How boutique luxury hotels in India aced their F&B game
Destination boutique hotels bring in an element of surprise to their F&B menus that are dominated by local flavours and immersive experiences.
Boutique luxury hotels, located in offbeat destinations and attracting high-paying leisure travellers, are working out bespoke F&B strategies that make guests keep coming back for more. Aman, which has two luxury properties in India—a gorgeous beauty set to a bucolic backdrop in Alwar and a safari property in Ranthambore, offers a range of interesting F&B experiences.
At the kitchen at Amanbagh, Alwar, notes listing out food preferences and allergies of every guest, and what the Ayurveda doctor recommends if they are on a wellness programme, is neatly written and put up for handy use of the chefs. The hotel serves an amazing range of Rajasthani and global cuisines at The Restaurant, which has indoor and outdoor seating under a dense mass of columns and towering trees. One of their bespoke experience includes a lavish Rajasthani feast under a chaatri on the terrace staged in a small village-style home created within the in-house farm, complete with a charpai, a rustic long table with cane chairs, oil lamps placed within niches on cow dung walls and lanterns. Here, guests are treated to a meal cooked using ingredients they may have picked the earlier day. My favourite experience, however, is the luxurious terrace dining experience where a staircase leading up to it is lit by diyas; the table and the door are decorated with a floral rangoli; the food is a sumptuous blend of gatte ki sabzi, kair sangria and spicy chutneys.
Among the other custom-made experiences at Amanbagh is the Chhatri experience, set under a traditional chhatri in the fields five minutes from the resort, decorated with fragrant flower rangolis and 500 diyas, and draped in sequinned curtains. “Add a butler and private chef—it does not get better than this,” says Karin van Zyl, the GM of Amanbagh.
Amanbagh has introduced a “culinary tour through India, which takes their guests on a special 5-course dinner menu through five regions of India—Dilli (Papdi Aloo Chaat), Kashmir (Yakhni), Hyderabad (Pathar), Rajasthan (Thekri Aur Shikaar) and West Bengal (a Bengali sweets platter),” she says. Amanbagh is the sort of property where farm-to-fork experiences work beautifully. “Our menus are seasonal and adapted throughout the year, depending on what we have readily available in our organic garden and in the local market.”
Aman’s second property, Aman-i-khas, believes in sustainability and community support, which reflects on the plates served. “We have partnered with six families for direct farmer sourcing of organic vegetables; the ghee comes from the women in the villages around, and the fresh buffalo yogurt is made at one of our chef’s home,” says Anand Shekhawat, the safari retreat’s general manager. Aman-i-khas also has a large garden where Western and exotic vegetables are grown; eggs are sourced from the coup where chickens live with rabbits. “New concepts also revolve around nature and wildlife.”
The lamp-lit ambiance of the Dining Tent at this sprawling luxury tented property centres around a large communal roundtable and smaller intimate tables, which hark back to the regal tent cities of the Mughal emperors. “Meals can be tailored to suit individual tastes and the daily changing menu reflects the seasonal produce sourced from the camp’s organic gardens.” Aman-i-khas’s unique dining concepts such ‘Barbecue in the Bush’ or ‘Forest Dinner’ uses stone and clayware, made locally by stone carvers and potters,” adds Shekhawat. For the Banas Riverbed Experience, guests are driven two hours’ away in an open jeep, to the Banas riverbed, which is a birdwatcher’s paradise during the dry season. Guests can enjoy a half-day excursion and lunch is served picnic-style. Aman-i-Khas’s excursions and picnic on Chambal River, one of the most pristine rivers of the Indian subcontinent, is an hour-long lazy cruise spent exploring the unexplored parts of the river, followed by a treat prepared by chefs on a beautiful river deck.
At the Jehan Numa Retreat, a luxury palace hotel in Bhopal, meal experiences are about gentle afternoons or evenings spent ‘Under the Jamun Tree’. Vincent Marques, Manager Retreat, says, “You’ll see fresh broccoli growing besides your table and a platter of pesto Malai Broccoli cooked in the tandoor, placed on it.”
Marques says that in a boutique property like theirs, food is a major deciding factor while choosing a hotel. “In our case, 42% of our revenue comes from our restaurants.” Chef Raman Kapoor, the Executive Chef of Jehan Numa, serves up interesting food concepts, including one influenced by food memories of childhood. The chefs also host unique dining experiences involving lost recipes from central India. “The venue is based in nature and the setup in under an old Babool tree, with a flooring of dried cow dung.”