The Ritz-Carlton debuted in India on October 31 at Bangalore’s Residency Road, the cusp of the downtown business and entertainment precinct and the colonial-era neighbourhood of Richmond Town. It didn’t wait long to make itself at home. Grapevine goss hinted at the city’s plushest, priciest rooms and word of its fine restaurants wafted ahead of my arrival whetting, if not yet my appetite, certainly an epicurean curiosity. One March evening, as the pale mauve of jacaranda faded into indigo twilight, I was ushered into an L-shaped building of 16 floors (minus Level 13 in keeping with tradition), its Jerusalem-limestone façade emblazoned with the recognisable leonine crest of the Ritz-Carlton franchise.
Architects, inspired by the jaali work of Rajasthani palaces, have adapted the traditional lattice pattern to every aspect of the hotel’s décor — from lampshade grilles and window-screens, right down to a special dessert. As I strode past an art nouveau Mughal garden enshrining the five elements, I was stopped in my tracks by a sinewy man in a chair glaring waspishly ahead – Pablo Picasso, unnervingly lifelike in bronze, by American artist Robert St Croix. A rumour is whispered that late one night before the hotel opened, the painter got up from his chair. Perhaps he meant to nosh a midnight snack at Ganache, but the patisserie was closed. Explains the sulk.
Avant-garde crystal chandeliers deck the foyers and lounges. I feasted off the walls, which were punctuated every few steps with canvases by Bose Krishnamachari, Paresh Maity, Seema Kohli and others, along with a range of arresting sculptures, the most striking being the fluid, sensuous humanoids of Cuban Master Sculptor Manuel Carbonell and the ingenious metal figures of Arzan Khambatta. In the lobby, the raw power of the vermilion Sumo by France-born sculptor Alexandra Gestin was impossible to ignore. Nitesh Shetty, Bangalore’s 36-year-old realty magnate who built the hotel, handpicked each of the 1,280 pieces of contemporary art. An art tour for hotel guests, on the cards, holds plenty of promise.
A personal concierge escorted me to my Club Grand Executive Suite on Level 8, one of 25 suites at the hotel offering a sweeping 90-degree view. My city glittered like bling on black velvet: I had never looked at it like that before.
On the walnut work-desk was an iPad hooked up to the in-room wi-fi that allows multiple options to customise my stay, but the warmest personal touch was a Ritz-Carlton signature – gold-embossed stationery bearing my name with the legend ‘In Residence’. Club guests have complimentary access to the Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge on Level 15 – a hotel within a hotel with a business centre, reading lounge, boardroom, and a 24-hour food and beverage service. All that and an unbeatable view of the city.
All of 1,092 square feet, my suite is virtually an apartment with a lavish living area, a walk-in closet and a king-size bed with 400-thread-count Frette linens, goose-down duvet, and feather pillows. The bathroom, styled in Grecian marble, has a standalone tub, rain-style shower, double vanity and a water closet. Bath amenities are by Asprey of London. A bedside panel controls mood lighting, and opens or closes the drapes. Jaali screens stand in for sheer curtains. At sunup or sunset, trellised light pours into the room: the effect is magical.
With time to spare before my dinner appointment at Riwaz, the Indian restaurant that specialises in the tantalising tastes of the Northwest Frontier, I stopped by The Market, the all-day dining restaurant. Entering from the lobby I was embraced by an enoteca stacked to the ceiling with a world of wines. Together with jaali patterns, this is a leitmotif that pervades the three-level Lantern restaurant block.
Executive Chef Anupam Banerjee, in a huddle with his sous-chef, was putting the finishing touches on what looked like liquid kryptonite with a head of foamy green. Producing a straw, he urged me to try the beer he was creating for St Patrick’s Day. Banerjee is every bit the aesthete, with a yen for sustainability: at the back of the hotel he tends a herb garden. On a previous assignment at the Mandarin Oriental in Geneva, his Indian restaurant Rasoi earned a Michelin star for two years straight.
Designed by Japanese interior experts SuperPotato, The Market is a cynosure of world cuisine. Evoking the busy street atmosphere its name suggests, it is a kaleidoscopic mosaic of food, a culinary theatre thrumming with movement and colour. Shelves stacked high with clear glass jars of variegated spices call to you. There are sushi counters, trays laden with dinner rolls, croissants and pastries, a pizzeria, and a live grill sizzling with tempting meats. It’s as open as an open kitchen can get with one sensitive exception — because the spectacle of cooking is conducted within glass cubicles, you don’t return redolent of the restaurant.
Riwaz, crafted by German hotel interior designer Peter Silling, is lit by a glow made warmer by gentle Indian music playing softly in the background. Ramandeep Kukreja and his merry men and women greeted me with folded palms. Clean-shaven with a turban, the chef is a consummate connoisseur of his art and describes his creations with passion. On his recommendation, I freshened my palate with green mango sorbet.
I agonised over what wines to order with Indian hors d’oeuvres, though I had plenty of choice should I care for a tipple. Besides Bang, the rooftop bar, the Ritz-Carlton has the exclusive Ritz-Carlton Bar serving fine single malts, the Lantern Bar serving invigorating Oriental cocktails, and the Pool Bar. But I was soon put out of my misery.
Manu Manikandan looks rather young to be recommending alcohol, but when the boyish beverage manager delivers his recommendation like a sermon, you can’t help but be converted. I gave up my wine-pairing pretensions and, instead, opted for Rum Frappé — dark rum aged and refrigerated for 21 days with an infusion of spices along with jaggery, mint and lemon, served over crushed ice and fresh mint leaves. It was otherworldly, and a perfect foil for the flavoursome Peshawari food. Encouraged, Manu egged me on to try Sweet & Spicy, a vodka-based coriander cooler that had roasted dhania seeds floating on its surface.
