There is a hushed silence in the Radisson Blu GRT lobby as Vikram Cotah and his robot glide past. After an intensive facelift, the 24-year-old property is unrecognisable, fortunately the CEO has hired Nanba. “She’s Chennai’s first humanoid concierge,” he says proudly, as she guides us across the lobby, manoeuvring deftly to avoid a Thota Tharini sculpture en route. She pauses only to answer questions, making reservations and listing restaurants with mechanical ease, her big blue eyes blinking endearingly all the while.
She is leading us to the hotel’s newest restaurant, Ministry Of Chutney, starring Anglo-Indian fare. En route, we make an obligatory stop at the iconic Great Kebab factory, also refreshed to be bigger and brighter, though the team swears that the galouti kebab tastes just the same.
When many restaurants and businesses around the country were closing down due to the pandemic, GRT hotels decided to take a leap of faith and expand. “We knew this was not going to last forever. But we also knew we needed to be prepared,” says Vikram, explaining how the hotel is adding three floors with banqueting spaces and about 78 rooms on neighbouring land, all acquired over the past decade. “We are basically jewellers, and we know the pulse of the market,” he adds. (GRT Hotels & Resorts branched from GR Thanga Maligai jewellers.)
Describing the inertia of the past few pandemic-affected years as an “opportunity to rediscover the hotel,” Vikram explains how the renovated property has been future-proofed (as far as it can be, given the unpredictability of trends and the market these days) with contemporary styling and a nod to Chennai’s Colonial and Art-Deco architecture. Plus, of course, technology: auto check-ins, mobile key entry and Nanba.
At the Ministry of Curry, which also serves as the hotel’s coffee shop, Chef Kishore Kumar Neethinathan explains how he and his team collaborated with Bengaluru-based Anglo-Indian cookbook author Bridget White Kumar to create a menu that pays tribute to the community and its distinctive blend of British recipes with Indian ingredients over the years.
The menu here features all the classics, including fragrant coconut pilaf, stained with saffron, and served with a mutton mince ball curry along with fiery devil’s chutney. Dignified restaurant manager Andrew Taylor stops by the table to point out that he shared his recipe for devil’s chutney with the chefs. Only, he calls it ‘hell’s flames.’
“A lot of Anglo-Indians used to live in this area,” says Vikram, over chicken chops and flaky vegetable minced puffs. “Over the years, we have seen the community get smaller, and we don’t want people to forget their legacy, or food,” he adds. “It’s an evolved cuisine by itself. Not just fusion. It was created by old cooks and khansamas at dak bungalows. They cooked for the British, making roasts and soups with local, seasonal ingredients.”
The food is luxuriously comforting. Lamb trotter soup, rich with coconut milk and marrow. A nourishing vegetable jalfrezi and creamy fish moilee. The meal ends with warm bread pudding, reminiscent of school dinners, but with a five star spin and crackling torched sugar. I confess, we also sneak in a galouti kebab from The Great Kebab Factory next door, since the chefs are making them, and — lets be honest — this hotel will always be associated with those kebabs.
There is a Turkish hammam downstairs, the city’s first. And if you are feeling particularly virtous, Nanba will guide you to the treadmills, which overlook the airport runway. But we just head to the terrace to watch planes take off. One more thing to tick off the list if you are in the neighbourhood.
Radisson Blu Hotel GRT Chennai is at 531 Gst Road, St Thomas Mount. Call 9600050390 for reservations.