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ITC GRAND CHOLA, CHENNAI

BLOGS

ITC Welcomes Local Love

Posted by: AceMat On Saturday, May 28, 2016

Source: http://acemat.blogspot.in/2016/05/itc-welcomes-local-love.html

Tags: Dining

This palatial tribute to Southern India's greatest empires – the Imperial Cholas – is a matter of major attraction in the city. The ITC Grand Chola located at Guindy is the third largest hotel in India and the largest ITC property in the country.

The unique  quality of this place is not just its grandeur but it's commitment towards providing Responsible Luxury and that is not limited to their tagline, but in every breath of the place.

How they implement the same is a long list of small and big initiatives taken up by the 5 star luxury hotel brand. The Electricity power consumed here is generated by their own plant and windmills at Coimbatore. When this palatial structure was built, not a single tree was cut, they were uprooted from base and replanted along with several new plantations at various places. The ‘Responsible Luxury’ ethos underscores ITC Hotels’ culinary brands and initiatives to present innovative luxury dining experiences without compromising the earth.

While I have visited the place earlier for dining and especially with some of our friends / guests staying here and even for events, never got to get into the depth of this interesting feature about this palatial structure, that functions with a soul. I got an opportunity to learn more about ITC Grand Chola when they invited me for a visit, to introduce a few new culinary offerings. What moved me was the Responsible Luxury motto that is reflected in every bit there. There is so much to talk about and share, but I would try and make this comprehensive and focus only on a couple of interesting new offerings that has been launched here, which have been simultaneously introduced at all the ITC Luxury properties across. In this post, let me focus on the food initiative and place it at the location I had the awesome food. This palatial tribute to Southern India's greatest empires – the Imperial Cholas – is a matter of major attraction in the city. The ITC Grand Chola located at Guindy is the third largest hotel in India and the largest ITC property in the country. The unique  quality of this place is not just its grandeur but it's commitment towards providing Responsible Luxury and that is not limited to their tagline, but in every breath of the place. How they implement the same is a long list of small and big initiatives taken up by the 5 star luxury hotel brand. The Electricity power consumed here is generated by their own plant and windmills at Coimbatore. When this palatial structure was built, not a single tree was cut, they were uprooted from base and replanted along with several new plantations at various places. The ‘Responsible Luxury’ ethos underscores ITC Hotels’ culinary brands and initiatives to present innovative luxury dining experiences without compromising the earth. While I have visited the place earlier for dining and especially with some of our friends / guests staying here and even for events, never got to get into the depth of this interesting feature about this palatial structure, that functions with a soul. I got an opportunity to learn more about ITC Grand Chola when they invited me for a visit, to introduce a few new culinary offerings. What moved me was the Responsible Luxury motto that is reflected in every bit there. There is so much to talk about and share, but I would try and make this comprehensive and focus only on a couple of interesting new offerings that has been launched here, which have been simultaneously introduced at all the ITC Luxury properties across. In this post, let me focus on the food initiative and place it at the location I had the awesome food. Three restaurants are located at the Lobby Level, the famous Peshawri, Madras Pavilion which is a Buffet restaurant and the Cafe Mercara Express. Well, there is Nutmeg, the Gourmet shop, but it is under renovation and hence been joined within Mercara Express for timebeing. What is coming up in the place of Nutmeg ss uber interesting and it has to do with chocolate.. watch out for more details soon.Cafe Mercara Express is named after the hill station 'Mercara' in Karnataka, known as Madikeri. It is the headquarters of the Coorg district, the Scotland of India, which is also our country’s coffee capital.

AMBIANCE:

Luxurious and posh. As classy and royal as it should be. Cafe Mercara Express 24 hour dining with a multi-cuisine a la carte menu. It has that cosy feel to it, inspite of being spacious and huge. Very comfortable seatings with sofas and chairs with velvet covers enhance the look. Maroon and lavender themed furniture sit proud. The optic fibre chandelier gives it the magical look it deserves. There is privacy even with seatings placed quite in proximity with each other.

