Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

An Indian hotel in London


The whole of last week I was in London staying at The Crowne Plaza – London St James hotel. This 4-star deluxe property, located in central London, is owned by the Taj Group of Hotels but marketed by the Crowne Plaza Group. It qualifies as one the rarest of hotel properties in the world that can be booked from the websites of two different hotel chains – Crowne Plaza and the Taj Group.
The hotel also provides a quick access to the Buckingham Place, The Houses of Parliament,Victoria Station and other places and landmarks. The next door property which goes by the name of 51 Buckingham Gate has apartments and suites only. This one is owned, marketed and managed by The Taj Group. There is a common courtyard which connects The Crowne Plaza and 51 Buckingham Gate.
Like so many other Indians, The Crowne Plaza has been my address in London where I have often put up twice or thrice a year for the past 12 years. But this time I am here after almost two years.
This property has always been a favourite of the Indian guests for they not only cater to the clients with Indian food but also keep in mind the typical needs of the Indian guests. Besides parantha bhaji, upma and masala chai (tea) for breakfast, the hotel's Indian menu also brags one of the finest coastal Indian cuisine at its South Indian Michelin-starred food joint called Quilon Restaurant.
I always bumped into many friends, acquaintances and famous Indians in this property, including film and sports persons. While checking in, I said hello to Bomman Irani and on thursday also meet singer Hariharan by chance at breakfast. Over the last decade, I have come across famous Indians like Amitabh Bachchan to Sourav Ganguly.
The Indian embassy also makes arrangement for the visiting ministers and guests at The Crowne Plaza. I noticed that this property has made some sweeping changes. The new lobby at the hotel reception has a huge and amazing Paresh Maity artwork which is drawn by him on 51 Buckinghom Gate itself
The Hamptons Bar bar counter which used to be inside is now in the lobby. The decor is vibrant and friendly. The restaurant started serving Indian vegetarian and non-vegetarian thalis. At the bar you can enjoy kathi rolls. The whole courtyard has been changed into a beautiful garden with barbecues and all.
I was told that a day before I checked in, there was an Indian womens' organization meet over samosas and pakoras in this very courtyard. I was amazed to see the positive changes in terms of quality of service, the courteous approach of the hotel staff towards the guests.
Nearly 75 per cent of the property's rooms and suites have been fully renovated with well thought out designs and convenience.
Being a frequent traveller, I haven't seen such a nice layout of a plug-in-board on the study table complete with laptop, USB chargers and any other gizmos. The credit for all this goes to the General Manager Prabhat Verma under whom the makeover took place. He showed me around the renovated areas and while coming out of the Jaguar Suite he saw a lady was coming out with a trolley. He quickly took the trolley and escorted the lady out and also helped her with her baggage. I immediately understood how and why such courteous and personalised service has seeped down the ranks.
The much talked about Jaguar Suite is Prabhat's dream project. With a price tag of 5100 pounds a day, the suite is dedicated to the Jaguar car brand now owned by the Tatas. From the mark of tyres on the flooring to Jaguar print on the wall upholstery, to the many Jaguar logo, each and every small details have been dedicated to the Jaguar. Prabhat proudly informed me at that even at this rate the suite had a high occupancy. I went to see the suite with him between the guest check out and a next checking in.
There yet another suite, dedicated to 100-years of Indian cinema, is nearing completion. Our very own fashion boy Sabyasachi is designing this suite which would be a tribute to Bollywood and Hollywood from Madhubala to Marilyn Monroe.
It is not only that the St James Hotel has undergone a massive makeover. The entire surrounding areas too is being renovated. Work is also on in the area around Victoria Station and on the Victoria Street. Many of the old shops would exist no more.
I think during pre and post Olympics, London has had a major facelift. Things had changed a lot since 1994 when I used to live in London. But two things that have not changed is that you'd still need to wear a tie with a formal jacket and shoes to enjoy tea at The Ritz London. This iconic hotel was opened on May 24, 1906, and conceived by renowned hotelier Cesar Ritz.
I went there to try my luck in formal shoes and a jacket but without a tie. I don't like wearing one. But they very politely offered me one to put on at the clock room so that I could join in for the world famous high tea.
Another thing that has not changed yet is David Burner, the head concierge at St James. He has been working on that desk for the last 35 years and knows a lot about India and Indians.
ess bee

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