If visuals are the secret of communication success in today’s fast-moving world, Chennai’s most monumental luxury hotel, the 522-room ITC Grand Chola, has’em nonstop – see, above, a collage of bathroom products that includes a back brush that could well be photographed alongside the spectacular dessert, on the left. This dessert, by the way, is a fennel pannacotta with white chocolate casing, the whole wrapped in angel hair caramel (break the shape open to get through to a sweetened mango sauce). But this, says the gal, is jumping ahead. This hotel is so large that it makes the kilometre-long Jumeirah Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi almost manageable. As you walk around inside you continually look down, or up, at massive columns.
But here, as the boss and regional director ITC, Anil Chadha, explains, the nine-floor stone structure is like a massive fort. Each facet is identical, with its own main door and portico. There are therefore arrivals and departures at all doors – yes, you need to remember which is yours. Inside, the signposting is exemplary and you do soon find your way. I was 3403, on the fourth floor of the ‘three’ area of the hotel, and it was so easy to find the Technogym, it was right above me, on the 35th floor (I found out later there are actually three gyms, and three outdoor pools, on the fifth floor inner-courtyard ‘rooftop’). I quickly headed for the Kaya Kalp spa, to take advantage of a cleverly thought out Brisk treatment: there are various choices, all 20-minutes, in and out. People are short of time, says Anil Chadha.
My Express Escapes, featuring pressure-point work on the face, scalp, neck and shoulders, seemed very effective and I followed those clear signs back home (see the video below to tour my suite). I wished I had time to do a bit of research on the Wills Lifestyle retail site that is extensively promoted in bedrooms – Wills is one of the many ITC divisions, and as well as online there are 110 actual stores. But dinner called, and I could see right away why Anil Chadha is so excited about his newest restaurant, Avartana, which is Sanskrit for a variety of words, including magic, mysticism and rhythm. In overall pale grey-champagne with deep saffron highlights, there are several dining areas, separated by floor length curtains of hanging colourless beads.
It is set-menu only, all available veg, or non-veg. I did the most popular, the second price-up, Bela ‘beautiful’. I went through an amuse of a broth made at table in a cafetière, then a mouthful of chickpea and millet salad, divine strings of banana flower fritters, a single curd cheese dumpling with beetroot pearls, an orange and ginger sorbet, a chunk of cod in a coriander broth and then, as shown here, a modern curry (Uthukuli butter, from buffalo white-cream milk, with morrell mushrooms) with light-as-air strips of Malabar-style parotta. The meal was to continue, to a leaf parcel holding a vegetarian biryani, and a sago and yoghurt pudding with a test tube of tamarind and dried berry sauce. The cod, by the way, had been introduced from the non-veg menu, and I had specifically asked for the fennel pannacotta, from the Anika, ‘graceful’, menu as it sounded so enticing. No problem, said Anil Chadha – but then, in my too-short stay, nothing seemed to be any trouble at this very thoughtful hotel. On my way back to my suite I looked down at the breakfast venue. NOW SEE, BELOW, FIRST MY SUITE AND THEN THE BREAKFAST BUFFET WITH ITS LOCAL CHAI TEA STATION.