The place adorns a lot of nostalgic artefacts from Mercara giving it the mystical retro feel. With contemporary luxurious seating and royal decor, the place is a mix of classic and modern. If you notice the various restaurants and rooms of ITC, there is tremendous grandeur, yet there is intelligent use of space. I could sense the Responsible Luxury mode at every corner. With an exclusive coffee and milk bar, Café Mercara Express is a specialty coffee house.

OCCASION: Showcasing their culinary offering WelcoMeal, which is exclusively for the In Room Dining facility alone and hence only for the guests staying with them. This has been simultaneously introduced at all the ITC Luxury properties. Also, the awesome Local Love snacks that can be savoured by Guests as well as diners at Cafe Mercara Express. Let's get on to the food, can't wait to share.

 

BEVERAGES: There was a bottle of ŚūnyaAqua on the table, and infact on every table. I couldn't resist but read the information about it on the bottle and also enquired more on it.  ŚūnyaAqua’is water bottled within the premises of ITC Grand Chola in the 'WelcomLab', infused with indigenous ‘Good for You’ herbs to enhance the wellness quotient of drinking water. Wow. The water was served, and if I hadn't noticed the bottle or not informed by my host, I would have not quite appreciated the taste.

It is another very important part of the Responsible Luxury initiative. ŚūnyAqua is zero-mile water crafted with a sophisticated in-house Water Purification System which includes Ultra filtration through (sand, carbon, iron and fluoride), Reverse Osmosis (RO System), Chemical Disinfection, Deionization and UV disinfection that removes the contaminants. The treated water passes through an Ozonator and subsequently a PH correction meter, to stabilize the PH.

 

 

 

The treated water is subsequently bottled and the infusion of the herb essence takes place in the water and it is sealed after due quality check processes. Sayani Sinha Roy, my host and the PR & Marketing Communications Manager, ITC Grand Chola, Chennai shared that the ITC Hotels’ R&D Chefs have researched, perfected and curated beneficial essential oils from herbs, which are dosed in precise quantities throughout the plant to ensure that we enhance the wellness quotient of the water. This is phenomenal! I had more of the water and could feel the flavours. The green glass bottles have all this information and mentions that the water is has two different infused flavours: fennel and cinnamon. Very mild, but yes, can sense. Everybody, right from the head honcho to below the line personnel, is very particular that this water is made available at every table.

Imagine, when a brand makes their own power, own water, how much they are contributing to the earth considering it as their responsibility in a luxury business.  Finally let me focus on the food, my love. These cuties came dancing to the table first. Nannari Sherbet was served in the current flame, glass bulb shaped tumblers. Adequately sweet, super refreshing with addition of basil seeds, this was such a relief on a hot summer afternoon. This drink is part of the WelcoMeal. While I was expecting the Meal to be served next, the affectionate and ebullient team wanted to serve something special before the newly introduced meal.

 

FOOD: When served with love, we love the food. This looked the beginning of a brunch now, not just lunch. First served was this neat and beautiful plate of Idlis. Talk of Local Food, and how can Mr Idli stay hidden. All of them unanimously wanted us to try this. It looked so pretty. There was a smile on the Chef's face and he said, touch and feel the idlis and you will know why we want you to try this once. Really? I did and yes, uber soft and fluffy idlis. Fresh and warm, they really melted in hand and mouth.

It was served with three chutneys:

1) Coconut chutney,

2) Coriander and Coconut and

3) Kempu Chutney made with Chilli, jaggery and tamarind, having the Karnataka touch in almost everything.

There was chilli podi and melted ghee presented very near to the idlis, just the way Chennai likes it. The Podi was Tamil Nadu style with lentils and chilly, a tad bit mild. I skipped the podi, not my thing.

The Sambhar too was TN cuisine, and this inter state combination was killer. What's so unique about idli sambhar, you may ask. May not be unique but can be intelligently served and taste heavenly.

 

When I started having, I felt, the idly doesn't need anything to go with. But I tried every chutney. Green is my usual favourite and here the red too called for attention. Just to taste, I tried a spoonful of the sambhar and I couldn't stop at one spoon. It was my comfort food kind of sambhar, where you just feel like picking a bowl and have it standalone. With huge difficulty, I sacrificed one idly and had just one, with lots of food getting ready to come over for tasting.  As a breakfast item, the idlis they serve here is pretty well known and favourite amongst regular guests.

