Living the Bombay Dream. The Taj Mahal Palace & Zodiac Grill, Sea Lounge

The room with a view at the Taj which called for a selfie

Warning: Long post ahead


We did a staycation at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel of Mumbai last weekend and it seemed like we were living in a dream.

Let me take you back a bit first. 

We took our first staycation a few years ago. Staycations are where you check into a hotel in your home city. The idea is to get a break for your daily routine. Plus you can use the money and time saved on travelling into booking a good place for yourself.

Our first staycation, a few years back was at the ITC Grand Maratha in Andheri E, where we had a fantastic time. K loved the massage chair in our suite and just didn't want to get off it. A couple of years later we checked in to the J W Marriott at Juhu where they gave us a suite again with a lovely view of the sea. Both experiences were out of body ones and we felt really pampered, felt good about life, and spent less travelling than what we would have had to if we were going out of town.

We were hooked on to staycations after this.

The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai

It was K’s birthday last Saturday.

We started the day with breakfast at the newly launched Taj Tea House (by Unilever & not Taj Hotels) at Bandra with a friend of ours. We love this place and more on it soon.

Birthday breakfast at the Taj Mahal Tea House

I wanted to book K & me into a special place for a birthday staycation. Given our schedules, the weekend was all that we could spare.

I was pretty clear where I wanted to take her to this time.

The Taj at Colaba.

For those like K, who have grown up in pre-liberalisation Mumbai, when the city had few hotels, it doesn’t get more iconic than the Taj when it comes to hotels. This holds true even for someone like me who had moved in the late 1990s before the international hotel chains opened up in Mumbai.

This is a bit like the Oberoi Grand in Kolkata where I had stayed at the first time I stayed in a hotel in Kolkata when my mom was out of town. 

I wonder if there are hotels in other cities that are as iconic as the Taj is for Mumbai and the Oberoi in Kolkata is to people of our generation. Any thoughts?

Checking into the Taj on Saturday was like fulfilling a dream for us.

Which is why it was a bit sad that the checking in process turned out to be a bit of bummer. We reached at 3 pm, an hour after check in opened, and were brusquely told by the young man at the counter that our room was not ready. He shrugged and said guests hadn’t checked out when we pointed out that we had said we would be coming at 1 pm and then pointed generally in the direction of the lobby and told us to wait.

Then he put the voucher squarely in front of the two of us so that K could see it. He announced the amount. And added ‘taxes extra’.

Given that I had mentioned the booking was a birthday treat for K while booking, I would have expected more discretion.

This made the start of our stay a sour one and we walked off the Ling’s Pavilion, a happy place for us, for lunch. K had the customary crab meat sweet corn soup that Parsis have on their birthday. We didn't get a hug from Baba Ling though as he was sleeping in his cabin and I didn't have the heart to wake him up.

pomfret chilli garlic at Ling's

K had voiced her disquiet to the folks at the reception before we stepped out and by the time we returned they kindly offered to shift us to the Palace wing from the Tower wing where we had checked in and apologized for the rough check in.

Given that there is so much competition and that service is something India prizes itself on and that folks are spending hard earned money when at 5 stars, the Taj needs to up its game. The staff of the Taj of yore have set very high standards in warm service and the new generation has a lot to live up to.

Having said that, they did really make up for this over the rest of the stay at the Taj, apologized and tried to make us feel good. The initial wobble apart, the stay was indeed special.

Our original room in the Tower Wing was pretty nice and the sea view, that we had paid extra for, was wonderful from there especially as they had a balcony. The Palace Wing room was even more special, majestic and classy and we got a lovely view of the Gateway of India and K squealed in delight when she saw the marble tub in the bathroom.

For the rest of our stay we felt like royalty as we lived our dream in the city of dreams.

view of the room

As I looked on to the Gateway of India from our room, I felt that it was the most beautiful view in the world at that moment. I would not have traded that view for even that of the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower that weekend. Seriously!

I was, after all, in Colaba where I fell in love with Mumbai.

Looking on to the Gateway of India from our room and feeling like a king

The Zodiac Grill

After waking up from a late afternoon nap, K told me that she would like to take me out to dinner at a restaurant of my choice at the Taj.

Both of us zeroed in on the same place.

The Zodiac Grill.

Monogrammed butter at Zodiac Grill

Early on in our relationship, K had told me that she had heard that Zodiac Grill was the most expensive restaurant in Mumbai. That it had started with a ‘pay what you want to’ policy during launch. Then moved to putting the prices in the menu later after people abused that offer.

