Good morning India11 min read . Updated: 15 Dec 2007, 12:12 AM IST
Good morning India
Good morning India
Where do CEOs kick-start their business day? We know Ratan Tata spends working mornings at Chambers—the members-only club at The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower— when in Mumbai; Wipro’s Azim Premji begins such days at Grand Hyatt’s M Grill, and in Bangalore, his choice is The Royal Club at The Leela Palace Kempinski; Jet Airways’ Naresh Goel prefers the coffee shop at the ITC Maurya in New Delhi, which is also the favoured spot for K.R. Kim, the managing director of LG Electronics.
The term “power breakfast" originated in the US, and was used to classify a morning meal at which powerful people discussed, presumably, important things. Sure, we used to be a nation that opened its crusty eyes by late morning and then ventured for an early lunch, but that was before we went global. “I find breakfast the most efficient time to meet for discussions because you know that the other person has woken up specifically to have that meeting," says Jayashankar Jayaraman, director of global accounts with Microsoft in Bangalore. “I think it is also much more effective than meetings held during the day, when other things can get in the way."
At Hornby’s Pavilion, the coffee shop at the ITC Grand Central Sheraton & Towers, you’re bound to encounter chef M. Rajan. The 69-year-old, who has worked with the ITC group since 1974, is a specialist when it comes to the cuisine that is native to his hometown in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu. And six mornings a week, you can catch him at Hornby’s, fussing over his clients with the benevolence of a favourite aunt.
On a Monday, the airy space is a bright sea of young somethings and suits, and considering that the hotel roosts in an address that’s home to several big media companies, the buzz in the room throws up terms such as “TRPs". But it is what’s on the plates that is really interesting. If your mother ever tempted you to eat a dosa by basting it with jam, or tickled your senses with Tamilian gunpowder, then Hornby’s is where you can relive the experience. “I don’t have any standard fare," says Rajan. “I make whatever god inspires me to."
His experiments have produced such unique concoctions as pickle idlis, jam dosas, curry leaf uttapams and vegetable idlis. Rajan’s dosas contain culinary secrets; traditional gunpowder chutney hides in the potato mash of a masala dosa, its savoury humdrum broken by a spray of raisins. And if idlis and dosas don’t get you, then try the breakfast buffet (Rs600, plus taxes) with more than 170 dishes. It includes a choice of sparkling wines—Marquise de Pompadour, Deinhard, Gewurztraminer Hugel—to truly kick-start the day.
But the city’s business hub is still south Mumbai, where heritage properties nudge glass towers. The Oberoi, situated at the Nariman Point epicentre, is a popular starting point for executives. At Tiffin, a minimal chic spot, the Ambanis rub shoulders with the Jethmalanis, while bankers such as Citibank’s Prameet Jhaveri share space with diamond barons such as Gitanjali Group chairman Mehul Choksi. The morning we visited, there were more foreign faces in the breakfast crowd than Indian. And that says a lot about our equation with the morning meal. In fact, many breakfast meetings are initiated by foreign visiting clients and colleagues. “When foreign clients come into town, they’re working in a different time zone anyway; they prefer an early start and want to pack in as much as they can into the day," says V. Shantakumar, the managing director and CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi. Most Indian breakfast meetings don’t start before 8.30am, or even nine. “People from out of town are usually easier to get to a breakfast meeting. Residents are loath to get out of bed too early," says Jayaraman.
Healthy breakfasters at Tiffin can opt for the buffet choices of yogurt, fruits, compotes, juices, breads, cold cuts and cereals. But the breakfast specialities on their à la carte menu are definitely the more exciting way to go.
There’s Seared Scottish Salmon with Glazed Poached Eggs and Asparagus Spears (Rs575); or Minute Steak with Potato Roesti, Fried Egg and Italian Porcini Mushrooms (Rs575). We recommend the eggs selection for a strategy session. The silk-smooth Scrambled Eggs on Pan fried Tuscan Bread with Cured Scottish Salmon (Rs500) is sprinkled with pearls of roe. The rusticity of the eggs-and-bread combo is nicely complemented by the genteelness of salmon and roe. If the sunny choices are not your thing, then pick the airy three egg white spicy omelette. “Choosing what to eat is the perfect way to show how healthy you’re being, or at least pretend you’re being healthy," says Shantakumar.
