The Oberoi is ready to reopen to public on April 24, after being closed for a year and a half, following the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, when the hotel was beseiged by terrorists for three days. More than 1,000 contractors have helped rebuild and redesign the hotel, costing the Oberoi Group a whopping Rs 178 crore.
Had the work been only repairs, it would have opened earlier, says newly appointed general manager, American Steven Kalczynski, who took over a month ago, after being the general manager at The Ballantyne in the USA.PRS Oberoi, chairman of the Oberoi Group, has taken the opportunity to redesign the whole hotel, creating new restaurants and upgrading the rooms, Kalczynski explains.
“It is a completely new hotel. Only the architectural structure and location remain the same. PRS Oberoi is a perfectionist and that’s why we have delayed the opening, because we wanted everything down to the last detail to be right,” he says. “We have not just renovated the interiors, but the entire building, down to the piping and the inside of the walls. We wanted to put in new technology and upgrades,” he adds.
For example, new systems have been put in the rooms that control power, so that energy is not wasted. Each guest is now assigned a personal butler and the lifts will not operate without room cards. Staff can now text message if they spot something that needs repairing.
Each room has been revamped with new furniture from the 300 Thread Count bed linen to the Agra marble inlayed tables and original artwork. Seventy-five per cent of the staff, and even their uniforms are new. While some are graduates from The Oberoi’s training school; others have shifted from other Oberoi properties.
All the restaurant head chefs are new.Kalczynski informs those who remained have been working at other Oberoi properties such as The Trident, while The Oberoi had been closed.The spa and outdoors pool have been renovated, and many new security features added, he informs.
Thirty-two people were killed at The Oberoi during the 26/11 attacks. A plaque in memory of them lies at the entrance of the Trident and inside the staff cafeteria. The Oberoi Care Fund has so far collected Rs 2 crore for families of staff affected.At the time of going to press, 45 people had made reservations to stay at The Oberoi on the opening night and Ziya and Vetro were almost fully booked.
“We did not want to have a big opening event. We are certainly sensitive to the past, but the public and our employees also want to move on. There is a lot of excitement. This hotel is now going to become the flagship hotel in the group,” he says.
“People are defiant. They won’t let a terrorist dictate their lives. We want to see this place buzzing as soon as possible and let people know that it’s safe to come to Mumbai,” Kalczynski adds.The Towers wing of the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers (Taj) and the Trident Hotel, from where the terrorists entered the Oberoi, reopened within a month of the attacks. The heritage wing of the Taj, which bore the brunt of the attacks, is still reopening in phases.
Vineet Bhatia opens his second Indian restaurant at The Oberoi in Mumbai
To complement the brand new look, two of The Oberoi Mumbai’s restaurants and its bar have been renamed and completely redesigned, under the supervision of PRS Oberoi.Indian restaurant, Kandahar, where diners were taken as hostage on 26/11, is now a fine-dining contemporary Indian restaurant, Ziya (from the Hindi word ‘diya’ meaning ‘lights’). Vineet Bhatia, a renowned chef who owns Michelin-starred restaurants in London and Geneva, has conceived it. He also conceptualised Azok by Vineet in Juhu.
Tiffin, the all-day dining restaurant, has been redesigned as Fenix and the Bayview Bar is now the Eau Bar (‘eau’ means water in French), since it commands a view of the sea.Kandahar, which opened in 1986, had traditional décor and served Northwest frontier cuisine.
Now in its new avatar as Ziya, it is gold-themed, with gold crockery, chairs and cutlery and leaf designs on the walls. It will serve contemporary Indian fusion cuisine such as Chocolate Samosas. “It will be Indian food served French style,” Kalczynski explains. The open kitchen is fitted with mini cameras so that Bhatia can watch what the chefs are up to!
Whereas Tiffin was previously toned in earthy colours, Fenix now has white and red leather chairs and an airy feel. Its name is an offshoot of the word, Phoenix, to represent rising from the ashes or coming out of a difficult period. “We wanted to start afresh,” Kalczvnski explains. It was one of the worst hit by terrorists’ firing, where Bollywood actor Ashish Chaudhary lost his sister Monica Chhabaria and her husband.
The new menu is split into sushi, soups, main courses, Indian dishes, sandwiches and burgers, and desserts. New signature dishes include the World’s Absolute Best Burger, Gourmet Club Sandwich and Chicken Curry.Each table has a tiger orchid on it with Guppy fish swimming in a vase. A fish concierge is employed to tell guests about the fish. Escargots, popular when it first opened, are back on its menu.
While the Bayview Bar was previously dark with brown chairs and dark floors, the Eau Bar now has a white marble floor, white square tables and black and gold chairs. Hundreds of bamboo style cylinder lights hang from the ceiling, giving it a fresh look and the bar has been moved away from the window. Original artwork from PRS Oberoi’s own collection hangs on the walls. George, a jazz pianist, will continue to perform there and plans are on to bring in international jazz artistes too.
Vetro, the Italian restaurant has retained its original name and look with a blue, green and red panelled glass interior. But brand new sofas and a gourmet oyster bar have been added. A chef’s table will serve gourmet set menus. The wine library, antipasti buffet area and open kitchen area remain. Italian chef Tuomas Heikkinen, former head chef at Travertino at The Oberoi, Delhi is now in charge.
A new tea and champagne lounge is at the lobby, offering 12 different types of champagne and more than 50 varieties of teas. Matthew Crop is back as executive chef of The Oberoi Mumbai and has started an organic garden at the hotel.