Timeless charm on Chennai’s landscape

As Taj Coromandel celebrates its 50th anniversary, CE delves into the hotel’s history, culinary scene and the legacy it has created for itself
Taj Coromandel
Taj Coromandel (Photo | Express)

CHENNAI: Back in the day, after long shoots that stretched late into the night, film industry folks would frequent Pavilion at Taj Coromandel for a meal. The only available options at that hour were biryani and raita.

One evening, a particular chef faced a dilemma — he only had rice to serve. But, one of the guests requested something special. The chef improvised, used the leftover rice and rogan josh gravy to create a unique dish. When served, the guest was delighted with the spicy, flavourful combination. It became an instant hit. The blend of spices, tender meat, and aromatic rice perfectly satiated the guest. As word spread, the dish, named Gilli Biriyani, became so popular that it was a staple on the menu.

Several such tidbits are woven into the tapestry of the 50-year-old Taj Coromandel. This iconic luxury hotel that seamlessly blends modernity and tradition was built in 1974. “Our aim at Taj Coromandel is to effortlessly balance modernity with tradition,” says Naved Karbelkar, hotel manager. “We take pride in fusing South Indian warmth with classic elegance, reflecting Chennai’s deep-rooted heritage.” Indeed, stepping into Taj Coromandel is akin to entering a realm where time-honoured traditions meet contemporary luxury. At the heart of the hotel’s allure are its meticulously appointed guest rooms and suites. Preserving traditional Indian architecture while offering modern amenities, these spaces serve as sanctuaries of tranquillity in a bustling city.

What’s on the menu?

The culinary scene at Taj Coromandel is equally enchanting, with its array of aesthetically designed restaurants offering a diverse range of dining experiences. Southern Spice, inspired by temple architecture, and Golden Dragon, reflecting Oriental culture, take guests on immersive culinary journeys. Every meal here is a celebration of flavour and tradition.

“Our commitment to preserving tradition while allowing space for innovation is evident in every aspect of our culinary offerings,” says Sujan Mukherjee, the executive chef. “At Southern Spice, we take pride in our traditional roots, drawing inspiration from seasoned chefs.” The restaurant’s emphasis on minimal experimentation ensures the authenticity of each dish, while constant research and consultation with old families in Chennai and regulars at Taj Coromandel maintain its cultural integrity. Golden Dragon serves Cantonese and Sichuan cuisine. “We’ve struck a delicate balance between honouring classic recipes and incorporating modern twists,” he explains.

Lamb Gilli Biriyani
Lamb Gilli Biriyani

The menus at the restaurants are sprinkled with unique dishes with a story behind the birth of each recipe. During his initial days working at the hotel, Sujan was introduced to an innovative dish while in conversation with a guest: their Chicken Tikka and Raw Mango Pizza. “The pizza has a flavour to it like none other. The chef who made that did an amazing job,” he says. Lobster Thermidor is another timeless classic loved by all. These have been recreated for the 50-year celebrations, including Vazhathandu Chaaru, Zima Lamb, and the famous Kavuni Arisi Halwa.

A tradition of excellence

Reflecting on the hotel’s journey, the duty manager and the youngest employee, Nina Ruth M, calls it “an opportunity to embrace a legacy,” as it’s not often that you get to work at a place soaked in tradition. Meanwhile, Ahmed Mohideen, the stores officer in the Finance department, is one of the oldest employees. “I’ve been with the hotel for 40 years now, and it still brings me great joy every single day. I’ve seen the hotel as well as fellow colleagues grow together. Moreover, we have welcomed several prominent names, and I’m glad I could witness it all,” he says.

This sense of legacy permeates every aspect of Taj Coromandel, from its grand architecture to its exceptional service. Sujan shares that their approach is centred on training a team that is always ready to exceed guests’ expectations. Creating this culture — whether in the kitchen, in food service, or in their restaurants — is paramount.

“A key element of our philosophy is the emphasis on creating a responsive and attentive environment. For instance, if a guest checks out expressing dissatisfaction with their dinner, our front desk manager promptly informs me. While I might not be able to fix the past, I can make a small gesture, such as offering chocolates with a heartfelt apology and my business card. I invite the guest to return, ensuring their preferences for spice levels or other details are noted for future visits.” This proactive approach fosters a culture of care and responsiveness.

Anniversary celebrations

In its golden jubilee year, Taj Coromandel remains a timeless icon, drawing guests from across the globe. The hotel’s name, derived from the Coromandel Tree or Kalpavriksha, symbolises its commitment to granting guests’ wishes and etching unforgettable memories into every visit.

Kozhi Chimbl
Kozhi Chimbl

“The opening of this hotel in 1974 was an important milestone in itself. Since then, the hotel has kept up with the rapid progress of the city and the changing preferences of discerning travellers,” shares Naved. Over the years, the hotel has undergone extensive refurbishment and expansion, with the restaurants, too, undergoing several changes. The manager shares with great pride the numerous awards and accolades the hotel has won for its excellence in hospitality and culinary offerings, including top honours at the IIHM-IHC London International Hospitality Day Awards 2023, Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards 2023 and 2024, Condé Nast Traveller Top 50 Restaurants of India 2023 awarding Southern Spice as one of the finest restaurants in the country, and the Tamil Nadu State Tourism Awards 2023 where Southern Spice was named the Best Traditional Cuisine Restaurant.

While these grand milestones add to the legacy of the hotel, it is also important to note the significance of small details that enrich the guest experience. “In the evenings, the hotel lights up with diya lamps, creating a beautiful theme. These kinds of things make for good conversations with guests. Every hotel has rooms and amenities, but what sets us apart is our culture and history. Celebrating the 50th anniversary is huge, and it’s a story we love to share,” shares Nina.

For the anniversary celebrations Taj Coromandel is pulling out all the stops. Guests can enjoy exclusive offers and amenities, including discounted room rates and Sunday brunches. Sujan and his team of master chefs are curating a culinary journey revisiting Taj Coromandel’s legendary restaurants and iconic menus. From the charming Pavilion to the beloved Golden Dragon and Chipstead, guests are invited to relive the timeless dining experiences that have defined Chennai’s gastronomic scene. Indulge in Southern Spice’s authentic South Indian recipes until June 16 or La Patisserie’s sweet masterpieces by pastry chef Ravi Varma from July 1 to August 3. Sip on signature cocktails at Chipstead, the hotel’s stylish bar, from July 14 to August 3, and raise a toast to 50 years of culinary excellence.

As Taj Coromandel looks toward the future, it remains steadfast in preserving tradition while embracing innovation. With its rich history and unwavering dedication to guest satisfaction, the hotel continues to set the standard for luxury hospitality in Chennai and beyond.

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