The Taste with Vir Sanghvi: The top 20 hotels in New Delhi
In this week’s column, Vir Sanghvi provides not reviews, but a general guide to the top 20 hotels in New Delhi.vir sanghvi Updated: Jan 17, 2018 09:18 IST
Some weeks ago I wrote about the nicest hotels I had stayed in during 2017. The most common complaint about that article was: why are there no Delhi hotels on the list?
When I explained that this was because I lived in Delhi and had no reason to stay in a hotel in the city, this did not satisfy the complainers. But you must have some views on Delhi hotels, they said.
Well I do. But they are not the views of a guy who has stayed in very many of them recently. Nevertheless, for what it’s worth, here’s my guide to Delhi’s hotels. I have tried, as much as possible, to focus on each property’s strengths rather than its weaknesses so don’t treat these comments as reviews, just as part of a general guide.
The Oberoi: This is the ultimate Delhi hotel. When it opened in 1965 as the Oberoi Intercontinental, it was India’s finest modern, world class, five star hotel at a time when the Bombay Taj was a sloppy, old-style hostelry. (The team that turned the Taj around and created the Taj group have acknowledged their debt to the Oberoi for inspiration.)
It has had three broad phases: 1965 to the late 1980s, when it was an American-style business hotel; the early 1990s to a couple of years ago when it became a luxury hotel in the same league as Asia’s other great hotels after an extensive renovation; and the present.
It re-opened this month as something even greater and grander than it has ever been. I will do a full piece on the renovated Oberoi in Rude Travel a little later.
The Taj Mansingh: When the Taj group opened its Delhi hotel in 1978, it took about 15 minutes to beat the hell out of the smug Oberoi Intercontinental of that era and quickly became Delhi’s number one hotel.
In its own way, it has been almost as influential as the Oberoi but it has gone through rough patches and never quite recovered when the Oberoi got its act together early in this century and zoomed past the Taj to become Delhi’s top hotel again. In recent years, it has been dogged by uncertainly about its future after a dispute with its partner, the NDMC.
But there is a good news. The present team at the hotel, headed by Satyajeet Krishnan, the Taj group’s most sophisticated and cerebral General Manager, is top notch and while I am hesitant to make predictions, the consensus is that the Taj will win the impending auction for the site where it is located. Once that happens, I imagine it will go in for an Oberoi-style makeover and fight to regain its position at the very top.
That should be a battle worth following!
The Ashok: I can barely recognize the grand hotel of my childhood when I go to the Ashok now. The government should just privatize the damn thing. Soon!
The Imperial: This hotel occupies a strange position. Many people regard it as a grand, old Delhi hotel. But unlike say, the Taj in Mumbai or the Oberoi Grand in Calcutta, it has no special place in the life of the city or its citizens. Hardly anyone in Delhi has treasured memories of significant events that took place at The Imperial.
Its Raj-era charm appeals much more to foreign tourists who want a taste of history. That said, it is a lovely hotel with a great location and an appeal of its own.
The Leela: This outpost of the Mumbai-based chain nearly bankrupted the parent company because it cost so much to build. But it gave Delhi a high-quality modern luxury hotel with large rooms of the kind the city lacked. I suspect that one of the motivations for the Oberoi’s recent renovation was to create rooms that rivalled the Leela’s in size.
It is one of my favourite hotels and I love The Qube, its coffee shop.
The Maurya: It has been an exciting decade for the Maurya. Though it opened at roughly the same time as the Taj Mansingh, it never got the same kind of importance or respect despite the grandeur of its design and the excellence of the Indian food.
But over the last few years, it has turned itself around with excellent, personalized service, a contemporary approach to luxury and terrific Italian and modern Asian food.
Taj Palace: Opened four years after the first Taj, this large hotel has focused on conferences and banquets and perhaps unfairly, has been regarded as the Mansingh’s poorer cousin. The Taj has now installed Gourav Pokhriyal, a turnaround specialist (he turned around the Jaipur Rambagh, the Goa Exotica and the Mumbai Taj) as General Manager and he has done wonders for the property.Now to fix the food...
