I always thought staycations were a silly concept. Why hole yourselves up within the closed confines of a room/hotel when you can be out there exploring undiscovered nooks and getting to know the locals? But that was until I was invited by Sofitel Mumbai on the occasion of their fourth anniversary celebrations. I spent a decadent weekend tucking into mouth-watering Mughlai and Rajasthani cuisine at their speciality restaurants, sipping champagne while I surveyed vintage cars and bikes on display during a rally and struggling to break away from the cosy coverlet of my king-size bed.
Sofitel is located in one of Mumbai’s newer business districts – Bandra Kurla Complex. A veritable concrete jungle, the stylish interiors of this French hotel offer a welcome respite from the dust and grime of the city. I stayed in a luxury double room with a king-size bed and beautiful white and purple furnishings. I’m no stranger to the swanky trappings of five star rooms but this one really wowed me with two thoughtful additions that I haven’t seen anywhere else – a ladies traveller kit complete with nail paint remover, top coat, nail filer, eyebrow tweezers and refreshing face wipes; and a magnifying mirror in the bathroom perfect for wearing lenses, applying complicated makeup or shaving.
I loved the fragrance of The French Note toiletries provided by the hotel and was pleased as punch to see a capsule-operated espresso machine next to the large TV. Instant coffee just doesn’t do it for me anymore. The room came with a lovely sitting area, a platter of fruits (a veritable feast consisting of kiwi, strawberries, dragon fruit, apple, peer, grapes, cherries and plums) and macaroons and a lavish bath tub.
After giving me some time to settle down and make a dent in the welcome fruits and macaroons, the friendly marketing manager took me on a tour around the hotel. Shyamoli Das showed me the plush interiors of Le Bar Diamantaire with its tall wine tower and interiors that pay homage to the Bharat Diamond Bourse situated close to Sofitel (). So popular is Sofitel among the diamond makers that the hotel provides a tiffin service especially for them. In case you were wondering, there are 800 bottles of wine in that tower. There are also two private pods upstairs for those seeking some seclusion.
We walked by the buffet counters lined up at Pondichery Café and Shyamoli told me the roofs were made of Hermes scarves, in keeping with Sofitel’s French heritage. Even the chandeliers in the lobby are inspired by the Charleston dancers. We then paid a visit to Artisan, a sort-of French delicatessen that serves as a café during the day and transforms into a bar during the night. Shyamoli told me that they often held chocolate-making classes there. Currently, the hotel is working on building a cigar lounge where cigars will be paired with single malts.
During the course of the tour, I also learnt that Sofitel Mumbai is the only Sofitel in India and the beautiful interiors have been designed by Singapore-based Isabelle Miaja, responsible for Novotel Juhu and Taj Trivandrum as well. We also had a look at Hriday, a sprawling 30,000 square feet courtyard which would serve as the venue for the vintage car rally on the following day. With a capacity for 750 people, Sofitel often leases the space for events and weddings.
The spa, gym and swimming pool
These are the three magic words for any staycation. Mine was a short stay (precisely 24 hours) with a late check in on Saturday and a late check out on Sunday so I was content to just eat, sleep, drink and ogle at the vintage cars but if you plan a staycation at Sofitel, don’t miss the supremely relaxing So SPA. The spa corridor is filled with handing golden bulbs that the hotel likes to call ‘the golden drops of luxury’.
Treatments range from 90 minute body massages to 30 minute facials and everything employs the best of French techniques and products. If you plan to fly back after your stay here, you can try their pre jet lag treatments. The L’OH Pool isn’t too large but the blue colour is really inviting, modelled on the French canals. So FIT is a state-of-art gym with all the modern equipment you will need but for the lazier among you, there’s also a lounge and Jacuzzi.
Dinner at Jyran
It was my second visit to Jyran, my favourite restaurant at Sofitel and this time, we opted for the vegetarian set menu. An ethereal Mughlai and North Indian speciality restaurant, Jyran is named after an elephant a boy loved and learnt life lessons from. The restaurant overlooks a pool that comes alive in the night with flaming earthen pots meant to symbolise all five elements – water, fire, earth, air and ether. A huge elephant crafted from waste materials stands tall in the far side of the pool. I was here for lunch the previous time and I remember wondering how much more bewitching the place might look by night (read: https://trailstainedfingers.com/2015/11/15/jyran-sofitel/). Reality was even more fascinating than my imagination. The cool night wind and the colourful shamiana-style tables in the verandah (meant only for drinks) beckoned me but first, there was a lot of good food to be eaten.
