I have stayed in more hotels in the past few years than I’d care to remember. Truth is, I can’t remember—they’re all so alike. So when a hotel comes up that is pretty much the antithesis of cookie-cutter, I sit up and take notice. The Conrad Pune can make standing apart from the crowd seem effortless, but this is deceptive—a lot of hard work, passion and creativity have gone into the making of India’s first Conrad property. It is the top Hilton brand after all (barring, of course, the Waldorf Astorias, but those are usually palace hotels with a heritage tag).
The Conrad Pune is a homage to Art Deco, and this makes its interiors timeless and distinctive. There’s a quiet flamboyance in the air too. You notice it in the muted art deco lighting, in the restrained lashings of the property’s signature colour, in the double-height ceilings in the restaurants and public spaces, in the sunlight spilling into the property, in the stunning smart tech in your room (more on that in just a minute). I liked it all but didn’t know what to call it until the nice folks at the Conrad told me the phrase I was looking for was ‘smart luxury’.
Space is the greatest luxury and my suite at the Conrad was large enough to play a game of golf in—no, really. And someone somewhere knew I’m partial to large, marble bathrooms. The contemporary styling was pleasing and unobtrusive, but the bonus was the inspired use of technology around the hotel. Amit Midha, the Conrad’s suave GM, told me that sometime soon a Conrad app on my smartphone would become a digital key for my room. Speaking of which, as you move around yours, motion sensors switch lights on and off. The control panel itself is touch based; since it’s intuitive as well, you’ll be operating it in a jiffy. Apart from the one or two 40” HDTVs, there’s a smaller one embedded seamlessly in the bathroom’s wall-to-wall mirror (for a second this panicked Luddite thought it was a video door phone and rushed for a towel). Though, frankly, once you settle into your bathtub in the company of some aromatic salts, you probably won’t want to switch it on.
I was developing a fondness for the Art Deco light fixtures in my room, for the sleek espresso machine, for the wardrobe-sized snack bar. With so much going on in the room, the bed seemed almost secondary but a sound night’s sleep assured me it was anything but an afterthought. Reluctantly, I tore myself away from my mini-oasis and went exploring the hotel. I’m glad Executive Chef Mandar Madav promptly took me under his wings. You can trust a chef who enjoys his food. Chef Mandar is trained in Western cuisine, but his heart lies closer home, in Malvan. He made sure I ate like a king and drank like a fish. But what could I do: they have six F&B venues (and that’s not counting the Executive Lounge). My first meal was at Coriander kitchen, their all-day diner, where I politely brushed their delicate a la carte offerings (homemade burrata, that sort of stuff ) aside in favour of buffet pickings—a dal with green mango, Madrasi fish curry, bitter gourd fried up with peanuts. There was a culinary library too, where I could pick up small eats from temperature-controlled ‘shelves’, a Conrad standard. Come evening and I settled down at Kabana, which offers small eats and drinks in a setting so plush, it belies its poolside location.
But, perhaps, my most spectacular meal was at Koji, their Oriental restaurant. The details escape me, but several smooth Japanese whiskies, delicate Italian wines and even more subtle sakes went down the hatch. Then there were innovative cocktails on offer, like the wasabi margerita, a tandoori mojito and something which involved lemongrass. Their dim sums were sublime as were the sushi and sashimi (which Puneites have embraced with gusto) but I could have feasted with my eyes alone, Koji is so damn good looking. The Conrad’s pastry chef is a considerable talent, which has helped elevate their casual lobby-level eatery and deli, Pune Sugar Box, into a dining venue in its own right (the locals have been lining up for the cookies, I was told). Later, I returned to Coriander Kitchen for a Malvani feast comprising bombil and surmai fry, a revelation of a potato-drumstick-prawn curry (Mandar’s family recipe) and a Madras filter coffee ice cream which woke me right up. Even a glutton like me couldn’t possibly do justice to the Conrad’s ample and inspired offerings, so I had to save Zeera, their fine-dining Indian restaurant, and Masu, the bar, for my next visit.
The Conrad’s Spa is simply called the Conrad Spa. Although I don’t agree with their choice of music, the treatments are enticingly complex and have been devised with care. Mine left me rejuvenated, with my niggling back pain becoming a distant memory.
Hotels are gateways to destinations, and Conrad takes this role seriously. I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t turned on the telly and found the hotel’s concierge service being advertised on a loop. I doubt there’s another hotel concierge that takes its job so seriously. Concierges in Conrads around the world work on a neat premise they call 1/3/5. So, depending on how much time you have to spare, they have itineraries and activities that are 1, 3 and 5 hours long. And they are unusual to say the least. I really wanted to do all those things at the Conrads in Tokyo, London, New York, and I’m sure every other guest felt the same.
At Pune, I did not actually sample the concierge offerings, but I did head out in one of the Conrad’s limos to pick up some of Kayani Bakery’s legendary Shrewsbury cookies, and drove deep into the old city for some bhakarwadi from Chitale Bandhu. Dear friends of mine have been supplying me with these two Pune staples for years but picking them up myself was priceless.
Where: 7 Mangaldas Road, Pune. 9km/20min from the airport
Accommodation: 310 rooms and suites: deluxe, premier and executive rooms, one-bedroom deluxe suite, one-bedroom premier suite and presidential suite
Tariff: From ₹9,999 per night (flexible rate; get 25% discount plus breakfast on advance purchase), taxes extra
Contact: +91-20-67456745, conrad.hilton.com/pune