Luxury Explorer Review

5-Star Hotel Review

Taj Coromandel

India

Offering the height of comfort in the commercial hub of south India

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Taj Coromandel

Location

Mahatma Gandhi Road, Chennai

Travel Information

17km from the airport

Top Tips

Relax in the glorious Jiva Grande spa

5-Star X-Factors

The warm and welcoming staff are what makes all Taj hotels so special

Please please me

My most recent foray to India took me into unexplored territory: Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu (the city formerly known as Madras). Southern India is known for the hospitality and warm welcome of its people, and I was eager to see how this translates within the hustle of a commercial, metropolitan centre.

Chennai is the commercial and administrative hub of south India, with a long and distinguished history. It is growing as fast as any of the Indian metropolitan cities, although it does not yet enjoy the international profile and status of Delhi or Mumbai. However, no matter, the city wears its wannabee aspiration right on its sleeve, and it grabs the visitor by the throat right from the start.

The journey from the airport thrusts you straight into the modern urban Indian experience super-confident, strident, and with huge contrasts between new and old that become ever-more striking: tower blocks rising from the tangled debris of corrugated iron and breeze block dwellings and shops. New flyovers the precursors of a new transit system end in the bewildering maze of traffic intersections.

Traffic lights (once deemed optional by drivers) are now regarded with suspicion and caution, given the recent installation of traffic cameras. It's not far from Bangalore, the IT capital of Asia, and the highest standards of technical infrastructure apply. These cameras swiftly issue automatic penalties based on the latest number plate recognition software.

The Taj welcome

This swirling, perpetual chaos is left behind by the arrival at the Taj Coromandel. There is a well-versed 'welcome experience' that the Taj Group has perfected, and made its own. The assembled ranks of staff are immediately there to open the door, take your baggage and greet you. The traditional namaste reception greeting includes the tilak (vermilion spot on the forehead) and a white flower garland. It's beguiling, touching and a fraction embarrassing at the same time. But the overall effect makes you feel like a very well-honoured guest. And I suppose that's the point.

The external façade of the Coromandel doesn't fill the heart with excitement. There is more than a hint of Le Corbusier about its concrete façade, although this is more Unité d'Habitation than Chandigarh. Any mind's eye vision of an imperial palace is immediately replaced by the reality of modernist architecture.

However, rather like the city around it, this is a hotel that has reinvented itself. Gone is the faintly awkward play on the colonial past, which resulted in a juxtaposition of dark wood, heavy furnishings and textiles, mixed with the requirement for modern flat-screen media centres, which seemed to become the focus of the whole room.

Now, the overall impression is much more confident and contemporary. I was booked into a Luxury Room on the first floor. The visual effect is pared down and more minimal in appearance. The generously-sized bed (as always with Taj) stands astride the room. Opposite, the media centre balances the space.

Contemporary twist

Gone are the fussy touches, replaced with simplicity of form and a chic colour palette. The dark wood panels remain on contrasting wall surfaces and on door surrounds, but are in proportion to the room size and create a nice contrast to the neutrality of the other wall surfaces. The furniture has a little more character, but is not out of place. The floor is wooden laminate, which gives the room a slight echo. Lighting is subdued with good accents.

Careful thought has gone into the sound system: there is a spooled cable that plugs straight into an iPhone, and this powers your play-list straight into the four Bose speakers hung from the ceiling in each corner. It gives you an instant control of mood.

The bathroom continues the modernity theme all-over Italian marble, Italian-style chrome fittings, glass partitions and halogen spots. The power shower has a control panel for every possible variation of water jet. Study it carefully before activating its power. Beware: two large mirrors and strong directional lighting provide an inescapable and unflattering image of one's physique. I speak for myself, of course.

Overall, this is a progressive and successful move by Taj to bring their rooms up to the standard required by the international tourist and business community. The higher floors include the huge, opulent Presidential Suites and Royal Suites, which should provide a rather memorable stay. If there is a criticism to be made, the room may appear a little bland to some tastes. But if you hanker after local colour, step outside the hotel and immerse yourself.

It was four in the morning, local time, and the bed did not disappoint, being one of the most comfortable hotel beds I've had the pleasure of sleeping in. Mind you, I was ready for it.

Fine dining, Taj style

Lounge bar Chipstead is rather fun and relaxed, with a long bar extravagantly stocked with all forms of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The atmosphere is rather punctured by the clumsy installation of a couple of 'sports bar' style flat-screens. And where on earth did that name originate from?

Prego is an interesting concept, which is slightly ahead of its time for the local clientele. It represents an attempt at fine Italian dining, and is an ambitious attempt to extend the culinary landscape. The highest standards are promised, and the wine list is impressively extensive.

At the top end, there are some very serious vintage champagnes, with price tags shown in lakhs (units of one hundred thousand rupees). The quality of the chefs and the dining experience would put most London establishments to shame.

However, on the next evening, I ended up eating at Southern Spice which is a well-known and well-loved restaurant within the hotel, patronised by wealthy local families. If the locals eat there, the food must be good.

The whole premise is built on mimicking the interior of the Mysore Palace, with spacious seating areas and a central grand cupola, with a small stage below. On this particular evening, there were three musicians and some dancing girls taking turns to supply local colour. On the other side, the resident killijoshiam (the equivalent of a clairvoyant tarot card reader) was busy entertaining guests with a tame parrot, which emerged from a gilded cage to strategically select the appropriate card for each individual.

The odd parrot squawk mixed with the wide-ranging repertoire of the band, which turned to a highly characterful rendition of 'Happy Birthday' for a large party. It all added to the atmosphere, although this all seemed increasingly bizarre when glimpsed from beyond the wrong time zone.

Southern comfort

The food was better than good. Southern Indian cuisine is quite distinctive, and each of the four southern states has its own particular delicacies and specialities. A wide variety of dishes (mainly vegetarian) and meats are offered: more Spanish tapas style than a narrower selection of larger plates. The meals are traditionally served on a vazhaillai (a banana leaf), which was the case here. However, on closer inspection, this turned out to be a cunningly printed facsimile.

There is also a wide choice of side dishes: pickles, chutneys, bajji and soups, served with different types of bread. Coconut flavours are never far away. I ignored the extensive menu and asked for the chef's choice. He recommended a variety of vegetarian accompaniments with fresh tiger prawns, gently spiced. They were superb the equal of any that I've tasted. I can understand why the Taj maintains a local reputation for fine cuisine.

My personal view is that the Taj experience is strong enough to evolve. It is built on superb customer service, which I first encountered in Delhi last year, and it continues to reach levels that many European hoteliers can only dream of.

The Coromandel tree, in Tamil legend, has the power to grant any wish to a person under its shade. This might not quite translate to guests staying at the hotel, but you get the feeling that any request, however fanciful, would be met with charm, flair and a desire to please. As the world gets smaller and more unified, the Taj brand has found a distinctive, differentiated niche and a clear raison d'etre.



Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer