WHERE TO STAY
ITC Grand Central
Our first stay in Mumbai was to be at the ITC Grand Central. The 5-star hotel is ideally located pretty much in the centre of Mumbai, in the district of Parel. Whilst it’s not near the touristy areas of Juhu (in the North) or Fort (in the South), it’s around 30 minutes to an hour away from most places of interest in the city. We loved the hotel for the way it really captured the colourful patchwork of the city’s culture and history. From the enchanting Colonial style exterior, to a modern but still classic interior, the hotel really combines the best of old English charm with warm Indian hospitality.
As you’d expect, all of the mod-cons are present, including a gym, an indoor swimming, massage facilities and a business centre. There are also a variety of restaurants and bars to choose from including the Shanghai Club Chinese restaurant, a bizarre faux-Irish pub and the dazzling Kebabs & Kurries (more of which in the ‘Where to Eat’ section below).
Their breakfast buffet is also worthy of a mention. Featuring everything from a decent attempt at a British fry-up to stunning traditional Indian dosas, parathas and breakfast curries, the ITC Grand Central had both the best selection and best tasting breakfast we experienced in India.
The well appointed rooms are large and inviting, with even the ‘basic’ Executive Club Rooms providing a comfortable sitting area with a large writing desk and an elegant marble bathroom. As a high-rise building, most rooms also provide an excellent view across the city, albeit a smog filled one! As an added and much appreciated bonus, most stays also include free cocktails and canapés in their 30th storey bar between 6-8pm. Yes, I said free and yes, they were pretty good too!
At around 12000 rupees/night (£165 at time of writing), pricing was on par with most other 5-star hotels and outstanding value compared to London hotels of a similar standard.
The Leela Kempinski Mumbai
After a couple of weeks of adventure, high jinks and frills-free beach huts in Goa, we decided to splurge with a couple of nights of luxury on our return to Mumbai. It was also the final two nights of our month-long trip so we wanted to ensure that we returned to England in the best possible spirits.
Set amidst 11 acres of lush landscaped gardens and cascading waterfalls, The Leela Kempinski Mumbai is an oasis of tranquillity amidst the bustling metropolis. Due to it’s proximity to both national and domestic airports (around 10 minutes away from both), it’s also ideally located as a place to wind-down before your return home.
It’s a little more conventional in look and feel compared to the ITC Grand Central, although the acres of marble and an indoor waterfall add a touch of glamour. All the facilities you’d expect are present, including a massive outdoor pool. I was also reliably informed by Ms Pancake that the massages and beauty services were also of an excellent standard. The rooms were comfortable contemporary affairs, with cool bathrooms and all the electronic gubbins we’d hadn’t realised we’d missed during our rustic Goa trip.
There are plenty of dining and drinking options to choose from, including Italian, Chinese and Indian as well as a couple of bars. Our first evening was spent relaxing with some excellent room service, whilst the second evening was all about pigging out in their buffet before our return home.
Like the ITC Grand Central, rates are around 12000 rupees/night (£165 at time of writing).
WHERE TO EAT
Kebabs & Kurries @ ITC Grand Central – Possibly the best curry in India
If there’s one restaurant everyone must visit in Mumbai, this has got to be it. And more out of luck than design, we happened to be staying at the hotel where it resided!
The restaurant takes the best dishes from the ITC Group’s highly regarded restaurants in its other hotels to create something of a super restaurant. In particular, Kebabs & Kurries brings the wealth of experience gained at Bukhara Restaurant at the ITC Maurya (New Delhi) – widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in Asia for its masterful kebab and tandoori dishes.
The menu is based on traditional dishes often found on the menus of great Maharajas as well as the dining tables of India’s rural villages. It’s a welcome change from the ‘contemporary Indian’ malarkey that seems to be plaguing Indian restaurants on our shores!
Whether it was one of their exquisitely grilled kebabs, intricately spiced curries or moreish side dishes, every single one of the 8 or so dishes we tried were simply out of this world. The cooking techniques used are akin to culinary alchemy. The Dal Bukhara is simmered on charcoal overnight to create a harmonious combination of black lentils, tomatoes, ginger and garlic. Similar painstaking care and skill is also required to create the Haleem, a traditional North Indian/Pakistani dish of lamb, wheat and lentils slowed cooked for around 8 hours to create a stringy mozzarella type consistency and an explosion of flavours. Even a relatively simple Murgh Malai Kebab – so often seen on British menus – was an absolute revelation, combining top quality chicken with cream cheese and coriander create a melt-your-mouth morsels.
Paired with a few ice cold Kingfisher beers, we were truly in foodie heaven. It’s also worth mentioning that Kingfisher brewed in India is way better than British brewed Kingfisher, with its extra creaminess making it the perfect match for a good curry.
Expect to pay around 1000 rupees/dish (£13)
China Garden – Indo-Chinese cuisine at it’s best
Indian food aside, an absolute must try in India is their Indo-Chinese cuisine. India has long had a soft spot for the food of their Oriental neighbours and over time they’ve made a few tweaks to the dishes to create this entirely new and seriously delicious style of cuisine.
Chef Nelson Wang, owner of China Garden, is one of Mumbai’s oldest and most famous proponents of Indo-Chinese cuisine. He first opened the doors to his restaurant in 1985 and has seen the group grow to four restaurants across India, with a number of national and international accolades to go with them.
Essentially, Indo-Chinese cuisine takes an Oriental dish and adds a big dose of spice to suit local taste buds. Must eat items include Manchurian dishes, which stir fry copious amounts of garlic, ginger, fresh chillies and peppers to crispy fried chicken or veg; Chilli Chicken, which is basically just really spicy deep fried chicken in a delicious chilli sauce; and a large variety of warming stews.
Expect to pay around 350 rupees (£5) for starters and 700 rupees (£10) for mains
Elco Pani-Puri Centre – Street food without unwanted extras!
We’re always being told how good the street food is in India. So we go to Mumbai, succumb to the delicious sights and smells of the street vendors and grab some tasty snacks… then let’s just say you don’t eat again for a few days!
Located in Bandra, a popular shopping district, Elco Pani-Puri Centre started off as a small stall and has grown over the last 30 years into a fully fledged restaurant. However, the food has remained every bit as delicious as ever, so queues are likely at most hours of the day. As obvious as this sounds, the secret is in the hygiene, with all food prepared in mineral water to ensure our weak little Western bellies don’t suffer any untoward side effects. By far and away, their most popular dish is Pani-puri – a crispy hollow ‘puri’ filled with a mixture of water, sweet tamarind, spicy chutney, potato, onion and chickpeas. Each one is small enough to fit in the mouth, so don’t be surprised if you chow down half a dozen during a quick visit!
Expect to pay around 300 rupees (£3.50) for a good amount of food.