There is a strict rotation policy for the table mats at the Citrus café restaurant. The mats are printed with jokes and the jokes are not allowed to get stale. You’ll find more jokes framed on walls, a mural of funny faces in the lobby and one-liners printed on framed baby t-shirts. But what had me cracking up was the mental image of a sombre businessman, blinking as he paused to read, “Virginity like bubble. One prick, all gone.” Clearly, Lemon Tree is not afraid of making a statement.
Hence, when in a Lemon Tree, keep an eye out for the ponytail. Not just any ponytail, mind you — the one tied back by a band with a yellow bow on it. The folks at Lemon Tree are very particular about their colours. They are even more particular about their fun quotient. So the staff uniform eschews stuffed shirts for tails… ponytails.
The company started in 2002 in the midscale market (Lemon Tree Hotels). It has now expanded to 21 hotels in 14 cities, stretching up and down into the upscale (Lemon Tree Premier) and economy (Red Fox Hotels) segments. It thus ends up catering to pockets of all sizes short of outright five-star luxury, but it is fastidious about maintaining consistent standards across the spectrum, all the while keeping a firm grip on cost consciousness.
I am staying at Lemon Tree Premier in HITEC City, Hyderabad, a convenient location for business travellers. ‘Quality service with value for money’ — in my dictionary that used to be an euphemism for insipid, soulless and deathly dull. So naturally I was apprehensive, bracing for another property of the conveyor belt variety. It is standardized, sure, in the best way: the service is precise; the usual amenities are in place; the mattress sinks in just right; the towels are fluffy... And that’s where the similarity with the best of the other chain hotels ends. Over and above this, it is Lemon Tree’s well-articulated, decidedly colourful personality that shines through in unexpected places.
It is in that sunny yellow bow in the hair of friendly managerial staff. In the furniture that doesn’t look uncomfortably perfect, straight out of some glossy brochure. Or the ergonomically laid out rooms with lots of natural light. The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment has felicitated the chain’s consistent efforts towards empowering the differently abled: 6-7% of Lemon Tree staff are persons with disabilities and in their new Lemon Tree Premier property in Aerocity, Delhi, we hear they’ve taken it up a notch — to an astounding 90%.
The décor does its bit too. Art on display is promoted by People for Animals and bronze statues showcase the work of tribal communities from Bastar. Each hotel has adopted a stray dog, some of which carry forward the family name. You can get introduced to Pot Tree, Lot Tree, Not-Yet-A-Tree or one of the other Trees, depending on where you are staying.
Chances are you’ll likely run into Clever Fox if you are staying at the Red Fox hotels, on the other hand. The mascot promotes the philosophy of this budget hotel: sharp, bright and mouthy. Cheerful rooms, with a strong focus on security and hygiene, come at very competitive rates and with all the facilities you would expect of a good hotel and which not-so-long-ago was unheard of at ‘guesthouse’ or backpacking prices: a gym, free Wi-Fi, conference rooms, business centre, 18-hour coffee shop and multi-cuisine restaurant.
What you will have to endure, though, are pictures of a red-coloured fox posing in various avatars, or mouthing “witty” lines that will cause your jaw to slacken and stay that way until you get your bearings. The cheeky attitude of this younger hotel chain can get a bit exhausting after a point, though. The jokes are not always politically correct and most made me wince. Though I’m sure average guests are happy to let the hotel take these minor liberties. You don’t usually get this impeccable service with a host of facilities at such affordable rates. Ah well, one can’t be too picky. But it could be enough for frequent travellers to choose Lemon Tree over its bright-eyed and bushy-tailed kid brother, especially here in Hyderabad, where they the Fox sits in the shade of the Tree!
It’s hard, however, to not be picky if you have chosen to stay at an upscale hotel and treat yourself to a higher-end experience. Yet Lemon Tree Premier, Hyderabad, does not quite make the leap from “getting it all right” to “deliciously decadent”. Indeed, I feared this one may be a lemon. The interiors are pleasant enough — if you don’t go expecting opulence, you won’t be disappointed. There is a soft toy (yellow, mind you) in the exclusive women’s rooms, which frankly I found a tad patronizing. The open-air, rooftop pool doesn’t come with a view and the spa, though quite good, is boxed up indoors (I strongly recommend the chocolate body wrap, that is, if you don’t mind the whiff of chocolate on you for a few days after).
All will be quickly forgiven once you have a meal, though. The speciality restaurants, run under the eagle eye of head chef Himanshu Sachdev, are stellar. Republic of Noodles serves pan-Asian — authentic, unfamiliar and, no, this is not Chinese fare. I didn’t realize the bland water chestnut could be packed with so many flavours. Nor did I think that noodles could be a revelation — the restaurant’s mention in the Miele food guide is fully justified.
The dimly lit Kebab Theater is full-blown Bollywood kitsch — no colours spared in this psychedelic den illuminated with long, low-hanging lamps. The good old kebab is packaged and marketed filmi ishtyle, masala maar ke. Traditional preparations from all over the Subcontinent are paired with unconventional accompaniments. Dal makhani is crossed with prunes to create Kebab Theater’s signature Dal-i-Balai. Jheenga Alamgir is served on a bed of mustard potatoes, Dastan-e-Khumb is served with papdi and galauti with miniature ulta tawa parathas.
It is to be expected. Lemon Tree does not stand much for convention — if anything, it loves to stand out. Where else is it mandatory for supervisors to sport a ponytail — not just any ponytail, one that is tied with a faux yellow bow? With a pulse on the market requirements and rapid plans of expansion, Lemon Tree is powering through its brief to offer a slew of options in hotels to travellers in India — hotels that live up to the promise of being refreshingly different.
Where: Lemon Tree Premier/ Red Fox Hotel, Plot No.2, Survey No. 64, HITEC City, Madhapur, Hyderabad. HITEC City is 15km from the heart of Hyderabad, 16km from the railway station and 35km from the airport.
Accommodation: Lemon Tree Premier has 241 rooms (134 Superior, 90 Deluxe and 17 Premier) and 26 suites (21 Junior, 4 Executive, 1 Presidential); Red Fox has 110 rooms (77 Standard, 33 Superior) and 11 Executive Suites.
Tariff: Rs 4,449–5,099 (superior room), Rs 4,999–5,499 (deluxe room), Rs 5,499–6,099 (premier room), Rs 7,449–8,099 (junior suite), Rs 9,449–10,099 (executive suite) and Rs 16,449–17,099 (presidential suite) for Lemon Tree Premier; Rs 3,099–4,299 (standard), Rs 3,899–4,999 (superior) and Rs 5,199–5,799 (executive suite) for Red Fox Hotel; taxes extra; includes one complimentary buffet breakfast at Red Fox.
Contact: 040-44212121, lemontreehotels.com