Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Taj Falaknuma - Adaa the Restaurant & their experiments with Credit Cards

HRH the Queen of Kutch has wanted to stay at the Taj Falaknuma ever since it opened. However, there were two challenges. One, it is a frightfully expensive hotel and, two, it is at least one hours drive [one way] from anything meaningful in Hyderabad. This dissuaded us. However, since we were going to Hyderabad in any event, we thought an easy way out would be to go to the Taj Falaknuma for dinner. They have a package where a tour of the Palace is included in the cost of a pre booked dinner.

A few lines on the Falaknuma Palace. This was designed by an English architect to be built for the then Prime Minister of Hyderabad. The construction of the 60 room Palace admeasuring 10 lakh [1 million] square feet on a 32 acre plot started in 1884, and needless to say, bankrupted the Prime Minister. To the rescue came the then Nizam of Hyderabad who bought the Palace and used it as a guest house. With the Nizam leaving India, and the usual internecine disputes in the family, the Palace was neglected till 2000 when the Nizam’s heir granted a 66 year lease of the Palace to the Taj. His ex-wife Princess Esra collaborated with the Taj in restoring the Palace, which has now become a full-fledged exclusive Hotel.

So once our dates were fixed, I made a call to reserve our dinner bookings. This is where the fun starts. First, getting thru to the Hotel was a challenge, for some reason it took them ages to answer the phone. Finally, I was told (i) the reservation office is open from 9 am to 6 pm so I should call during those hours and (ii) reservations can only be made 15 days in advance. This was to my mind, strange. A few emails and days later we got our confirmation and attached to the email was a “Credit Card Authorization Form” which I request you to read. I have highlighted the fun parts.

In typical Indian bureaucratic fashion, unthinkingly or probably arrogantly, I was to fill in the form and send the Taj a photocopy of the front and reverse of my credit card with the signature clearly visible (and I assume the CVV)!! No, that was not all, this photocopy was to be emailed [obviously after scanning] to several email addresses including – hold your breath – the hotel reception!         

I could not believe what I was reading. We are all repeatedly told not to give our passwords, CVV numbers and card details to anyone. Here is the Taj Mahal Hotel asking for exactly this and, to compound matters, send this on an open unsecure email i.e. the reception. I was horrified, and immediately shot of an irate email to all including the General Manager. Of course the usual meaningless explanations followed and the usual “but we ask this of everyone and everyone gives it to us” followed. I refused. Needless to say our reservation was confirmed without the card (and we were told in no uncertain terms that an exception had been made to accommodate us), the General Manager did not bother to respond at all – beneath his dignity I guess. I understand they need a guarantee in case we venal Indians do not turn up. Is this the way to do it? Surely an online payment could be requested, a payment link provided or even an RTGS/NEFT detail. A scan of a credit card???

We reached well in time for our tour. I must say the Palace is most wonderfully located at the top of a hill with the twinkling lights of Hyderabad below you. We were taken around the Palace by a staff member who did the guide duties. It is a Palace so all the megalomania surrounding its construction was spoken about – this is the largest stone, the most expensive carpet, this was made by 38 Virgins, that was made by a castrated blind Italian sculptor who was steadily going deaf and fingers falling off. You know what I mean, an abundance of hyperbole. But, the Palace is smart and beautiful. The Indian Hotels Company has, according to me, been ripped by Princess Esra in restoring the Palace. Photography is not allowed inside.

Tour done, on to dinner.

On being seated, the three of us were handed one menu. It took several requests before we got one more menu card. I had by then realized that the dolts in charge seat the entire dining room at once, immediately following the tour, and, do not have enough menu cards to go around! Madness. And surely basics in the hospitality industry. Drinks were ordered and a general consensus reached on what to order. The food is sort of Pan South Indian, part Muslim Hyderabadi and part Hindu South Indian Hyderabadi.

I am not going to describe every dish we had, the captions to the photographs below should suffice. I do not know how to put this delicately. Indian food looks really really terrible. When looking at the photographs I imagined how unpleasant life must be for a pathologist examining stool samples. Honestly, the food looks absolutely disgusting. However, it tasted fine, not great, but better than average. This disaster dish was the Scallops which were overcooked, covered with a foul “Mulgapodi” and dry. The most pathetic and pretentious was a Sorbet. This should have been tart, cold, fresh tasting and almost icy. What is ended up being was sweet, creamy and served with an oversized spoon. Come on Taj, wake up.

Jr Miss Stonethrower & HRH the Queen of Kutch

Patthar Ka Ghosh - Lamb Piccata, marinated and cooked on a stone 

Scallops with Mulgapodi - poor with a bowl of Prawns - decent

The Sorbet and the Spoon

No not a Stool Sample. Prawns in a Ghongura Leaf Curry. 

No not a Stool Sample either. Lamb Salan with Green Chilli

The Desserts

Service was pleasant, but I have come to the conclusion that in India whether you go to the Delhi Durbar for a Rs 500 per head meal or the Adaa for a Rs 5000 per head meal, our levels of plating and service do not change. A plate carried by a waiter in one hand and a fork and spoon in the other like a pair of tongs to serve your food is de riguer. Everyone does it, and simply dumps the food on your plate. I do find this quite disconcerting.

The desserts were a joke. They were neither desserts nor Petit Fours just over sweet luridly coloured confection.

The evening was pleasant. Visiting the Palace was good, the food sub-par. Sad. I cannot recommend this. Do go if someone else is treating you is all I can conclude.


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