I have a blow-hot blow-cold relationship with Kolkata. The capital of Bengal is close to my heart because many a loved ones live there; however, as a city, we’ve never been able to become more than acquaintances. Blame it on the roads changing their direction mid-day or the humidity, but I hadn’t been able to truly grow fond of Kolkata inspite of visiting several times. I had a chance to rethink this on a recent trip, also my first time staying at a hotel here (friends and family play host usually), where I experienced Kolkata with the trimmings of luxury.
Half a week at the ITC Royal Bengal may not count as a long stay, but it was enough for me to experience the city a little more intimately. The freshly minted luxury hotel from the ITC stables holds true to its name when it comes to grandeur, capturing Bengal’s rich cultural heritage. A dramatic staircase flanking either side of the entrance, sprawling lobbies, walkways punctuated with old-world chandeliers, local art forms like kantha adorning the walls, and a Tree of Life theme running through – everything pays ode to the city. Best of all, my room looked out onto a rare vista, that of Kolkata’s wetlands.
The room in itself was sprawling, featuring classic, understated furnishings, and divided into the work area and bedroom (each had its own television and temperature control). I particularly liked the space given to the walk-in wardrobe and bathroom area featuring large mirrors. All services could be accessed through the e-butler iPad, which easily allowed me to customise meal preferances. There’s also the more compact Towers Exclusive rooms, service apartments, and suites, all together making up 456 rooms across the 30 floors. And the yet to be opened is the Grand Presidential Suite, which will span 6620 sq. ft., making it one of the most expansive luxury suites in the country.
The hotel has five restaurants, of which Royal Vega was the one I enjoyed the most. A pure vegetarian restaurant, the second one after ITC Grand Chola in the chain’s repertoire, even the chefs here are vegetarian. Its opulent couches, jharokhas, and silverware make for a regal setting for their four tasting thalis – there is one from Bengal, Punjab, and Rajasthan, and a fourth serving the star dishes from all three. The menu has been keenly researched and curated to bring out the local cultures. If you like your Indian cuisine authentic, you’re bound to appreciate these.
Another notable introduction is the Northeastern section at the Grand Market Pavilion, the buffet restaurant. Along with Indian and international delicacies, the focus here on preparations from the Seven Sisters is commendable, the first of its kind at a hotel. From different kinds of pork, pasta soup, bamboo chicken, fish stews, pickles, and the signature spice element of the Northeast, it’s a refreshing addition to a buffet.
Chef Vittorio Greco returns with his iconic Italian restaurant, Ottimo, here – the tiramisu cannot be missed! It is connected to The Brass Room downstairs, which is reminiscent of Kolkata’s famous jazz bar culture. Live music performances every weekend hosted by the tapas bar make the place come alive, and classic cocktails flanked by bite-sized Indian dishes made using international techniques (think chicken tikka pockets, paneer arancini) have a comfort food theme going. When looking for a lighter bite or have a working lunch or dinner, the Darjeeling Lounge is ideal. With specialty teas and coffees from India and around the world and nibbles keep you company, I most enjoyed the local bandel cheese and meethi dana tart.
With some time on my hands, I tried the signature Kaya Kalp treatment at ITC’s spa. The 90 minutes worked magic on relieving stress, and is ideal for those suffering from knots resulting from the never-ending screen time. While I didn’t dip into the leisure terrace pool, it makes for a pretty sight, with the tip of the Howrah Bridge visible on the right to the keen eye. And the state of the art gym with two trainers constantly at your attention is great for those who don’t like to miss working out during travels. Apart from this, there is a 61,000 sq. ft. banquet and convention area, which is set to become the new go-to destination for the big fat Indian wedding.
With a tagline like ‘One of its Kind’, ITC Royal Bengal certainly lives up to its motto. What’s also to be noted is that it is connected to the existing ITC Sonar, with guests of either property allowed to enjoy the facilities at both – together they make for almost 700 rooms, 15 dining spaces, and over a lakh square feet of event space.
Unlike the formal and distant approach that becomes the pitfall of most large hotels, ITC Royal Bengal has found the balance between splendour and soul. So if you’re looking to experience the character of Bengal seeped in luxury, this is the place to be.
All images: Courtesy ITC Royal Bengal