Ever since then I had dreamt at eating the Zodiac Grill. I have been lucky enough to have eaten at a few posh places since those early days but Zodiac Grill has remained aspirational for this Mumbai immigrant.

Did the experience live up to the expectations?

Lovely bread to start with
The food was pretty great. The cheese and egg infused, flavour packed, signature dish camembert dariole - a soufflé on a cheese soup bed was pretty heady. 

The legendary camembert dariole
 The creamed crab meat dish tingled our taste buds and loved the way it combined with the avocado and the apple jelly.

crab meat

The Chilean sea bass in our mains was delightfully fatty, It was served on three different purees. The one with white pumpkin could have been seasoned more. The fillet served on a tomato puree was over cooked and when we pointed out, they insisted on cooking us a fresh piece, though we said we were stuffed by then. Loved the shredded clam that came with it.

poor picture of the chilean sea bass

The slow cooked duck meat was one of the most flavoursome and tender duck meat experiences that we have ever had. Better, K pointed out, than anything we have had in the Far East, the home of duck meat cooking.

the delicious duck

The duck was supposed to have pan seared liver which is now off the menu. As is foie gras (which is what made K bring me here) and venison and steaks. Perhaps they should invest some money in printing fresh menus as even the table of Parsis beside us were asking for foie and steaks from the menu and ended up being disappointed about that.

We skipped dessert but they got us a tasting of flavoured crème brulee and a birthday cake and in between a sorbet on a tea cup covered in a haze of liquid nitrogen smoke as a plate cleanser.

The creme brulee samplers on the house

the sorbet

Was the experience special?

The associations with Zodiac Grill and the sense of living a dream made it special. As did sitting under the ceiling with the Zodiac motif. 

Sitting beside each below the Zodiac ceiling made it even more special

The old world charm, warmth and hospitality of the Taj was best exemplified by Mr Dominic who was looking after our table.

He has been with the Taj for close to 4 decades. With the Zodiac Grill for 23 of the restaurant’s 25 years.

Now when you are at the Taj, you can’t help not getting haunted by the heinous and murderous terrorist attack of 2611. You can’t but not say a silent prayer for those who lost their lives there. Makes you realize how important peace and happiness is and how we should treasure the same.

K asked Dominic whether he was there ‘on that night’.

Here’s what K posted on Facebook about what followed:

"The meal at Zodial Grill was spectacular, as expected. The unexpected time was the two minutes we spent talking to Dominic who has served at the Taj for 27 years.

I asked him, were you there that night?

He said, yes I was.
He said, it shouldn't have happened. They shouldn't have gotten away so easily.
I said, but the terrorists were killed.
He didn't say anything for a second or two.
After that he said, I lost sixteen friends in one night. 
I said nothing.
Then he smiled and the moment broke. It was the smile of a man who has not forgotten his friends or the fact that he has a duty to do tonight and for that he must be smiling. 

Dominic brings K a cake

Was the Zodiac Grill expensive?

We didn’t go for the tasting menu. Our a la carte meal of two starters and two mains, no alcohol or dessert or soups, cost a bit more (!) than what we paid for the night’s stay. And remember, we had chosen a sea view room, not the cheapest one.

As K said, one should look upon it as an experience and not just a meal. To be honest, we didn't feel bad and felt quite chuffed actually.

For two middle class kids, who have grown up in the city, the cost of living one’s dreams was priceless.

As was going for a walk by the Gateway to digest our meal and being a tourist in our own city.

Be a tourist in your city

You can look at the menu pics below to get an idea of the costs (August 2015).

Breakfast at The Sea Lounge

Breakfast was included in our package. When I got to know that our options were breakfast at the Shamiana (the coffee shop), or at the Sea Lounge, I chose the Sea Lounge next morning.

That’s where I used to come to romance K. I would extravagantly follow a common courting ritual in Mumbai those days and order the Dream Boat.

The Dream Boat today

It was an old fashioned sundae in a bowl which came with 3 scoops of ice creams and 2 brownie slices and was smothered in chocolate sauce. As old school as it gets.

The lady got two scoops while the guy had one.

The elderly wait staff was used to this, would play Cupid and would never hurry you.

Once I had got her for the chocolate buffet at the Sea Lounge when we were dating as K loves chocolates and the buffet was unique.

It cost a grand Rs 1500 in the early 2000s. Way beyond our reach so I ordered one plate for her and prepared to sit by her quietly while she ate.

The elderly waiter serving us understood what had happened and quietly placed a plate in front of me too, smiled and went away.

