The Taj Coromandel in Chennai turns out to be a wonderful surprise, because right up to the moment that you drive through the gates, it promises little. To get there, you drive past a couple of building sites and pavements with exposed wires and open pipes everywhere: dust, dirt, mud, tuk-tuks, noise and colour: a typically Indian street scene.
Then you turn left, through what appears to be a hole in the wall at first, and everything changes. You step into an oasis of calm that cuts through the chaos. Taj is one of the best-known superior hotel chains in India – there are three in Chennai alone – and the Coromandel (named after the coast) does a particularly good job in making guests feel welcomed and comfortable. That’s largely down to the number of people whose job it is to make that happen: ‘short-staffed’ isn’t really a concept that exists in India. There’s a man or woman around to do everything: from carrying your bag and bringing you water to selling you a watch (there’s actually an authorised Rolex dealer onsite, even more remarkably with stock that they can sell you there and then).
The joy of the Taj Coromandel is that you don’t have to lift a finger unless you want to (there’s an excellent gym as an antidote to the indolence, which has all the latest equipment, and seems to be permanently deserted). Of course, there’s someone instantly on tap to hand you a towel when finished. Heaven forbid you should have to sweat on your own. It’s always a very fine line between providing service that’s attentive but not intrusive, and the Taj manages to just tread the right side of it.
Of course, you can always hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign if you need peace and quiet at all costs: otherwise you might be surprised by a man knocking on the door to offer towels and chocolates at regular intervals. As well as being a hotel it’s also a Spa, with a vast array of treatments on offer.
The rooms themselves are comfortable, but a little bit tired. However, they provide a wonderful piece of period nostalgia by reminding of you what top hotel rooms used to look like, back when travel seemed impossibly glamorous, and the world was simpler than it is now.
The beds are huge and extremely comfortable; the internet is fast and stable: so, the two priorities in every hotel room (in my personal book) are more than covered. The minus points are very few: the shower was overly complicated, and the fridge had all the cooling properties of a microwave oven (in contrast to the air conditioning, which is suitably glacial when required). But these are just minor details, as the overall service is some of the best you will ever experience.
The whole stay was excellent, with the dining options providing a highlight. There’s a South Indian restaurant on the ground floor called Southern Spice, which was simply superlative: perhaps the best in Chennai. A whole article could be written about the place but suffice it to say that Southern Spice redefines your preconceptions of what Indian food is all about. It’s remarkably regional; the banana bhaji to start, for example, was exceptional – as was the whole meal, which included asparagus with chilli and the aubergine curry (one of the biggest differences between Indian food in India compared to the rest of the world is that it’s predominantly vegetarian).
The other restaurant (called Anise) is the nightly buffet, which was in many ways just as good, with an extremely wide range of Indian and Western dishes that invite you to stuff yourself to bursting just for the pleasure of tasting them. The same restaurant also provides breakfast, where the speciality is the dosa: a kind of enormous savoury pancake eaten with sambal sauce, often presided over by Kupasaamy, one of the genial catering assistants who will always go the extra mile. I didn’t visit the Golden Dragon, the Chinese restaurant, but I did spend plenty of time in the Chipstead hotel bar, a genuine 1970s icon that’s wonderfully atmospheric – but like the gym, strangely deserted. Which made it all the more bizarre when some hard core dance music started playing at increasingly loud volume as it got later – driving out the few people who were there.
That was really the only demerit, although there are no situations in life that are ever enhanced by the presence of a ‘DJ’, so that’s almost to be expected. Two other dining options include the tea shop – a wonderful experience – and room service, which delivered a perfectly acceptable pizza from a wood-fired oven.
Getting around is easy, as one of the big advantages of the Coromandel is a permanently manned concierge desk that seems to be able to make anything happen. In particular, you’ll need a car to get around (going on foot really isn’t an option) but you might not want to drive it yourself, given the maelstrom of Chennai traffic. At the Taj, a car can be summoned instantly – nothing flashy, just a Toyota – with an expert driver: Vinoth is particularly recommended. That service alone is worth its weight in gold. But good as he is, even Vinoth is not the most famous driver to have graced the Taj. The hotel even hosted the wedding reception of a Formula 1 driver a few years ago…
Taj Coromandel, Chennai, 37, Uthamar Gandhi Rd, Tirumurthy Nagar, Nungambakkam, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600034, India.
Tel: +91 44-6600 2827
Contact the hotel directly to arrange a transfer from the airport with one of their drivers. The hotel is about half an hour away, depending on the traffic.
Type of Hotel: 5-Star Hotel
Number of Rooms: 212 rooms and suites
Price Range: Medium (but high by Indian standards).
Insider Tip: Hire a driver directly from the hotel for getting around Chennai.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Anthony Peacock works as a journalist and is the owner of an international communications agency, all of which has helped take him to more than 80 countries across the world.
Photographs courtesy of Taj Coromandel, Chennai