April 01, 2007

The Park

The Park opened its glass-and-shiny-metal doors in February, and the punters have been rolling in with some regularity since then. Not surprising: it is the first five-star hotel in the city, and with its focus on the business traveller, it fills a much-needed niche for the very many software and BPO companies in a city that is beginning to feel its oats a bit.
It is unpromising at first sight: a large white brick of a building plonked next to the highway at Belapur; though, compared to some of the other truly ghastly edifices that have been inflicted on that particular node of New Bombay, it is, at least, inoffensive. The hotel’s literature seeks to lay the blame on inspiration from Modernism and Le Corbusier. Being a philistine, all I can say that if I was paying several thousand rupees a night for the privilege of staying in a five star, I’d like the place to look and feel like one. White walls, hard lines, lots of glass and metal? Nada. Sure, coloured lighting does soften and soothe the contours post-dusk, but even then the atrium and corridors look like a gussied-up barracks. In the rooms, a little more attention to the placement of the furniture would improve things no end. For example, in my deluxe room, the fancy flat-screen TV is off in one corner, at an angle from the bed and miles away from the couch—which faces the wardrobe—with an awfully uncomfortable chair placed at an angle to the screen. And the bathrooms: well, I’ve seen larger in suburban apartments. And in my biased book, no bathtub equals place that should have some of its five stars taken away. For me, one of the perks of this reviewing gig is getting to swim a bit. But, alas, the pool’s a wee little thing. If more than three people tried to swim laps, you’d need traffic signals. But hey, maybe it’s Modernism’s substitute for a bathtub.
What redeems the place for me is the level of service, which is superb, with well-trained staff who know when to be chatty and when to leave you alone. And the food rocks. As of my visit, Bamboo, their Chinese restaurant, hadn’t opened, but Zest, the 24-hour multi-cuisine restaurant, Aqua, at the poolside, and Dusk, the bar, were in business. I spent long hours eating, indulging in long breakfasts from the buffet (after all the busy firangs had gone off to kick outsourced butt), lazy late lunches and contemplative dinners. The menus are inviting and varied, the wait-staff know their stuff, the portions are ginormous, and junior chefs are usually around at the buffet, monitoring patron enjoyment levels. I swear I moved up a belt-notch for each day I was there.
The restaurants will get the locals flocking in, because if there’s an even bigger hole in the New Bombay leisure market than a luxury hotel, it’s in the area of fine dining. Poolside weekend buffet brunch packages and the like will bring in the yuppies in droves. And Zest? A place that stays open all night legally, that isn’t filled with smoke, rickshaw drivers and call centre kids; that’s something New Bombay desperately needed.
Overall, the place will do well, since it has a monopoly on the high end of the market. Once a few other majors move in (many are, I hear), it won’t be quite so much a walk in the Park.

Published in Outlook Traveller, April 2007.

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