What makes one luxury hotel stand out from the others? It can be highest in the world, say Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. It can have the most amazing smoothies at breakfast, say Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. It can also have a myriad of little experiences, say Kempinski Ambience Hotel Delhi. This is the hotel built by Ambience shopping mall entrepreneur Raj Singh Gehlot, to kick-start the value of land in the Shahdara area of Delhi, east of the Yamuna river. It has the biggest ballroom in town, ample to hold up to 6,000 wedding guests, the gal was told.
I did not coincide with a wedding, sadly, but I was there for the Lohri festival, marketing the eve of the winter solstice, when people dance around bonfires. They eat special sweets and the hotel’s friendly chef, Rohit Torki, made a selection as a welcome. Called gazak, which means sugar fudge, they are basically layers of sesame seeds cooked in sugar and, as here, covered with assorted types of chocolate. There is a lot you can eat around this 480-room hotel – even the decorative cabbages used as flower arrangements could be used in an emergency. But no problem, there is no shortage of food.
We dine in Dilli32, named by Raj Singh Gehlot (one of his reasons is that humans have 32 teeth). This is royal cuisine, say Bhuna paneer tikka, skewered cottage cheese, yoghurt, spices and mint chutney; I followed this with Nehari gosht, chopped lamb chops in brown onion gravy, with, a highlight this one, Lasooni palak, spinach and garlic; and, for dessert, Kesar kulfi faluda, stick with ice-cream of saffron, condensed milk, pistachio and sandal syrup. Dilli32 is heavy on glass walls, so passers-by can see in. The all-day restaurant, Café Khosh, by contrast, has some walls that are collages of blown-up food shots.
We are collecting little experiences, here. Take the hotel’s signature ‘banta lemonade’, adapted from Delhi street-food offerings. Creative GM Vella Ramasawmy has had special glass bottles made, with lips extending over the circumference of a marble held inside. A special gizmo forces the marble down to the bottle’s neck to a holding constriction, halfway down. This allows the lemonade out. What happens to the empty bottle? After washing, and refilling with lemonade, carbon dioxide forces the marble back up, to stopper the refill.
He is quite a character, is Mr Ramasawmy. He tells me that he wants all his guests to have a great breakfast, and I wonder how, when the hotel is full with conventioneers or wedding guests, the splendid buffet can cope with up to nearly a thousand morning-after breakfasters. Perhaps, since he says Chivas Regal or Johnnie Walker Blue Label are the favoured drinks during weddings, a morning-after feeling means that some will order in their rooms, or eschew eating at all. Personally I would like to be here, at Café Khosh, for the Sunday art brunch, when kids can learn to draw and sculpt, and take photos.
Vella Ramasawmy tells me more about the secret to good weddings. Get to know the parents of both bride and groom so well that they trust you. Get full payment 48 hours ahead of the event. Make sure you, the luxury hotel boss, stay until the end (he had just done a wedding for 5,000). And enjoy it, he said with a big smile. This boss is certainly memorable!