Our Intrepid Travellers have tea and biscuits with The Grande Dame of Chowringee! And so much more.
Kolkata was for several decades the second city of the greatest empire of the modern age. It shows. Colonial grandeur was married to and laid on top of the culture of the most vibrant, passionate, creative people on the planet, which seethed and bubbled and streaked through it like an exotic liquor through a sponge cake. The result is this City. There is a pleasurable intensity of experience here that delights and astounds you, an ebullience that picks you up and dances you through the streets.
And what streets they are. Park St, Lenin Serani, Waterloo Road…but the greatest of them all is Chowringhee. And on Chowringhee the grandest building among many is the Grand Oberoi.
The Grand Oberoi in Kolkata is THE hotel. A great wedding-cake architectural landmark, all potted palms, terrazzo tiles and minions scampering like gorgeous and rather dignified ants and virtually outnumbering paying guests.
We’d been doing retail battle at New Market for hours, (a rite of passage here). We’re dazed, confused, frustrated and a tad exasperated. We wandered out into the crowd-congested side lane –
a side lane that fortuitously and crazily (we are in Kolkata…) is just round the corner from this oasis of calm. The Oberoi.
The moment we entered this Frigidaire of Savoir-Faire we knew our splurge moment was worth it.
Counting our pennies (or should I say paise) pkwe ordered a coffee and a lime soda. Coffee arrived in a beautiful white china masterpiece, the lime was freshly squeezed.
But Lo! A generous plate of shortbread cookies arrives….and then a bowl of crackers… some bar nuts and nibbles…“Oh Sir, the crackers are a little dry. We thought you’d like some aioli with it.”
We look at each other in stunned amazement and not a little glee, then start worrying that perhaps there’s some misunderstanding but by this stage we’re having a ball in this Indian Rajah print lined room which is also the Bar.
It’s comfy. It’s cosy.
The staff are the staff you expect to have wait on you in Heaven.
They are attentive but discreet, passionate but not forward, always there for you when you need them, friendly, charming, genuinely happy people doing a job they love so very well that the love spreads across the room. The hotel is one of the chain run by the legendary MS Oberoi.
In a later blog we’ll tell you of our incredible meeting with the fabulous nephew of MS, Diamond Oberoi, his beautiful wife Nimmi and their lovely son Viraj, all also hoteliers, but of boutique hotels in Bengal and the North East. Their charm and grace, their openness and friendliness go a long way towards explaining the happy waiters on Chowringhee.
We’re thinking we’re doing well with the bickies and nibblies (Bill pockets a sample for Keya and Rono) when a smiling waitress plops some little buns with spicy filling and some tasty Indian chats on the table explaining it’s raining outside and this is what ‘we’ always have when it’s raining in India. Another waiter brings a spicy chutney and a herbie one.
Yet another waiter brings another half dozen biscuits.
Bill finishes his coffee and a glass of water appears. I opt for a pot of Darjeeling. A pot big enough for a family afternoon tea arrives with a hat-cum-cozy any Maharajah would be proud to don.
The smiling waitress asks if Bill would like another bun. He coyly declines. When I’ve had my fill of tea I pass the pot over to Bill for his turn. We’ve become the pet geriatric lovebirds of The Bar.
We’re chatting to the waiters and Bill rhapsodizes about their Darjeeling tea. He has become convinced that the tea leaves have been plucked by an expert hand and rushed straight from the dew flecked Himalayan camelia that very morning. “Oh no sir”, the waiter says, “ we only receive the fresh leaves every second day” !
The tea here has strength and body, flavours and complexities, character and dignity, all in a cup. It tumbles from the white China spout of the pot a deep umber, streaked with red and flecks of colour. It is simply a joy to look at, an unutterable delight to smell and a layered, profound, complex, deeply satisfying taste that magically transports you, like a genie, to a better world.
The waiter comes over with a take home sample pack. We, already overcome, are overcome anew. If we had a little lace hankie we would weep into it for sheer joy. Fortunately we do not but there is no doubting that we are a little dewy eyed.
Bill asks for the bill. We hold our breath.
One coffee. One tea. One lime soda. 1400 rupees ( about $28 Australian).
Granted they’re not the cheapest coffee, tea and lime soda we’ve had but sometimes you’ve got to splurge a little.