Looking at its 100-plus guest rooms and suites spread across a heritage building and a modern tower block which came up later, the superlative F&B venues, and the general swirl of activity, it’s difficult to imagine that the Kenilworth Hotel had its origins as a humble guesthouse where guests had to bring their own soap and towels. In the comfort of my suite in the property’s heritage wing, I was certainly having a hard time believing it.
M.S. Bharat, who came to Calcutta to seek his fortunes after serving in Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, took over the property in the late 1960s and it’s been with the family ever since. It was a pleasure to spend time with Raju Bharat, his son, who is the current owner and a mover and shaker in the Indian hospitality industry (in contemporary parlance, that would be ‘influencer’). He’s a mine of information and perspective on the state of hospitality and tourism in eastern India. He is replete with anecdotes about the hotel, which has hosted a number of celebrities over the years, including M.F. Husian, Satyajit Ray and Tanuja. Bharat is also a bundle of energy, shuttling between Kolkata and Goa, where they have another hotel. In fact, over the years, they have operated several hotels, but this is their current portfolio. The next generation is also getting into the act.
The heritage building has only a few rooms on offer, many of them catering to long-stay visitors. They were given a facelift recently, with Mumbai-based interior designer Sunil Jasani being roped in for the job. The result is rooms which do not compromise on mod cons, yet remain rooted in their heritage. They haven’t lost any of their grandeur either. In terms of vibe, they can be best described as chic and contemporary.
The Bharats have a stylish residence on the top floor of the same building. Bharat’s wife, Anjana, who takes an active interest in the running of the property, told me that the convenience of having electricians and plumbers on one’s premises 24/7 was something not to be sniffed at. So one might technically argue that the Kenilworth is a homestay, if it weren’t for that moniker’s humble connotations. Still, the Bharats are very hands on, and love interacting with their guests, many of whom are regulars. At the Kenilworth, it’s all about the personal touch. I had a first-hand glimpse of this, sitting in Bharat’s office as he took the time out to speak with a couple who had come to book the property for a wedding-related function.
Bharat completed his hospitality management from Switzerland in 1985, before joining the family business and bringing in a bunch of new ideas and processes. These have ensured that the Kenilworth, while true to character, has never dated. Constant innovation is key for Bharat, as is extremely personalised service based on guest feedback which is actively encouraged. Refurbishments are also the order of the day, with some portion or the other of the hotel always under renovation. The only thing that is preventing them from getting the five-star tag is the absence of a swimming pool. Apart from that they have everything one could hope for in a luxury hotel.
The rooms in the modern wing are lovely too. They’re not the impersonal rooms you’ll encounter in cookie-cutter hotels. Rather, the clever use of warm colours and soft furnishings have lent them a cosy, home-like quality, which repeat guests will greatly appreciate. The spa, outsourced to a third party, isn’t elaborate but acceptable. Between the modern and heritage wings sits a gorgeous lawn, the likes of which you’ll not see easily in central Kolkata. Extremely popular for functions, I like to think of it as the Kenilworth’s private version of the Maidan.
The biggest surprise at the Kenilworth is actually the food, which was excellent across venues. The challenge, of course, is to get resident guests to try it all out, since Kolkata is a city with culinary temptations and visitors tend to dine out rather than eat at their hotel. At Mae Kong, the Asian restaurant which, in a nice conceit, offers food from all the countries through which the Mekong flows, the talented chef sent forth one inspired dish after another from the kitchen. The dim sums, in particular, were stunning. Big Ben, the 20-year-old English pub, is still going strong and serves divine small bites to go with an extensive drinks menu. Aromas, the all-day diner, has innovative continental fare, apart from all the usual offerings. Even the excellent Bengali sweets that welcomed me in my room, were rustled up inhouse. Unsurprisingly, I polished them off in a jiffy.
The property has 73 executive rooms, 17 business club rooms, 4 business club suites, 3 Premier Club rooms, 2 Premier Club suites, 1 Russel suite and 1 Presidential suite. For more information, check out their website.