That was the Taj for you and I hope they never change.

Reliving Sea Lounge memories over the lovely breakfast spread

These were happy memories that rushed back as we enjoyed the lavish breakfast spread (Rs 1850 if its not part of the room deal these days). The orange juice was heavenly. K loved her poached eggs. I went for a dosa as I always do in 5 star breakfast buffets since we are starved for good dosas in Bandra.

The cappuccino had a nice kick (I asked for a double shot) and we later got the prized window seat and I kept gazing at the Gateway. And occasionally at K (in case she is reading).

The service was pretty warm specially with the elder wait staff, though some of the younger managers were pretty cool too and even offered to make us a Dream Boat when I told them about our memories.

(Here's a post I wrote about the Sea Lounge in EazyDiner)

Soaking in the memories

Seeing my Facebook post on the Sea Lounge, our friends Kurush and Rhea came to the Sea Lounge too. Turns out that they too had courted over a shared Dream Boat. The dream boat is off the menu now but they make it for crazy nostalgic romantics like us,

Now that they are happily married, they ordered individual dream boats!

Dream Boat Buddies

What did we have for lunch at The Taj?

We had the amazing bheja  (goat’s brain) cutlets and lagan nu custard, that Kurush and Rhea had earlier sent for us at the Taj (!) from their Katy’s Kitchen for the Parsi festival of khodard saal (the birthday of the founder of Zoroastrianism).

Bheja cutlet & lagan nu custard for Khodard Saal sent by Katy's Kitchen 

We had earlier planned to go to the Colaba Social for lunch. That’s the beauty of the location of the Taj. There are so many good eateries around it. You can spend your money on the stay and spend a lot less on food if you want to.

They allowed us a late check out and we went to the Royal Bombay Yacht Club to celebrate K's birthday with uncle J and the family before heading back to Bandra.

With uncle J & the Family at RBYC

The city of dreams

The tenets of writing warn you not to repeat the same word incessantly and yet I have used the word ‘dream’ about 52 times so far in this post!

But then again, I had come to Mumbai with a dream. 

Like all immigrants, I came here seeking a new life. A happier one. A professionally successful one. I came looking for new friends and new experiences and new beginnings.

Mumbai has been kind to me.

I have had wonderful experiences here. Have come across great opportunities.

Made some amazing new friends.

Found love. Got married. Found myself a family here too.

Found faith. Found happiness.

Lived a dream.

The weekend at The Taj was all about celebrating this.

And of wishing K a very happy birthday.

Happy birthday K

Post Script: The macaron cake

Like it has been for the past few years, we could not but bring in K's birthday with a dark chocolate macaron cake from Pooja Dhingra's Le 15 Patisserie. K refuses to have any other cake now on her birthday so thanks for sending this Pooj.

The le 15 Patisserie macaron cake


Anjali Koli said…
For someone whose visits to Taj have been for business and seen how it works at the back this is aspirational too. Though I have eaten many a birthday cakes from the Le Patisserie and walked past all those shops selling posh merchandise that one can only dream of. Have tiptoed past many of those majestic rooms and restaurants like Alice in wonderland. The Ballroom stories are the most enchanting!
Anjali Koli said…
Came back to add. The sea lounge has spoilt the Mumbai people so much that when you take your loved ones to another 5 star hotel for a meal, they are first disappointed by "no view of the sea". Such are the bench marks of the Taj Mahal Palace.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
thanks Anjali. That view is precious
Anonymous said…
Hi Kalyan

Being a food lover, I follow your blog quite religiously. In fact, I have been hooked on to your blog for the past few years now. Whenever I come down to Mumbai, I make it a point to go to the joints that stand out in your blog posts. But I have never really gotten myself to drop in a comment on your posts. But this blog made me do so. It touched me somewhere deep within.The love that you and your lovely wife still share is a true blessing. Its a rarity in these times. Treasure it and respect it always. Stay blessed.

Much Regard
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Dear AB, thank you so much for your kind words and wishes. This is indeed so inspiring. Will try to live up to your expectations. Cheers, Kalyan
Aah. Loved to see your middle class dreams come true. I have had many a Sunday buffet at the taj. Never stayed there though, someday a dream will come true. I remember slipping in once just to change out of my wet clothes into fresh ones during a college trip to elephanta caves. My friends thought it was very brave of me to walk into a 5 star just change clothes...
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Thanks Kuheli. We use the washrooms at Taj when in Colaba. Jokingly told K we should use the public restrooms before going up to the room out of habit!