Sunday, April 20, 2008

Why I didn't miss missing Salute..

The Imperial Hotel, New Delhi

It is the first Salute I have missed for around ten years but it was nothing to do with my annoyance last year at the South London Warlords' inability to deal with complaints about dubious re-enactors. No, I was in India on business (hopefully for the last time!).

Now I stay in a lot of five star hotels during the course of a year but I have to say that the Imperial Hotel, New Delhi, is quite exceptional.

The Entrance to the 1911 Bar. Tasteful!

The Imperial was opened in 1936 and is located on what was then Queensway, now Janpath. Designed by Lutyens it was intended to be the most luxurious hotel in the city and succeeds triumphantly. Whilst its exterior is resolutely Art Deco its interior is a blend of Art Deco, Victorian and Colonial. Literally hundreds of 18th and 19th century artworks litter the rooms and spacious corridors.

They don't like it up 'em!

Nearly all the pictures have an Indian subject and many of them have a military theme, often showing, incongruously, gallant British soldiers from different periods of the Raj happily skewering the locals with sword, bayonet and lance.

The hotel itself is on four floors and is arranged as a square with no less than eight protruding wings, giving it somewhat the appearance of a hash mark in plan view. Unlike most hotels, considerable attention to detail has been devoted to the corridors and other common parts and they gleamed with marble and polished brass. Indian rugs were scattered about as were interesting sculptures and pictures.

Little, and not so little, alcoves and ante-rooms were placed throughout the hotel and served to show off more splendid pictures and sculptures.

The Central Corridor. Shiny!

The lobby was restrained but led to a magnificent central corridor that went the whole length of the hotel.

The Atrium. A good place for afternoon tea!

Most of the bars and restaurants led off from this corridor or the adjoining four storey atrium with its glassed-off roof, palms and tinkling fountains. In fact fountains were to be found in many places, several of them being of the barely dressed girlie variety of which I am rather fond.

The main restaurant, where breakfast was served was called 1911, reflecting the date when New Delhi took over the mantle of India’s capital city from Calcutta. It served typical international fare and was as informal as you would find in the hotel. Informality, however, when you were shown to your table by lovely sari-clad women and then served by waiters in red military jackets and turbans, was something of a relative term. In a separate section of the restaurant was a glassed off verandah which was a splendid place to have breakfast. Outside was a terrace which was a very good location for afternoon tea. Whilst the temperature was 102º when I was there a nice breeze and large green umbrellas kept the conditions bearable outside.

The adjoining 1911 bar, whilst undoubtedly beautifully decorated was too brightly lit for my taste and contained, horrors, a television which seemed to show, inevitably, constant cricket, much to the delight of the Australians who appeared to be its habitual residents. I preferred the smaller Patiala Peg bar (named after the early twentieth century tent-pegging victory by the Maharaja of Patiala’s team over the Viceroy’s). It contained only six tables, some rather daring Art Deco girlie statues and a lot of old Indian Army prints.

My favourite drink, when made properly, as here.

It was also one of the few hotel bars in the world that makes a Martini in a properly chilled glass. My barman only had to see me arrive at the dooway and he started the process of making me another ice-cold vodka Martini. What excellent service!

My splendid barman gets ready for action. Nice statue!

Daniell’s Tavern was named after landscape painters Thomas and William Daniell who arrived in India in 1786 to paint the country’s scenery. The restaurant, with its pan-Indian cuisine, is located on the exact spot where the uncle and nephew team camped to produce their painting of Jantar Mantar, an early eighteenth century observatory. I had a most splendid lunch there.

Outside, a short walk through the palm-filled gardens, was the pool, where I spent most of Salute Saturday. The palms gave good shade to the poolside and there was a small bar which could supply Kingfisher beer and delicious sandwiches

All in all I cannot recommend The Imperial highly enough and I would venture that it is indeed the finest hotel I have ever stayed in anywhere in the world.

My room

So, on Salute Saturday, when everyone was dealing with the rain and the transport problems in Docklands and seeing whether the show really was down on numbers or lacking in atmosphere I was staying in this splendid hotel. I didn't wake until 9.00 and took the lift down to the Art Deco lift lobby.

After a leisurely breakfast on the verandah, I read the Times of India in the Atrium but it mostly seemed to be about cricket.

I then wandered down to the pool and read a book, took a few not very energetic swims, enjoyed the French young ladies whose husbands were in a conference all day and had a very good hot chicken Tikka sandwich and a couple of ice-cold Kingfishers for lunch. Once it got too hot I went and had a pot of Darjeeling tea on the Terrace.

The Terrace

I dressed properly for dinner, of course, unlike most of the Australians and Americans (the French and the Italians were impeccably dressed, I have to say) and went down to the bar where my usual barman soon had a Vodka Martini ready for me. Then I had dinner in the splendid South East Asian Restaurant Silk Route (recently voted by Conde Nast Traveller as one of the ten best restaurants in the World) with a Canadian young lady of Indian extraction who was also there on her own.
So did I miss not going to Salute?

Not one bit!


  1. LH, I've always imagined that you live in a place just like that!

  2. It is really annoying to come back and have to make your own tea, open your own doors and make your own bed!

    I told my wife that she needed to perk up her own service levels!