Gourmandising followed. Ramandeep stuffed me to the gills with Turra Kebab — unbelievably tender chicken marinated in coriander and chillies and cooked in a tandoor. Its shape, he informed me, resembles the cockscomb-like crest on a Punjabi turban. Then there was Seekh Kebab Kandahari, part of a traditional Pashtoon spread and my favourite, Sunehari Jhinga — prawn marinated with yogurt and saffron and cooked in a tandoor. Despite my unconvincing protestations, he urged me to sample his vegetarian fare, too. I yielded to Tandoori Malai Broccoli, marinated in yogurt and cheese and served with green cardamom. The tiny serving of Subzaur Gucchi di Galoti — cardamom-scented pan-seared dumplings of seasoned vegetables and morel, was delectable. Whoever thought spinach, okra and lotus stem could be food fit for kings?
First on the main course was Baluchi Raan — clove-infused shank of lamb cooked in a tandoor along with the Chef’s Bread Basket offering an assortment of Bakarkhani (baked leavened bread with raisins, almonds and saffron), Missi Roti (made of gram flour with onions, chillies and coriander) and Rogani Naan. Ramandeep insisted on serving me a portion of Yakhani Pulao, cooked in lamb broth and credited to the Mughals.
Dessert! I put my diabetician on mute and tore shamelessly into the hot Riwaz Belgian Chocolate and Cardamom Pudding and took a nip of Paan Kulfi. A smidgen of ice cream encrusted with sohan-papdi dragged me senseless through the portals of heaven.
There’s not much you can do after a meal like that but retire to your room and gaze at the city, shielded from its noise and listening to something fun on the retro-looking but very sophisticated Tivoli clock radio. I tapped a bedside button marked ‘Privacy’. It glowed red. Another tap darkened the room. I slipped under the sheets and dreamed away.
My room was stocked with ample fresh fruit to counter any ill effects of the night’s repast. I kept my breakfast appointment at The Market. By day, the restaurant wore a different garb with morning sunshine streaming through enormous jaali windows. Forget cold cuts and pancakes, a Bangalore hotel, no matter what its pedigree, must pass the sambar test. To wit, I ordered a Plain Dosa. When it arrived with its accompaniment of coconut chutney and a warm orange sambar, infused with gentle notes of drumstick, shallot and asafoetida, I put away my knife and fork and ate more than my words.
On Level 5, cabanas shielded by palms and greenery shelter the pool, but I chose to enjoy my time at the spa, run by ESPA. This is on a dedicated wellness floor spread over 17,000 square feet and also houses the fitness centre where guests on TechnoGym equipment were either working off their excesses or working up an appetite for their next meal. At the Rossano Ferretti Salon, flamboyant Spanish hairdresser Carlos Saavedra’s intriguing “invisible haircut” has already made — forgive the pun — headlines.
At ESPA Ayuko Suzuki, the Japanese spa director, greeted me warmly and packed me off for a head and back treatment. I dissolved myself for half an hour at the thermal suite, India’s first, which includes a thermal steam room, rock saunas, ice fountains, experience showers and a vitality pool with a swan shower. This routine was followed by a 90-minute spa treatment and a few minutes of deep relaxation in a cosy cubicle to ethereal music and the soporific sound of running water. A glass of refreshing ice tea returned me to the world, rejuvenated. And craving lunch.
A table awaited me at The Lantern. Languorous after the spa treatment, I didn’t care for alcohol, so chef Sidney D’Cunha advised a robust course of dim sum. Onto the table came Spinach and Prawn Roll, exotic Lobster Money Pouch with Caviar, Shimeji dumpling, Crystal Vegetable Dumpling and lots more. For the main course, I pigged out on Braised Pork Belly with Chinese vegetables, served with steamed buns, and Stir-fried Chilli Prawns and Onion with gluten-free Hofan Noodles made in-house. I tasted a little Tofu and Eggplant Black Bean Sauce, highly recommended for vegetarians, and it was delectable. For dessert, the chef treated me to Custard Bao with Vanilla Anglaise. It was authentic, light and the perfect denouement to a meal bursting with a multitude of subtle flavours.
Before I checked out, I stayed to experience the legendary Afternoon Tea at the Ritz-Carlton. Weekdays from 3 pm, the lobby lounge bubbles with the sounds of ladies laughing, the tinkle of china, and their unheard oohs and aahs as they sin on macaroons, scones and salmon sandwiches. Sunday mornings, kids troop in for brunch. And there is, of course, a choice of teas.
How about a cup next time you’re in Bangalore?
The Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore (from Rs 12,000 doubles; +91-80-49148000; ritzcarlton.com/bangalore. The hotel has 277 guest rooms including 25 suites and 55 Club rooms.
Dining options are The Lantern (Oriental), Riwaz (Northwest Frontier cuisine, dinner only), The Market (all-day dining) and Ganache, a patisserie. Afternoon Tea in the Lobby Lounge on Level 3 is a Ritz-Carlton signature.
There are quite a few bars to choose from: Bang, the rooftop bar, The Ritz Carlton Bar, Poolside Bar and The Lantern Bar. Club guests have exclusive access to The Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge.
The hotel’s wellness centre has Spa by ESPA with thermal suite, 12 deluxe treatment rooms including a VIP couple suite and two express single rooms. Hair salon by Rossano Ferretti and fitness centre by TechnoGym, pool and lounge. Other amenities include Ritz-Carlton Ballroom encompassing 18,000 sq ft of conference facilities, meeting rooms, boardrooms, foyer and lawn.