Friday, 31 January 2014

DINING OUT: The Hidden Gem of Marina Hotel

This review first appeared in the edition of Mail Today dated January 31, 2014. If you wish to see the original, click on and go to Page 27. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers

WHAT: Jashn-e-Lahore Food Festival
WHERE: The Great Kebab Factory, Radisson Blu Marina Hotel, G-59, Connaught Circus (Outer Circle)
WHEN: 7 to 11:45 p.m. Open for dinner only.
DIAL: 011-46909027
Rs 1,299+++ (adults); Rs 749+++ (children)

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

MARINA HOTEL has always been a mystery to me. Here's a heritage hotel in the heart of Connaught Place, with a terrace to die for, and a location that any five-star hotel would give an arm and a leg for. Yet, it's hardly ever in the news, though I know for a fact that it is popular among English tourists, who check in to soak up some Raj nostalgia. And when it became a Radisson Blu hotel three years ago, immediately after its renovation during the Commonwealth Games, it was seen as a prized catch for the Carlson Group.
My curiosity about the hotel resurfaced when an old friend, Dhananjay Kumar, called up to say he had taken charge as its general manager and would like to invite me to The Great Kebab Factory. A TGKF, my favourite destination for kebabs, at Marina? The information stoked my appetite for more information on the hotel.
The Great Kebab Factory at the Radisson Blu
Marina Hotel, Connaught Place, festooned for
the Jashn-e-Lahore Food Festival
Marina is New Delhi's oldest hotel. It was built in 1934 by the Japanwalas, one of Delhi's old Punjabi Muslim families who owe their surname to their trading links with Japan. The hotel, which had as many rooms for guests as for their servants, was managed by an Italian family, but they got externed for being 'enemy aliens' at the outbreak of the Second World War. The place of the Italian family was taken by the brothers Sardari Lal and Girdhari Lal, who were from a prosperous landowning family.
Sardari Lal was a bon vivant (he was reputed to have spent more time frequenting London's hotspots than pursuing his legal studies, his official reason for being in the city) and he eventually married the celebrated Olympian and British Life Peer, Lord Sebastian Coe's maternal grandmother, Vera Swan, who was a member of Uday Shankar's dance company and was also romantically involved with the maestro. Sardari Lal and Lord Coe's grandmother came back to New Delhi to settle down, but Vera Swan wasn't accepted by the British high society in the imperial capital, so she went back to England with her two daughters and never returned to be reunited with her husband.
The hotel is owned today by real estate and publishing tycoon Shashank Bhagat and his two business partners. It carries the Radisson Blu stamp and has The Great Kebab Factory, where  a Jashn-e-Lahore food festival is now on. It was a Tuesday, traditionally a light day for most restaurants, yet the place was full. And why shouldn't it be?
I can't imagine any sane person shying away from a meal plan that includes unlimited helpings of six kebabs with paired breads, two dals, three 'main course' items, a biryani with raita, and three desserts -- all for Rs 1,299+++ for grown-ups and Rs 749+++ for children. Right from the strawberry chilli sauce that the salad is drizzled with and the signature galouti, the restaurant has zealously guarded the high standards set by the original TGKF at the Radisson Blu Plaza, NH-8. It's a Connaught Place gem that deserves its place in the sun.
I asked Anish Potdar, whom I have known since the time he was a young chef at TGKF (he's now the custodian of the brand, which encompasses 16 restaurants), about the Lahore connection. He said the festival showcases the kebabs (TGKF has a repertoire of over 500, for its philosophy is not to repeat a kebab for 15 days) whose recipes were shared by Mohammed Ikram of Pearl Continental Lahore's Dumpukht restaurant with TGKF's master chef, Meraj-ul-Haque, when they were pitted against each other on the reality cookery show, Foodistan. Talk about cross-border brotherhood!
The kebabs with the Lahori connection that I had were the melt-in-the-mouth Chicken Firdausi and the delicately textured Khyberi Chooza, and then there was the intensely flavourful mutton nihari cooked in the Lahori style. These are three good reasons for you to drop anchor at the Marina's TGKF.