India has two born-and-bred legendary hoteliers, and one is the Hon. Chairman, Padmabhushan Capt C.P. Krishnan Nair. He is 90 years old on February 9th, 2013, and he remains the life and soul of any party.
He invited the gal to breakfast at his first luxury hotel, The Leela Mumbai, which he opened in 1985 as a progression from a lifetime of running textile mills (apparently he still produces much of the world’s machine-made lace). Anyway, said the Hon. Chairman, come at nine, to Citrus. I, being alert, arrived 0855, and he was already there. He had, as always, been up at five for an hour’s yoga and presumably he was hungry by now. He, and his family, live next door to the hotel.
Everyone in the restaurant was buzzing around, aware that the Hon. Chairman was there, esconsed in a distant corner looking out at the gardens round the outdoor swimming pool. Since there are 427 rooms here, the restaurant is busy, which makes for even more buzzing.
The Hon. Chairman started by washing his fingers in a silver bowl, and then he was brought a big square Rava Dosa, a batter crepe from South India, and bowls of condiments, and all the time he smiles, rather god-like (apparently the Dalai Lama uses this as his home whenever he is in town, as do various Middle Eastern potentates).
He may still have another ten years to go to reach his century but, honestly, the Hon. Chairman sometimes acts like a teenager. He is constantly alert and he loves a bit of gossip.
He arrives today with his PR Supremo, an Indian-born New Yorker who was working for the Governor of that State but has now been enticed home by the charisma of her current boss (and also, presumably, by the fact that her Deutsche Bank husband is now working in Mumbai).
We talk food. The Hon. Chairman has an apartment in Manhattan and he loves eating out. Here, at The Leela Mumbai, he is about to open, on the top floor of the eight-floor building, a branch of Nello on Madison Avenue.
I later check Nello online, and find Nello Balan, its owner, is a somewhat controversial character. He appears to be one of those restaurateurs who believes you do not need the best food at low prices to attract the best diners (they come, anyway, and pay high prices). Some of the reviews of the original Nello complain about exorbitantly high costs for pasta, even without any of his beloved truffle in it, but then those same people go back, again and again.
By contrast no-one complains about the price of eating at another of the Nair family’s favourite dining haunts in New York, Megu. Everyone knows the cost of fresh fish, which has to be flown in from Tokyo’s Tsukiji market.
Leela already has a branch of Megu in its Delhi flagship hotel, Leela Palace, in the Chankyapuri diplomatic area of town. Prices here, I am told, are akin to those in Manhattan, but the aficionados appreciate the quality of the fish – many of the diners are under 40, and a favourite to accompany it is, believe it or not, Cristal.
The same, apparently, goes for the other signature restaurant at Leela Palace, Delhi, Le Cirque (the Hon. Chairman and his family so love Sirio Maccioni and HIS family that they are asking for another Le Cirque, a little bit more casual, in their Chennai hotel).
And so, after eating and drinking, and enjoying the ESPA and having neither time nor need for a Warren-Tricomi hair cut – yes, Leela Mumbai has everything (even this hairstylist, who is also at The Plaza, New York) – it is pack up and move on. Two travel tips, by the way.
If you want to be as near as possible to Bombay’s current airport, stay at this luxury hotel, only ten minutes’ drive away. And to leave in maximum calm, fly out on one of the few mid-morning international flights, to avoid the chaos (take the word ‘buzz’ and turn it into ‘potential horror story’) of leaving at peak-departure time, around 0300.