Lucknow never fails to captivate. Back in the city after an unpardonably long spell, I was happy to observe that this fine city of nabobs and kabobs had retained its essence, although there were noticeable civic improvements (and who in India can complain about that?). Gomti Nagar is where all the action is now, and this sub-city across the Gomti is exploding in every conceivable direction. The possibility that it will one day extend all the way to Barabanki is no longer unrealistic.
One arena in which there has been welcome change is hospitality. While earlier top-notch hotels were few and far between, the customer is (almost) spoilt for choice. The Hyatt Regency Lucknow may well be the best of the new bunch.
Don’t let the modern façade fool you, for the Regency is steeped in the flavours and spirit of Lucknow, starting from General Manager Kumar Shobhan, for whom it’s a homecoming. With around 200 rooms, the hotel feels just about right, neither too small nor too large. Inside, floors are sensibly organised by function: meeting rooms, restaurants and wellness offerings (spa, gym and pool) all have dedicated floors. A nice touch are the Family Rooms which open directly on to the pool. The Regency Club rooms and suites are all on the same floor and have exclusive access to the Regency Club, which serves complimentary breakfast, hors d’oeuvres and cocktails to Club members.
My suite was spacious, of course, but the rooms aren’t cramped either. The aesthetic is modern, expressed in soothing tones, and there’s a lot of natural light. With 18,798 sq ft of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space, including a 4,200 sq ft Regency Ballroom, the hotel is betting big on events and weddings. In fact, the space divisions make it eminently suitable for Muslim weddings as well, the hotel’s Marketing Communication Manager, Fatima Abbas informed me.
The hotel’s other big bet is F&B, where they may well be ushering in a quiet culinary revolution. While there are winds of change, Lucknow is still a traditional city, so it may take some time. Beginning life as an Italian restaurant, their all-day diner Rocca has had to bow to market forces and quietly introduce a bunch of Awadhi dishes. Where they’ve refused to compromise is Lukjin, their Asian restaurant named after the Thai-Chinese community from which the chef helming it hails. This dinner-only joint serves authentic Thai and Chinese delicacies, including a refreshing pomelo salad, an eclectic selection of dim sum, a killer tofu and mushroom soup, proper Thai curries, and spring rolls that I, for once, liked. And it’s a beautiful restaurant, decorated with painstakingly sourced teapots, great for that special night out. Then there’s UP’s, the lounge bar, with a signature cocktail menu steeped in the spirit of the land. Moradabadi Mule, Kakori Mary, Banarasi Tonic and Bareilly ka Jhumka are just some of the drinks they serve here. Incidentally, none of these spaces have any doors and seem to meld seamlessly into each other.
But the best is yet to come. Chef Subhash Jana—Hyatt could not have chosen a better chef than this enthusiastic, talented and pleasant mannered man to head their F&B operations—will be launching a progressive menu at the rooftop martini bar anytime now. Fresh from a stint in Ireland, he’ll be serving exotic-familiar delights (my coinage; exotic enough to inspire interest, but not so challenging as to send diners scurrying). I sampled a few—paneer stuffed with porcini, pea and brie tikkis, panko-crusted prawns with nutella mayo, chicken tikka with peanut butter—and can vouch for their scrumptiousness.
None of the same old, same old on the wellness front either. At the Hyatt’s Siddh Spa, only the second outpost of the brand (the first is at the Hyatt Regency Chennai), my therapist Phuntso administered an interesting and bold therapy that combined ancient Indian therapies with western techniques and hot stones. Most spas offer therapies across a gamut of disciplines but rarely do they offer such a commingling of East and West.
Tearing myself away from the royal treatment was difficult, but I did take time out to revisit the sights. Some random observations from my day out: People crib about Mayawati but every regime has attempted to leave its mark, as evidenced in the massive park that Mulayam Singh Yadav built and the even larger one his son Akhilesh commissioned—the Janeshwar Mishra Park, touted to be Asia’s largest. You may not agree with their politics, but these are monumental public works and generations of Lakhnavis will enjoy them. The Akhilesh Yadav government has done more heritage restoration than any previous one. Chowk’s character is timeless. Tunday is as cheap and good as ever. Lucknow chaat is way superior to anything you’ll eat in Delhi (no, seriously). New discovery: Rahmat Ali, purveyors of the best halva this side of the Bosphorus since, oh, only 1865 (their jauzi halva is highly recommended). La Martiniere has a new coat of paint.
The highlight of my Lucknow visit was undoubtedly tea with Nawab Jafar Mir Abdullah, a descendant of the third nawab of Awadh. Sitting in a room creaking with antiques, the sophisticated Nawab, at ease in both English and Urdu, turned out to be a time traveller of sorts. With the slightest turn of phrase, he can transport you to that glorious age when Lucknow was one of the most beautiful and cultured cities in the world. He introduced me to the delights of Kashmiri chai, a syrupy-sweet pink concoction into which you have to crush flakes of kagazi samosa, stir in balai (cream) and drink with a spoon. That’s what I like about Lucknow. It always leaves a sweet taste in the mouth.
Location: Vibhuti Khand, Gomti Nagar, Lucknow 226010. Located in Lucknow’s central business district, 25km/20min from Chaudhary Charan Singh International airport, approx. 11.5km from both Lucknow Charbagh and Lucknow Junction railway stations; 4min from the High Court
Accommodation: 206 guestrooms including 17 Regency Suites and 2 Regency Executive Suites
Tariff: Standard rate from ₹6,100 per night, taxes extra; advance purchase rate from ₹5,100 per night
Contact: +91-522-4261234, lucknow.regency.hyatt.com