I worked my way through tomato soup, potatoes with almonds and fresh pomegranate and kebabs made of hung yoghurt and fried cashew nuts for appetisers. The kebabs were so painfully perfect that I couldn’t help sighing with every creamy bite. Paired with copious glasses of Chivas Regal, I became so full that it seemed impossible that I could do justice to the mains. I skipped the biryani but the chef insisted that I try all four main dishes on the menu and he promised to keep the portions small. So I delved into koftas in cashew nut gravy and paneer chunks in tomato and onion gravy. But what really stood out for their impeccable taste were the subz miloni (mixed vegetables with spinach) and the ghee-soaked black dal. I would never have bet my money on these unlikely contenders but I was glad the chef convinced me to try all the mains.
The meal came to a sweet end with Tabakh Jamun (gulab jamun stuffed with dry fruits and topped with honey) and paan kulfi. Personally, I like the classic malai kulfi best but the paan kulfi was very flavourful. I then took a walk in the outdoor area and allowed all the deliciousness in my stomach to settle down.
Breakfast at Pondichery Café
After my indulgent dinner at Jyran, I had resolved to eat a light breakfast but then, I hadn’t anticipated the delicious intervention of Chef Muni who presented me with an inviting plate of appam, chicken curry and vegetarian malai curry.
The curries were simply out of the world and although I had already feasted on Egyptian ful medames (a low calorie fava beans dish), chole, idli chutney, freshly prepared unsweetened pear yoghurt, eggless chocolate muffin and an innovative oats bisibele (a Karnataka style preparation), I ended up eating every scrumptious morsel on my plate.
Two shots of carrot and ginger tonic juice helped to assuage my guilt somewhat. Look out for the regional food festivals that Pondichery Cafe often organises (read: https://trailstainedfingers.com/2015/10/20/flavours-of-indonesia-at-pondichery-cafe-sofitel-mumbai and https://trailstainedfingers.com/2015/12/04/maratha-food-fest-pondichery-cafe).
Vintage and classic car rally
This has to be the highlight of my staycation at Sofitel Mumbai. Over the course of a lazy Sunday mid-morning, I hobnobbed with the rich and elite of the city and sipped endless glasses of sparkling champagne while an array of vintage and classic cars gleamed in the bright sunlight. It was incredibly hot but nobody cared because the lure of these yesteryear beauties was quite irresistible.
An association of Sofitel Mumbai BKC and the Vintage & Classic Car Club of India (VCCCI), the rally was flagged off at Horniman Circle, Mumbai and culminated at Hriday in Sofitel Mumbai BKC. An invite-only event, the rally witnessed 200 of the best classic and vintage cars from Rolls Royce, Bentley, BMW, Austin, Ford, Chrysler, Packard, Lanchester, Mercedes-Benz, and Cadillac amongst others. Around 60 bikes were seen from the works of Royal Enfield, Triumph, Vespa, Harley Davidson and more.
Invitees were treated to a Sunday brunch inclusive of wine, champagne and beer and free access to the L’OH pool. The best cars took home prestigious awards and most of the owners were from the Parsi community. Akaash and Anant Ambani created quite a stir with their red Cadillac at this decade-old luxury car showcase.
Lunch at Tuskers
Having imbibed a generous breakfast and much more champagne than was good for me, I entered Tuskers with some trepidation. But as always, a full tummy was no match for a menu carefully curated by the expert chefs. For starters, I was presented with kebabs made of spinach, curd and pomegranate seeds; my favourite Amritsari mirchi ka pakoda and the classic bharwan paneer (charcoal grilled chunks of cottage cheese). The waiters kept a straight face even as I strove valiantly to consume every last bite.
For mains, I was served three different kinds of bread – thepla, tandoori roti and bajre ki roti paired with kofta stuffed with kher sangri, a Rajasthani classic; gatte ki sabzi (chunks of gram flour in gravy) and the Rajasthani staple of dal, baati and churma. Although the sweet and ghee infused churma was like a kind of dessert, I consented to have some malai kulfi as well.
The meal was made most memorable by the excellent vodka martini that the bartender made for me. And I have vowed to learn to prepare dal baati churma for those days when I crave some rich comfort food. This wasn’t my first time at Tuskers though; I had been here for a wine and vegetarian food pairing earlier (read: https://trailstainedfingers.com/2015/11/01/tuskers-sofitel/).
That sums up my first and only staycation experience in a hotel just 20km away from my residence. And my pampered self hopes it won’t be the last. Who’s next?
Be the first to read about my upcoming luxury staycations: