With trade between India and the UAE growing to an all-time high, the chances are that you’re likely to be heading to Mumbai in the not-too-distant future.
Many executives who use India’s business capital as a hub tend to use the hotels around the airport, but if you’re in the market for something more central, with a bit more history and culture, you would do well to consider the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, located in Apollo Bunder, Colaba.
Character? Check. The Palace, or “Heritage”, wing of the hotel opened in 1903 and today the grand building’s Indo-Saracenic architecture still brilliantly recalls an era long gone. The newer extension, the Tower wing, was built in 1973 and while its exterior may not look as impressive as the Palace wing, the dignified interior is still nothing to be scoffed at.
Amenities? Absolutely. The hotel offers up a tempting mix of fine dining in a wide variety of cuisines and designer shopping opportunities such as Louis Vuitton and Dior. There’s also the Jiva Spa, a fitness centre, a business centre and one of the most relaxing pools we’ve ever lounged at.
Neighbourhood? It would be difficult to call Colaba boring. This neighborhood in South Mumbai is an unceasing mix of people, sights and sounds. Finally, the Taj Mahal Palace and
Tower even ticks the optional “luxury” box. The iconic hotel is eponymous with opulence, and its peaceful interiors laden with sumptuous décor fit for a Maharajah.
The staff are there to please and all of our requests were dealt with promptly and cheerfully.
Outside of rush hour traffic, the Taj is a 60-90 minute drive from Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (the hotel does offer airport transfer for an added fee if you’re staying in the Tower wing; it’s complimentary for guests in the Palace wing). While the drive is likely to be a bit chaotic due to the roads, once inside the hotel you are surrounded by a welcome calm that quickly soothes.
Check-in was efficiently handled and we were delighted with a complimentary room upgrade to one of the Tower wing’s one-bedroom suites with views of the sea. Having originally booked a standard room facing the city, we could only have been more thrilled had we been upgraded into the Palace wing. Alas, another time, perhaps. The room proved to be extraordinarily spacious and very comfortable with a living area, dining area, kitchenette, bedroom, walk-in closet and foyer that were filled with heritage décor.
Not spacious? The bathroom. For as large as the suite was, we really felt that the bath area definitely could have been more indulgent, especially considering all of the space used for the walk-in closet and kitchenette, both areas we felt were unnecessary. The sights from the room were wonderful, including an uninterrupted view of the Gateway of India — certainly worth paying the extra money for if deciding between the city or sea view rooms.
Starving from the journey in, the next natural step at 1:00am was to order some room service. Without a doubt, this was the fanciest curry delivery we’ve had ever experienced. Served by a waiter in dinner jacket and white gloves, supper consisted of delicious paneer makhani and aloo gosht curries in the suite’s dining area; the paneer being some of the best we have ever tasted with a perfectly creamy texture.
As far as food goes, you’ll not be for want of anything within the Taj. The fine dining establishments specializing in cuisine from Japanese to French and everything in between include Wasabi by Morimoto, Masala Kraft, Souk, Zodiac Grill and Golden Dragon to name just a few.
While our stay at the Taj was short, as a huge fan of Chef Masaharu Morimoto, we had to try his restaurant, Wasabi. After years of multiple dining experiences at his American restaurants, we found Wasabi to be predictably tasty although perhaps not quite up to par with his American counterparts; additionally, the atmosphere was somewhat lacking, although to be fair it was rather early in the evening. As usual, the rock shrimp tempura was a spicy, tangy treat to the taste buds and it’s hard to go wrong with a few slices of Oh toro (fatty tuna) — the king of sashimi. While these were old, familiar friends, we also tried three new dishes.
First up, an appetiser of salmon avocado tacos where the crunch of the lightly salted crispy taco worked in perfect contrast with the rich and creamy avocado and salmon. For the entrée, we decided to indulge on the panko-crusted lobster entrée, which was good - no more, no less. The lobster itself was perfectly fine, but the preparation was a bit more blasé than we were hoping for. The panko, which we are generally huge fans of, did not work very well with the lobster, as the dry, grainy texture seemed to overwhelm the meat at times.
Stuffed though we were, we couldn’t resist dessert and soon found a chocolate tart with mango passion sauce on the table. The tart was extremely rich, but you’ll find no complaints from us about that, with a velvety texture accompanied by the fruit sauce.
If you’re keen to explore the surrounding area, there’s certainly enough to keep you busy. The Taj is conveniently located directly next to the popular tourist spot, the Gateway of India, and sandwiched in the midst of innumerable cafes, shops and museums, all within easy walking distance.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly known as The Prince of Wales Museum, features collections of art, archaeology and natural history, although the most impressive bit may be the building itself, which, built in the same Indo Saracenic style as the Taj, is nothing short of gorgeous. Walking further south from the hotel into Colaba you’ll find busy streets filled with vendors and cafes such as Leopold Café, made famous in Gregory David Robert’s novel Shantaram.
We were particularly impressed by a delicatessen called Indigo (Pheroze Building, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharishi Marg), serving up a selection of inventive sandwiches, ultra-thin pizzas and magnificent pastries. If you have the time and an exploratory nature, a trip to Elephanta Island, a UNES CO World Heritage Site filled with cave temples, would be recommended.
Due to the hour-long ferry journeys to and from, and the size of the site, a day should be set aside for the trip (the ferries are located in the harbor just outside of the Taj, next to the Gateway of India). After a day — or even a busy morning — of exploring Mumbai, returning to the Taj is like being enveloped in a tranquil oasis.
The grounds are beautiful, especially the pretty poolside veranda (serving decidedly average coffee, sadly), the rooms comfortable and luxurious, and the dining options offer something for all tastes so that you really don’t ever need to leave the hotel if you’d rather not.
We’ll admit to one complaint, however, and that would be that the hotel’s wifi was not complementary. It is somewhat staggering that in this day and age, you will still find some hotels where its guests must pay for wifi usage on top of the room rates.