Anywhere in Goa at any time is great but the short drive from Dabolim airport to the ITC Grand Goa was unexpectedly beautiful in the afternoon, on tree-lined roads laced with dappled sunlight. Until quite recently, this sprawling hotel, spread over 46 acres of landscaped greens and artificial lagoons, used to be the popular Park Hyatt Goa. It’s a strategic acquisition that has placed ITC right in the thick of the Goa action. It also means that they’ve hit the ground running. I was curious to see if it was going to be a case of ‘different but same, same’ or if there was something more to this makeover.
On the face of it, it’s not easy to tell. But look closer and you’ll find the ITC stamp in every aspect of the experience, and most of all in F&B. My lavish suite, which came with a sunken bath and its own private pool, opened on to well-manicured lawns which led to the beach, but I turned my gaze navel...and belly wards, diligently checking out all the F&B offerings, fussed over throughout by my personal butler.
I had a sweet welcome with ITC’s ‘Local Love’ selection of delicacies from Goa in my suite. These included dodol, a sticky rice pudding enriched with coconut milk and brown palm jaggery; bebinca, an interlayered dessert sweetened with coconut milk and ghee, which is traditionally cooked over charcoal embers; alle belle, traditional Goan panequettes stuffed with jaggery, fresh grated coconut and raisins; and doce, a festive Goan sweet made with lentil and coconut.
All the restaurants at the ITC Grand Goa are set around a courtyard reminiscent of a Goan village square. An evening cultural performance draws guests here, after which they move on to dinner. Guests have the option of ordering food from any of the restaurants, irrespective of where they’re seated. A beachside Afghan restaurant was still in the works when I visited, but I expect it’s open now.
My culinary odyssey—yes, it was nothing less than that—began with Ottimo, ITC’s signature Italian restaurant, which has been successfully replicated here. The evening meal began with an antipasti platter that consisted of a superb beetroot carpaccio accompanied by feta and bell pepper salsa, a mushroom and goat’s cheese croquette, and a mozzarella bruschetta. A flavourful mushroom risotto followed and, shortly after, some barley and oat cakes. Naturally, I finished with tiramisu. The hotel has done well to choose a compact Italian menu over an unwieldy one, and they execute it to perfection.
Another meal, lunch this time, was at Kebabs & Kurries, where ITC’s culinary confidence was on full display, as was their ‘responsible luxury’ ethos, with menu choices clearly flagged as responsible or not. The dishes are organised by cooking technique, so the meal was a showcase of styles, right from the kebabs to the curries. ITC’s dals, of course, are legendary and need no introduction, but my subz biryani, which came with a wicked salan, was a standout. Thankfully, they spared me the trauma of choosing dessert by offering the sampler platter.
You can’t come to Goa and not eat Goan food. No worries, ITC has you covered with Tempero. For this signature Goan restaurant, with its restrained décor of monochrome tiles, ITC managed to get hold of Chef Sarita, who used to helm an eponymous restaurant at this very hotel many years ago. Instead of turning up her nose, Chef Sarita rose gamely to my request for vegetarian fare.
The meal began with a simple, but oh-so-delicious, mista salad, garden-fresh vegetables with toddy vinegar dressing and generous heaps of coriander leaves. There were croquettes and cutlets, a beans foogath to die for, bhindi sukhem, dal and Goan rice. And those rich Goan desserts. I had to call the golf cart to ferry me to my room.
But that’s the showcase stuff, uncompromising guests will aver. It had better be good. True, sometimes it’s the little things, the routine offerings, that reveal a hotel’s competence and dedication to guest satisfaction. You can’t fault the ITC on this count. Even the buffet offerings at breakfast at Pavilion were of an à la carte standard. The French toast, for instance. Or the sambhar, which was laden with veggies.
In between all the unbelievable gorging, I managed to check out the spa. Kaya Kalp - The Royal Spa has 16 treatment suites and yoga and relaxation areas spread across a generous 3,344 square metres. True to terroir, they have an indulgent cashew ritual in their repertoire. I opted for the seemingly more prosaic signature treatment and enjoyed every minute of it.
If relaxing isn’t good enough for you, the resort offers a daily roster of activities, everything from horticultural tours to pottery classes. Even though it’s a fairly large property at 252 rooms, service is bespoke and personal. The rooms are spread across five courts, and are divvied up by view (garden, lagoon, pool, sea, etc). Should you get lost, there’s always someone at hand to help. Arossim Beach is quiet and pristine. All in all, it’s the perfect Goa package.