The Lalit: If you believe foreign hotel brands count for anything in India, consider this hotel. At various stages in its life it has been called Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Intercontinental and Hilton. But everyone in Delhi has always called it Lalit Suri’s hotel so it is just as well it is now actually called The Lalit. It slips under the radar but is now a better hotel than it has ever been and with Keshav Suri, son of the founder in charge, the future is bright.
Hyatt Regency: India’s first Hyatt, this opened in 1982/3 as an Asian Games project and it is a prisoner of its era in terms of its rooms which tend to be small. But it punches way above its weight because of the excellence of its restaurants and the high quality of its banqueting. A willingness to keep opening new restaurants and bars and to experiment with inventive banqueting concepts makes it look fresh and new.
Sheraton, New Delhi: The other ITC city hotel, this smaller property in Saket attracts less attention than the Maurya but is perfect if you have work in that part of town. Outstanding Indian food, great service and a passionate General Manager in Benita Sharma who has run the hotel as a labour of love for several years now.
The Shangri La: This wonderful luxury Asian chain has had its problems in India. When it took over this former ITDC hotel, it seemed unable to do much with it. A Mumbai property flopped and the Shangri La exited after differences with the owners. And Bangalore’s Shangri La is sloppily managed.
They are lucky, then, that a refurbishment a couple of years ago which included a refit of the restaurants has transformed the Delhi Shangri La. This is now well up to Shangri La’s standards, is smoothly managed and has outstanding food.
The Lodhi: This was the first city hotel to be opened by the uber luxury resort group Aman Hotels and when it opened (as The Aman), some people thought it had all the warmth of a Cold War-era Eastern European prison.
DLF bought and sold the Aman chain but kept this hotel which it renamed The Lodhi. It works much better as a small, exclusive standalone property than it did as an Aman and the criticisms about the quality of the food were silenced when Indian Accent shifted here.
The Claridges: This small hotel in the heart of Lutyen’s Delhi is the sort of property you want to love but always wish they would make it easier for you to find something to love. It is potentially a great hotel. But it’s not quite there, yet.
Le Meridien: A total refurbishment has given this hotel, located in the heart of Delhi, a much needed boost. I have always liked it, despite the hustle and bustle, because of its welcoming air of warmth and the hospitable nature of the staff, many of whom are devoted to the property and to its guests. Few Delhi hotels have such committed senior staff.
The Park: This is a much better hotel than most people realize but has lost out because the quality of the operations never quite lived up to owner Priya Paul’s conception. This was Delhi’s first art/boutique hotel, it had India’s first proper Spanish restaurant, was the first to serve regional Italian food and it more or less invented Delhi’s version of modern Indian cuisine. It is still very good value and has a brilliant location.
The Roseate: It is hard to believe that a beautiful resort property of this size exists in Delhi. It is like an Oberoi Vilas with a funky edge. You won’t believe you are in Delhi and yet the location is only a few minutes from Aerocity. (It used to be called Dusit Devarana.)
JW Marriott, Aerocity: This large banquet and shaadi-friendly hotel, located in Aerocity, is a license to print money for its owners who must be delighted that Marriott has delivered this cash cow to them. Despite its size, it is efficiently run and always packed out.
The Pullman: In many ways, Accor is the hotel company that rose without a trace. There are now many Accor hotels in India but none of the brands mean that much to Indians. This elegant hotel with a strong emphasis on F&B may change things around for both Pullman and its Accor parent.
Andaz: A huge F&B success, this groundbreaking lifestyle hotel from Hyatt deserves to do even better with its rooms. One problem may be that Indians haven’t yet fully grasped the philosophy behind the Andaz brand which is not as obviously ‘hip’ as W but offers a more laidback and sophisticated kind of ‘cool’ experience. Everyone I know who has stayed here has loved it. Highly recommended.