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Chennai’s new luxury palace hotel wows VIPs, and environmentalists

Welcome to the ITC Grand Chola says the doorman

Did southern India’s best known movie-star and personality Rajinikath have a chance to visit the impressive Kaya Kalp spa when he stayed at the brand-new ITC Grand Chola, Chennai?

The hotel opened September 15th, 2012, but it is opening in stages. It will not have all of its 600 bedrooms, and its ten restaurants and bars, until January 12th, 2013.  It must be fully open then, says boss Philippe Charraudeau.

There is a ‘major’ wedding already booked for the following day… fortunately the spa is already open, and the gal had a sensational Essence of Chola experience from Yen, namely a body-brush and scrub followed by a massage that includes Ayurveda, Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Thai techniques.

ITC Grand Chola luxury hotel, Chennai, India

The entire ITC Grand Chola, Chennai

Talking of weddings, although it was then far from open this truly impressive palace of a hotel did host a wedding for 4,000 way back in November 2011.  The even was either split into half, or repeated, so 2,000 came at one hour, 2,000 at the other, and the ballroom and approaches and the soaring main lobby (and sufficient washrooms) were open.

Yes, this is a place that can cope with, well, anything.  Right now, the elegant female Polish sommelier, who last worked in Italy, is wandering around offering mocktails.   Like all new hotels, it has yet to receive its liquor licence.

tower room af the ITC Grand Chola luxury hotel, Chennai, India

A Tower room – mirrors at the far end slide back to reveal the bathroom

This means that the minibars are not exactly ‘dry’ but only non-alcohol.   Everything else is in place.   The rooms are really impressive.  A 600 sq ft room like 3201, for instance, has a big square bed-living room divided by sliding mirror panels from the bath, and bathroom.

The room has rounded corners, repeated in ceiling panels.  The walls are covered in cherry-wood veneer.   This is the world’s largest LEED-certified Platinum Green level new-build hotel. All electricity is said to be generated by windmills 100 miles away.

All rainwater is accumulated on the fifth-floor open area (five pools up there) and from rooftops.  Used hotel water is recycled, and surplus shared with a nearby golf course.

Room service coffee (Chennai folk need their ‘pressed coffee’)

Lights turn off, when not needed – and you can control all lighting, and heating, from the iPad by the bed.  I actually found this much easier to operate than anticipated, and I loved having all local details in too (this is where I found the history of the Government Museum that I visited yesterday).

What else about the room?  It looks out over the approach to the hotel – which, by the way, is a staggering 700 feet long, one end to the other, and as well as the rooms there are 68 service apartments and business areas that include the ballroom (which will seat 3,000 if needed, at one go) and a movie-theatre and much else.

Bar view ITC grand Chola luxury hotel

The hotel has ten bars and restaurants

Some of the ten restaurants and bars are already functioning, but I had a good look at the others, too.  I loved The Cheroot Malt & Cigar Lounge, a gentleman’s bar which of course has glass-fronted cabinets for the VIPs of Chennai to store, and show off, their own personal bottles.

There is a smoking room attached to the main area: both rooms have lots of low-set tables, their glass tops showing off displays of antiques collected by the managers here – a fascinating collection of pipes (a Philippe Charraudeau assortment), and hip-flasks, and Dinky Toys (miniature cars and buses) galore.  But the opening of the bars will obviously have to wait until that liquor licence comes.

Meanwhile, you start a meal with, say, a mocktail of cucumber and mint, in champagne glasses of course, and concentrate on the food.

Peshawri chefs loading kebabs to be cooked in tandoor ovens

This is a delight in the already-opened restaurants.  Take Peshawri, which  is a local take on that eternal staple, Bukhara in an ITC sister hotel, the ITC Maurya in Delhi.   At Peshawri you watch the chefs through a big glass wall.   Watch them carefully sticking marinated lamb cubes, or filled capsicum, or balls of cottage cheese, or chicken or fish bits, on long skewers.  These they put into clay tandoori ovens.

You wear a red-and-white checked apron (green, if you are vegetarian), you eat with your hands and make a terrible mess, but they bring brass finger bowls.  The room is lovely, with many different seating areas.  I am amused how some of the most ample sari-clad ladies prefer small stools to high-backed banquettes.

A Roman chef’s take on a caprese tower in Chennai

Yes, local people adore this hotel.  The first person to check in, to stay overnight, was Mr Patel, from Chennai, who wanted to boast forever about having been first here.  Every top family in town (and movie stars led by Rajinikath no less) have rushed here, to try every spot they can.

Some, sadly not movie stars, or at least not known to me, even wandered through one of the three gyms as I pounded away.  Yes, they do things in style here.  There are no fewer than five swimming pools, one rectangle, two semi-circles and two circles, your choice.   It is your choice everywhere, it seems.

In the amazingly popular Italian restaurant Ottimo Cucina Italiana, where the central cooking area with giant piazza oven is headed by a Roman with grey pony tail (a guy called Massimo), they produce a fabulous home-made pasta range plus a caprese tower that is a balancing act all in itself.

So every restaurant is full.   I tried out the 24-hour Mercara, though not admittedly in the middle of the night, and, twice, the all-buffet Madras Pavilion.   A test of any good breakfast is when they can do dosa (rice and lentil crepes, with or without ghee or masala) for the locals as well as baked yoghurt, papaya and roughage-filled wholewheat toast for me (they could).

The restaurants still to come include a Roya Vega, for meat-free lovers, and Pan-Asian, to cover much of the rest of the world.  Interestingly there is no mention of an haute cuisine French restaurant.

Perhaps that is why the so-French but international boss here, Philippe Charraudeau, is delighted from time to time to see one of his compatriots also helping steer Chennai’s luxury hotel levels yet higher (yes, the bosses of both to-come Leela Palace Chennai and just-opened Park Hyatt Chennai are also French).