 

LOCAL LOVE: Whenever I travel anywhere, the first thing I check with the hotel I stay is, what do they have from the local cuisine. Here's ITC's answer for that. Local Love is a feature at all the 24/7 restaurants and in room dining, across the chain, that is set to become prominent. ‘Local Favourites’ showcase a selection of the indigenous flavours that the locale has to offer, put together by ITC's ‘Food Sherpas’ (the Chefs). "The ‘Local Love’ favourites enable a connect with the city and is aimed at presenting to our guests a slice of the local culture, through cuisine, in a luxurious and safe environment. An embodiment of the ‘Responsible Luxury’ aspect of ‘Rooted to the Soil’," shared Sayani.  Every ITC Luxury property has ofcourse chalked out atleast four dishes from their respective cities, to present in the Local Love category. I am in love with this term itself <3 Then Chef Sandeep brought this pretty bouquet in a vase. Looked so lovely. But why were those two chutneys there besides the vase, I was wondering. And then he announced, Marina Bhajji: What! I had a closer look at the pretty things inside the glass vessel, yeah they were bhajjis indeed. I can keep them as decor.

These are assorted Bhajjis. Chilli, Potato and Red Onion fritters accompanied by the Coconut and the Kempu chutney. Didn't want to spoil the presentation, but my job was to taste the stuff.

I tried small bites of all the three bhajjis, equally good. Definitely not what is available at Marina though. This is the most upscale, hygienic and classy preparation of the same recipe. Very beautifully prepared and presented. Usually they have banana bhajji instead of potato. I love potato, so no complaints.

Kozhi Roast: Also known as the Madras Fried Chicken, the sight of this made me so happy. Chicken lover you see, That too fried food lover, you know. The potato wedges that came with it, was a very different combo but who cares, potato lover you see, wedges lover, you know.

Oh, this was something, that I just couldn't stop at one. Atleast I did that with the idlis, and tried just bites of bhajjis, which I could. But these were calling me to get polished. There was this yummy tanginess, which I thought was due to tamarind, but no, it was Malt vinegar, in which the chicken is marinated. It was  well fried and did not feel oily, but so crispy and yum inspite of tempering around, that was making it yummier. Chef Sandeep shared that the chicken is first deep fried and then tossed gently and quickly in a pan with the tempering of finely chopped onion, garlic, green chillies and chilli flakes. The tempering was such that each element was non sticky and making me to pick up some after every bite of chicken. Loved this one completely. If you are there, don't miss this. Goes so well with any drink too.

Now judge me! You may say, I was on an invited meal, and that too at ITC, so I will praise. Well, I was trying to find something to criticize, but they should leave some scope for that! If they serve awesomeness, I can't blame them nor can I be blamed.

 

 

 

Apart from the above two, the other two dishes part of Local Love are: Kai Kari Korma served with veechu parotta and Mutton Milagu Fry.  The Local Love snacks are available for In Room Dining as well as Cafe Mercara.

Priced at - Veg - 550 + taxes : Non Veg - 650 + taxes.

WelcomMeal - Here comes the real deal. WelcomMeal has been a lovely concept by the ITC Luxury Hotels across the chain, especially and exclusively for the Guests staying with them. It is a composite dining experience; for one. There are lot of single travellers and with odd hours of returning to the room tired, In Room Dining is prefered for quite a few meals. It is usually difficult to order for one person, when one actually wants a wholesome meal instead of huge portions of varied dishes, that eventually would be wasted.

 

The WelcomMeal is a composite in‐room dining experience of a wellbalanced, bespoke meal encompassing a menu of choice that includes the essential components of fibre, protein and carbohydrates in a menu ranging from Indian / regional Indian to oriental and western. In keeping with the ITC Hotels tradition, the WelcomMeal initiative ensures offerings encompass both ITC’s signature branded cuisine and leverage the local cuisine of the region that the hotels are located in. Their ‘farm to plate’ approach ensures that they offer fresh produce and indigenous flavours of the region whilst also creating sustainable livelihood for farmers in the region.

With so much of Local Love, I was overwhelmed. We took a little break, a round around, some talks with the Chef, the lovely team and then back to the table, Chef Sandeep was ready with my WelcomMeal.