Another south Mumbai hub in the morning is Sea Lounge at The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower. Here, the window seats are the ones to score; with a straight shot of the Gateway of India, you’ll be lucky to get one if you’re not early enough. On weekends, this is the sort of place that old SoBo families—who have made the restaurant a part of their tradition—come in for their morning cuppas (frankly, there’s no other am spot in the Taj anyway).
It may not be a five star—think laminated table-tops and large whirring fans—and you’re unlikely to get fresh juice, but Koshy’s on the centrally located St Mark’s Road has been a popular working breakfast spot since it opened in 1952. It is the sort of place where the cold coffee and chicken puff remind you of the smells and tastes of another time. But is it suitable for a breakfast meeting? “People have run their business out of Koshy’s for years," says Prem Koshy, a partner in the business. With more than 825 items on the menu, an all-day breakfast and fortnightly specials, it isn’t surprising that the eatery does more than 80 covers every morning. “It’s a surprisingly nice place to have a meeting, and I think it has to do with the relaxed atmosphere," says Sunita Rao, founder of Asterysk, an IT design firm in Bangalore. “But then, when it comes to Koshy’s, you don’t think with your head, you think with your heart."
If you exclude the appams and stew served on Sundays, Koshy’s does not have Indian options on its breakfast menu. There are a variety of Continental options, but the toast (literally) of the restaurant is the “bread roast". For Rs15, it’s the king of the toast juggernaut. A thick slice of Koshy’s bread that’s toasted with butter; according to Koshy, American clients call it the “Koshy’s Texas toast" because of its size. But the one thing you’ll probably keep going back for is the coffee. “We buy the same beans we used to buy in the 1950s, make our special combination, roast it in-house and it is overseen by our coffee maker of 40 years," says Koshy.
A less venerable entrant on the Bangalore breakfast scene is The Royal Club restaurant on the fifth floor of The Leela Palace Kempinski. The Club itself is a compound of 53 guest rooms and seven suites, and its restaurant is only open to members and corporate clients.
Despite that door block, the Club’s restaurant has 10-15 breakfast bookings a month; and business biggies can choose to have their morning cuppa at the breakfast terrace or in the main dining room.
The restaurant looks like a well-appointed, plush drawing room—with couches and armchairs in place of the usual table and chair routine. Don’t expect buzz here—the staff are trained to keep their eyes on the job and keep things on the low. That sort of discretion is very important to the restaurant’s clientele, which includes Nasscom (National Association of Software and Services Companies) chief Kiran Karnik and biotech firm Biocon’s Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw.
The breakfast menu at the Club restaurant is an open book. “Guests can have anything they want. There’s no fixed menu," says executive sous chef Rajneesh Gandhi. So whether it’s an omelette or a puri bhaji, anything’s possible on this floor. And since the floor is only open to a contained number of people, there’s never a rush to carry out orders. “We only have VIPs on this floor, so the service is that much more personalized," says Gandhi.
Up north, techno geeks give way to political honchos; southern flavours are dropped in favour of global tastes; and international diplomats and national politicians take precedence over local luminaries.
At Machan—the coffee shop at Taj Mahal Hotel—the smiling waiters in rather outdated beige safari suits fit in with the somewhat ageing jungle motifs, but they are extremely friendly (especially Amit) and always ask whether diners want them to bring some toast or an omelette, even though almost everyone opts for the buffet. It can get pretty busy and noisy in the morning (shoot for 9am if you want an unhurried breakfast), especially when the hotel is full of businessmen and occasional tourists—which is almost always these days (the restaurant claims its regulars include liquor baron Vijay Mallya, multiplex man Ajay Bijli, milk revolutionary V. Kurien, and politician Salman Khurshid, among others). Though, when it is somewhat empty, the Indian classical/fusion music can seem slightly loud.
