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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Imperial Hotel, Delhi

Nothing lifts Agent Triple P’s heart like a truly great hotel. His trip to India had yielded one very good hotel, one great hotel and one truly great hotel. Indeed, pleasant though the Taj Bengal was in Calcutta and as redolent with history as was the Taj Mahal Palace in Bombay neither of them could hold a candle to The Imperial in New Delhi.


Quite simply the Imperial had leapt straight into Triple P’s list of the top five hotels he had ever stayed in. It joined a list which included the Adlon in Berlin, The Island Shangri-la in Singapore, the Ritz in London and the Bauer-au-Lac in Zurich.
These were hotels which combined (with the exception of the Shangri-la) heritage, unrivalled dining, beautiful rooms and common parts and impeccable service. Hotels where Triple P felt at home.
They had to have a good bar which could make a top-notch Martini. They had to have a world-class restaurant. They had to have spacious rooms with excellent bathrooms. They had to have beautiful women (whether staff, guests or both) wafting elegantly about. They had to have, if it was a hot place, an excellent outdoor pool. The Imperial scored highly in all areas.

Our modest room.
The Imperial was opened in 1936 and is located on what was then Queensway, now Janpath. Designed by Lutyens it was intended to be the most luxurious hotel in the city and succeeds triumphantly. Whilst its exterior is resolutely Art Deco its interior is a blend of Art Deco, Victorian and Colonial. Literally hundreds of 18th and 19th century artworks litter the rooms and spacious corridors. All the pictures have an Indian subject and many of them have a military theme, often showing gallant British soldiers from different periods of the Raj happily skewering the locals with sword, bayonet and lance.

They don't like it up 'em!

The guests included many locals but also more westerners than Triple P had seen on his visit so far. Alarmingly, a high proportion of them seemed to be French. This, however, did have the effect of improving the scenery around the pool considerably, as leggy lovelies wearing very small bikinis sat around reading Paris Match and taking desultory swims in the pool whilst their much older (inevitably) male companions had furtive gatherings in corners of the hotel or stood in little groups inside the lobby waiting to be taken to some meeting or other.


The hotel itself was on four floors and was arranged as a square with no less than eight protruding wings, giving it somewhat the appearance of a hash mark in plan view. Unlike most hotels, considerable attention to detail had been devoted to the corridors and they gleamed with marble and polished brass.


The central corridor. The cleanest hotel area on the planet?


Indian rugs were scattered about as were interesting sculptures and pictures. Little, and not so little, alcoves were placed throughout the hotel and served to show off more splendid pictures and sculptures. Coming across them was often an unexpected joy and Triple P took time to examine the selected paintings and statues.

The lobby was restrained, compared with the typical South East Asian cavernous look of the Island Shangri-la, but led to a magnificent central corridor that went the whole length of the hotel. Most of the bars and restaurants led off from this corridor or the adjoining four storey atrium with its glassed-off roof, palms and tinkling fountains.

In fact fountains were to be found in many places, several of them being of the barely dressed girlie variety of which Triple P was rather fond.


The main restaurant, where breakfast was served was called 1911, reflecting the date when New Delhi took over the mantle of India’s capital city from Calcutta. It served typical International fare and was as informal as you would find in the hotel. Informality, however, when you were shown to your table by lovely sari clad women and then served by waiters in red military jackets and turbans, was something of a relative term. In a separate section of the restaurant was a glassed off verandah which was a splendid place to have breakfast.



Outside was a terrace which was a very good place to take afternoon tea. Whilst the temperature was 102º when Triple P was there, a nice breeze and large green umbrellas kept the conditions bearable outside.



The adjoining 1911 bar, whilst undoubtedly beautifully decorated was too brightly lit for Triple P’s taste and contained, horrors, a television which seemed to show, inevitably, constant cricket, much to the delight of the Australians who appeared to be its habitual residents.




He preferred the smaller Patiala Peg (named after the early twentieth century tent-pegging victory by the Maharaja of Patiala’s team over the Viceroy’s).


Our splendidly efficient barman

It contained only seven or eight tables, some rather daring Art Deco girlie statues and a lot of old Indian Army prints. It was also one of the few hotel bars in the world that made a Martini in a properly chilled glass.



That's the way to do it!



Daniell’s Tavern was named after landscape painters Thomas and William Daniell who arrived in India in 1786 to paint the country’s scenery. The restaurant, with its pan-Indian cuisine, is located on the exact spot where the uncle and nephew team camped to produce thei painting of Jantar Mantar and early eighteenth century observatory. Triple P had a most splendid lunch there.


Sadly, there was not time to sample San Gimignano, the Italian Restaurant, or the inclination to visit La Baguette, the patisserie. Both looked splendid, however.


His favourite restaurant had to be The Spice Route, a South East Asian restaurant that resembled a wooden temple inside. Outside there was a stunning courtyard with pool and pagoda for al fresco dining. Recently voted by Conde Nast International traveller as one of the ten best restaurants in the world and that week having received another award for best ambience, Triple P could not think of a better place to entertain a young lady. Which he did, twice!


Outside, a short walk through the palm-filled gardens, was the pool. The palms gave good shade to part of the poolside and there was a small bar which could supply Kingfisher beer and substantial snacks. Triple P and his companion had hot Chicken Tikka and onion sandwiches in thin Indian bread which were just excellent. Service from the crisply uniformed staff was friendly and impeccable.


All in all Triple P cannot recommend The Imperial highly enough and we will just finish by saying that we venture that it is indeed the finest hotel we have ever stayed in anywhere in the world.

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