I was happy to see this composite plate, which did not scare me with huge portions and any larger than life number of dishes.

My WelcoMeal comprised of Melagu Kozhi Chettinad, Keerai Kootu, Malabar Paratha, Vatalappam, Papads, chilly and tiny salad bowl.

 

Coconut Water: Before my first drink was over, the attendant was back, politely asking if they could get one more drink and the choices were huge. I settled for this cool Tender Coconut Water.

I would love if I am served a limited portion meal like this when I am travelling alone. Infact that used to happen a lot earlier and it was a dilemma what to order. This food, that is so local and has all elements of a meal together serves the purpose. There was a proper veechu parotta, sitting pretty and tasting awesome. Salad and papad were regular. I liked the way papad was served in the bowl. They make even a simple papad look like a pretty flower.

The Melagu Kozhi Chettinad, also called as Chettinad Pepper Chicken, was made with all authenticity. The chicken is cooked with special Chettinad spices and finished with crushed black pepper.  I could see the oil and spices glowing. This is not the scene usually at such places, where these dishes are kept very subdued. When enquired with the Chef, he shared that they take all efforts to recreate the regional delicacies the way it should be with the highest quality ingredients. They try their best to customise the dish as per the diner's choice.I definitely would love the masalas as local as it can get. So, while ordering In room, if someone wants less spicy, that can be done.

Keerai Kootu, also known as Keerai Pappu in Andhra is Toor Dal cooked with green leafy veggies and tempered. Here fresh spinach and local greens were used. Amongst everything on my plate, what made me to keep taking helpings was this dal. Seriously, it did, and even more than the chicken. It felt like a slow cooked dal, but was actually a regular one. I love the tomatoes interplay there.

It is said that whatever the side dish in a meal, the daal should be perfect and this was Yumm to the core. I am gonna try replicating it. Kal Dosa: This beautiful Kal Dosa was served too. I love the elephant adorned cutlery and the dosa was nice.

The dessert within my Meal was Vatalappam. Well, the Vatallapam I have had is different. This was a twist, as it was baked.  Made of egg, jaggery, coconut milk and cardamon powder and baked in the tiny bowl, no complaints on the portion size. But this was one dish that did not impress me. I was expecting it to be as good as it looked and I couldn't resist having a bite along with the food. I felt that it could have been tastier.

Before I could complete the meal, the sweet attendant came with a request to get a couple of more desserts that they would like me to try. No, I had not yet given any feedback on the dessert or meal. I couldn't deny, and I requested for the tiniest portion.

Basically the WelcomMeal encompasses one dal, one gravy (veg or non veg) papad, little salad, one tiny portion of one dessert and a drink of choice like buttermilk, coconut water or nannari juice etc.

Please note again that the WelcomMeal is available only for House Guests, as part of the In Room Dining Menu and is not available at any of the restaurants of the Hotel as standalone dish.

All other items are available for walk in guests at Cafe Mercara Express

COST: Rs 1325 plus for Veg and Rs 1450 for Non Veg.

As Sayani explains, the WelcomMeal scores on the following:

It Saves Time / Allows time management – a precious commodity for the travellers on the move.

The menu encompasses a choice that includes the essential components of fibre, protein and carbohydrates in a menu ranging from Indian / regional Indian to oriental and western, including local favourites.

The WelcomMeal ensures that the diner has a gratifying experience that does not burden his / her conscience.

It was kind of Chef Ajit Bangera - Senior Executive Chef, ITC Grand Chola to be present with us sharing his journey, likings and how he brings magic to the food. Chef Bangera has a glorious career span and is an award winning yet humble Chef. Ask him how does he produce that yummy food, and he says, "It is all the team's contribution. I have an amazing team. All we add to the food is nothing but Love." And it is so evident when you eat those yum delicacies.

SERVICE: Topnotch. From the Chefs preparing food, serving, the attendant, the manager, everyone was extremely polite yet unintruding the meal time. Not just with me, with every diner in the room. Nikita scored some good points inspite of being new to the place.

So next time you travel and plan stay at any of the ITC properties, or have someone travelling, or have your guests or friends at ITC Grand Chola, make sure to suggest and inform them about the Local Love and WelcomMeal for sure.

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