The sumptuous Leela Palace in New Delhi impresses Shoba Narayan but there is always room for improvement.
A spectacular hideout in Lutyens' Delhi
The lobby is sumptuous, with high ceilings, chandeliers, gilt-edged mirrors and an abundance of flowers. Silver artefacts of Garuda, the mythical bird-like creature, stand near the entrance, and the sofas and chairs are beautifully upholstered. All visitors are escorted to their rooms for check-in, but club-level guests and groups are welcomed in the lobby with a traditional red tilak on the forehead and a jasmine garland. Check-in in my room was fairly quick and a refreshing welcome drink of seasonal fruit juice was offered. There were chocolates and fruits left in my room every day.
The hotel is located in the diplomatic enclave in New Delhi, near the prime minister's residence and the Secretariat. This means that the roads are very quiet and there is relatively less traffic. It also means that there is not much to see or do if you want to just walk outside the hotel. The hotel's car will drive you to the nearby Connaught Place, a hub of all kinds of shops and restaurants, or you could hop into a rickshaw and go there for about 100 Indian rupees (Dh8). Delhi's famed Mogul-era historical spots, such as the Red Fort, Qutub Minar, Humayun's tomb and Raj Ghat, a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, are all a short drive away.
Although the staff is warm and welcoming, it is obvious that this is a newly opened hotel and the standard of service needs to go up a notch. The staff has been trained to deliver on all the usual requests, but anything unusual - such as an express check-in - puts them off step. The servers at Qube, one of the restaurants, left me alone for long stretches without refilling my water glass or taking down additional orders and then suddenly descended en masse. The concierge is a fount of information and fulfills all my requests quickly and gracefully.
The 260 rooms are spacious, with the lowest category of room clocking in at 51 square metres. The decor is distinctive, with beautiful Indian etchings framed off centre - a subtle but stylish touch. The bed is among the most comfortable I've slept in, because I like crisp sheets and a firm mattress. I loved the city views from my windows that showed Delhi's broad boulevards and foliage in very favourable light. The spacious and sensitively designed bathroom has separate glass partitions for the shower and toilet and a large bath from where you can watch TV while soaking in Penhaligon toiletries. There is a dock with an iTouch, an LCD television with a Blu-ray DVD player and internet access.
Le Cirque and Megu, two of the hotel's four restaurants, are not yet open. Jamavar offers delicious Indian food from different regions - Alleppey meen (fish) curry and chicken chettinad are popular among Delhiites wanting a taste of southern India. Qube, the all-day dining outlet, offers a variety of cuisines, including Lebanese, Egyptian, French, Italian and Indian. The lunch buffet (2,000 rupees; Dh160 per person) includes small portions of appetisers and made-to-order main courses that change every day. When I visited, there was Thai green curry, Kashmiri dum aloo, lasagne in pretty, single-portion Le Cruesetcontainers, and biryani, both chicken and vegetarian. The Library bar is a cosy place for drinks and has bound editions of Punch, which the hotel bought at auction. The bartender is well versed in mixing drinks, and the soothing ambience and service makes you feel like an English baron.
Punjabi ladies who like to lunch throng Qube in large groups and pay in cash from monthly allowances that their industrialist husbands dole out to them. The lobby is buzzing during the day, becoming quiet at night. The hotel still hasn't been discovered by tour groups and maintains a classy decorum throughout. The bountiful flowers - the hotel orders some 3,500 roses every day - that are everywhere are a lovely luxurious touch. The staff greet you with a traditional namaste and the red saris that the female staff wear are in keeping with the opulence. The hotel promises to become a favourite with visiting diplomats, who will no doubt savour the delights of the 413-sq-m "maharajah" suite - complete with bulletproof windows, amazing views of Delhi and complimentary chauffeured Rolls Royce.
I loved the detail and the quality of the interiors. The wooden furniture is sturdy and beautifully finished; the silk upholstery is perfectly pitched; the carpets and chandeliers are top of the line and the Indian accents are classy. Once the friendly staff is better trained, the service will become top notch. The solitary monumental Buddha that sits in the gardens offers a serene counterpoint. The sitar fusion music is a step up from traditional elevator music.
The large plastic trees in the lobby. Why, after spending so much money on stylish decor, would you put ugly plastic trees in the lobby?
If you want to stay in Lutyens' Delhi, very few hotels can compare to this. The Leela would be a great choice for a layover before a hectic India vacation. The in-house Espa spa offers terrific Ayurvedic massages to soothe jetlagged muscles.
The bottom line
Double rooms cost from 10,790 rupees (Dh876) per night, including taxes. The Leela Palace, Chanakyapuri, Diplomatic Enclave, New Delhi (www.theleela.com; 00 91 11 3933 1234).