having lived and worked in India I still find it novel and charming and just a little bit amusing watching this ritual disarm other, stiffer arrivals.
There are 260 rooms in this considerable building, some are the largest in the capital (the Presidential Suite spans 4425 sq.ft). All come fully equipped with the latest technology – Messrs Brin and Page would be impressed. It also has a diverse list of chic, high quality eateries to choose from.
My Deluxe king size room had a timeless feel, with marble and polished woods balanced with soft, rich materials and ornate furnishings – the signature I believe of Mrs. Madhu Nair whose design flair and detailing can be seen in the artefacts, arrangements and embellishments throughout the hotel’s common areas.I’m asleep in minutes amongst the sumptuous, pristine white sheets but awake to the disappointment of pay-as-you go Wifi. ‘Tut, tut’, I hear Brin and Page murmur. From discussing India as the ‘future of mobile comms’, I am presented with its most illustrious 5 Star establishment flogging precious Wifi minutes to high paying hotel guests. Catch up Leela, you’re behind. This should be a right, not a privilege.
My call request from reception does not materialise, (read: internal communication = work in progress), but I’m still buoyed by my visit to Jamavar, the hotel’s premier restaurant for northern and southern Indian cuisine. The setting is relaxed, thoughtful but not inspiring, but the food, the best of which is south Indian is a quiet delight.
The next evening I am urged to visit Le Cirque. It is the highlight of my stay. It enjoys legendary status in the gastronomic world and boasts a patronage of Presidents, Popes and Pop Stars. It built its formidable reputation back in New York and I’m eager to see if it travels. It does, in style. The touch point is not the food, although amazing and already winning plaudits in the city. No, it wins hands down on its design and layout.
It has been confusingly described as ‘organised chaos’ by others, I believe it to be a multi-level experience, it’s ordered, woven and considered, from private dining rooms to clever enclaves of outside space, then open areas in full view of the chefs, concocting their culinary creations.
Design plaudits go to Studio Spin, who’ve realised a fantastic bar lounge, alfresco seating and three spacious dining rooms, which are jigsawed together in the loosest of free flowing arrangements while offering a different experience every time. I loved the corridor of wines that served as a sort of ‘open cellar’. You could stroll up and pick and choose at will, as if selecting your favourite book from the library shelf. Genius.
It is telling that The Leela Palace is family owned. For a substantial structure it still manages to retain that personal touch and character that a corporate would struggle with. I’m reliably told Capt. C. P. Krishnan Nair and his family have an enviable track record in pulling off such a fete.
The Google roadshow has now left town, so before I know it, I’m checking out. No time to sample The Spa, fitness studio, relaxation lounge, finishing studio, roof terrace and sauna, steam and drench rooms. I’m leaving that for the next excuse I can find to visit. Hope Yahoo plan to come some time soon.
The Leela Palace Hotel