It isn’t the place for spotting too many celebrities among its definitely north of 40 mainstay diners, but it is a good place for meetings as nobody seems to care about what is being talked about at the next table. Tables by the bay windows, overlooking the pool, are not easy to snag, unless you don’t mind sitting in the smoking section. One small tip: Skip the slightly burnt coffee poured out of pots—unless you like really strong, burnt coffee—and opt for a cappuccino. And avoid the seats set in the high-traffic buffet area.
Unlike Machan, the décor of Threesixty°—the coffee shop of The Oberoi—is sleek and contemporary. The L-shaped dining cum lounge area, which doubles up as a bar in the evening, overlooks the swimming pool on one side and has a rather tepid view of the neighbouring trees on the other.
Reach the restaurant by 8.50am on a weekday morning and it will take about 10 minutes to be seated because the waitstaff is scurrying around serving guests. But, once seated, the service is exemplary. One person is assigned to a table and the service is fast and efficient. The serving staff is friendly and attentive without being intrusive, and even offer an opinion (our Wheatabix with cornflakes, pineapple slices, honey and milk had Ranadeep commenting that he would love to try it later).
At the buffet, the chefs are present to help guests with suggestions or look into special requests. A request for diabetic jam has chef Jayadeep rushing off to the kitchen to check if a previously prepared jar is still handy. “Ma’am, if you are coming back tomorrow, let me know. I will keep it ready for you," he promised.
In our turn, we order the Japanese breakfast (Rs850, including taxes)—a novelty considering miso-shiro and sticky rice are not the first things that come to mind when you think of morning grub. The breakfast arrives in a tray; the broiled salmon—the centre of attention—flanked by yellowish pickled daikon, tofu seasoned with soya sauce and scallions, veggies stewed in sake and soy sauce, a few fresh fruit triangles, rice and shiro. The salmon is exemplary, with a dark pinkish-brown crisp crust concealing soft and sweet flesh.
At Pavilion—in the ITC Maurya Sheraton Hotel & Towers—business definitely holds precedence. There are formally dressed executives, an Ethiopian delegation accompanying the president, foreign military officers, paunchy politicians in can’t-believe-you’re-so-spotless white kurtas, and a group of Japanese businessmen assiduously dissecting a plum on a quarter plate. On the table next to ours, a foreign executive is explaining his vision for his company to an Indian counterpart: “If one has to be successful in this role, or any other role, one needs to be passionate about the product," he says emphatically.
The breakfast buffet (Rs1,000, plus taxes) consists of all the seen-everywheres. The seafood terrine is smartly dressed with lemon slices and tomatoes, sparingly seasoned with pepper, and chilled on a bed of crushed ice. If the test of a café lies in its coffee, of a pâtisserie in its croissant, of a south Indian meal in the sambhar, then the test of a breakfast surely lies in the scrambled eggs. The buffet has a live egg station, and the scrambled eggs with ham and cheese turn out to be buttery, but a little too dry.
From the à la carte menu, pick the Chicken Liver in Madeira sauce on Toasted Masala Bread (Rs375, plus taxes). As we’re floating on the airiness of the pancakes with some rich maple syrup, an important-looking executive is ushered in. The manager whispers something into the waiter’s ear; the waiter steps head-high in the old gentleman’s direction with a smile. At his table, the gentleman dines alone, on a relatively frugal repast of watermelon juice and Nestle flavoured yogurt. Yes, money may buy you a pricey breakfast, but not people to discuss business with.
Go on, order beyond the basics
Basil Frittata: An Italian omelette with fresh basil leaves.
Eggs Florentine: Poached eggs on creamed spinach, over-baked with Mornay sauce.
Eggs Benedict: Poached eggs served on toasted English muffins, double smoked bone ham, glazed with hollandaise sauce.
Oeufs a la Forestiere: Poached eggs on a ragout of mushrooms, bacon and onions.
Oeufs a la Poireaux: Poached eggs with creamed leeks and cheese sauce.
Oeufs en cocotte: Poached eggs over-baked with béarnaise sauce with salmon caviar.
(Courtesy Machan, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, and Chef Matthew Cropp, executive chef, The Oberoi, Mumbai.)
(Arjun Razdan, Seema Chowdhry Sharma and Kavitha Srinivasa contributed to this story)