I visited The Westin at Koregaon Park, Pune last month for a very interesting wine event, that literally crowdsourced the wine menus at the Westin’s restaurants, while also exposing Indian vineyards to the local population and media at large. Having made the trip, it made sense to pay a little attention elsewhere too, and bring you a report on the stay, food and service at this property.
It started at the airport. While a prompt pick up isn’t unheard of, a twelve and a half minute drive to the hotel largely is. The Westin, Pune is just five kilometres from the airport and a scant ten to fifteen minute ride by car. Arriving, I checked into an Executive Club Room, of which they have seventy three on the fourth floor. With an awesome view outside, complimentary Internet and access to the Executive Club Lounge, this was a nice room to be in. This property has three types of rooms – Deluxe, Executive Club and Club Suites plus a Presidential Suite, that I was told has been booked by one gent for the entire year. Obviously, one of us counts his money and the other weighs it. Click here to learn more about the different types of rooms at the Westin, Pune.
Quite conveniently, I received two room key cards, one to enter and exit and the other to share or to keep the room power on to charge devices etcetera. Radio frequency cards would have been more convenient than those relying on a magnetic strip though I’m still thankful for the luxury of fully charged devices when out of town.
The room was well appointed though I’ll never get used to the transparent bathroom wall. A large enough TV, bottled water, well stocked mini bar that was quite low on snacks with no sugar-free/diabetic/healthy options et. al. Similarly, the bathroom was well maintained and stocked with some delightfully flavored lotions and soaps, with more bottled water. My favorites in this room – the lotions etc in the bathroom and the beds. I have a sensitive back and if the beds aren’t right, I usually end up with a sore back the next morning that lasts for a week, sometimes up to a month. The beds here were soft and supportive, leaving me perfectly sprightly the next morning. The pillows too belonged to the baby bear (neither too hard, nor too soft) leaving Goldilocks (a black haired, 115 kilo male version) perfectly happy.
After a brief delay, awaiting my baggage, it was time for lunch, Sunday Brunch to be precise, landed as we had just in time for this weekly treat.
The restaurants at the Westin, Pune are located on the second floor, the lobby on the first and the gardens on the ground. This property also displays a marked preference for art of every sort. This, going by my general liking for the way it’s been built, greatly enhances the property itself, the art too being enhanced by the vast open spaces the Westin sports. The picture below, is of what I saw when I left the elevator on the second floor and turned left – an illustration of what I mean.
For those of you who understand photography, yes, this one was tough because of the overwhelming light coming in from the front and no, this photo doesn’t use HDR. My learning for this shot was how to remove unwanted tints from glass. To the left is Prego, the speciality Italian restaurant and to the right are Kangan, the speciality Indian restaurant, Seasonal Tastes for all day dining plus the buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners and Mix@36, the bar. Both speciality restaurants only open for dinner – 18:30 – 00:00.
We’ll start with Prego as that’s where I first ate. Apart from being open for daily dinners, Prego is also home to a delightful Sunday Brunch. The restaurant is huge, with live kitchens lining the left almost all the way to the end. Being a Sunday Brunch, the crowd was lively, the atmosphere friendly and garrulous and food and drink in plenty. What made this brunch stand out from others I’ve been to was the number of permanent live counters that normally cater to a speciality Italian restaurant and were therefore primed for much higher quality than the makeshift live counters most brunches work with. Also, the food was all Italian, which could work both ways. We sometimes want a mish-mash of cultures in our brunches and at others are at home focusing on a single culture. Different types of seating is available at Prego, every seat within a few steps of a food counter on the right and a lovely view with bright natural natural light via a glass wall on the left. In the picture you can see what I mean, as well as observe Chef Anurudh Khanna, who used to be with The Park in Delhi, keeping a watchful eye on things.
The first counter you pass on your left is Bread and Pizza. Complete with a wood fired oven, this counter is responsible for the wonderful aroma that knocked me back a step or two when I entered Prego. Doesn’t good bread always do that? This counter also dishes out a bunch of related stuffed-pastry and some derivative products like those inset in the photo above. Everything was fresh and a perfect match for the soup counter opposite. Serving from a large pot of Minestrone, the quintessential Italian soup, the soup counter had a bunch of very colorful large-ish bowls (I’m a little tired of the little white ones most hotels insist on sticking with) alongside a bunch of toppings that included, and I breathed a vote of thanks to any number of divine beings, freshly made pesto. When was the last time you had freshly made pesto? If it’s been a while, go make some. It’s easy to make, but you do need the will. The bottled stuff is, and I don’t say this lightly, crap. If that’s been your staple for pesto, it’s time to change. You’ll experience the same difference people find when they make the switch over from bottled garlic paste to fresh garlic.
The sides too were a little different from other brunches. I didn’t photograph these, but Chef Khanna’s been busy charming vegetable growers, with the result that he now has a constant supply of baby carrots, which is nice and zucchini flowers, which is wonderful. He also receives Hadga, an ayurvedic flower that has a wonderful effect as a flavor enhancer. A pile of parma ham (literally) and chorizo among other cold cuts were available too.[box] According to Ayurvedic literature, the plant pacifies vitiated vata, rheumatism, arthritis and scabies. Hadga is used as an ayurvedic remedy for treating fever, sinus, bruises, and venereal diseases etc. It is one of the richest natural sources of vitamin A. and the fruits are used for anemia, bronchitis, fever, tumors. They are laxative, and possess intellectually stimulating properties. It is also prescribed for the pain and thirst. In Ayurvedic medicine, the leaves are utilized for the treatment of epileptic fits. The juice of the leaves is considered to be anthelmintic and a derivative tonic and is used to treat worm infections, biliousness, fever, itchiness and nyctalopia. Traditionally, in folk medicine Hadga is used as an aperient, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, laxative, and tonic, and as a remedy for bruises, catarrh, dysentery, eye infections, headaches, smallpox, sores, sore throat, and stomatitis. It is also used in the treatment of anemia, bronchitis, headache, nasal, inflammation, leprosy, gout and rheumatism. – Lakshmi T., “Hadga (Sesbania Grandiflora Linn.) – A Unique Ayurvedic Remedy”, Int. J. Drug Dev. & Res., Oct-Dec 2011, 3(4):1-3[/box]
Apart from the usual pastas and pizzas that serve as mains for vegetarians, the non-vegetarians mains included roast lamb and a massive grilled fish among other fare we don’t get to see too often in Delhi. The desserts section is suitably populated too though this isn’t the section you’ll find me partaking from. I did notice a few souffles and quite a bunch of fruit trifles among a fair selection of other desserts. At 1699++ and 2299++ (with alcohol) this brunch is a steal and is open from 1230 to 1530 on Sundays.
The Wines of India event began at 1600 hours and I snuck back into my room for a quick snooze. At this point, I had been awake for thirty two hours and looking forward to the beds every Starwood property talks about in hushed tones of respect and awe. The wine event done around 1830 hours, I indulged in a grilled platter with Yu Yu Din and then returned to my room with every intention of hitting one of the two speciality restaurants for dinner, but those beds actively prevented me from doing so. Instead, I awoke at 12am and ordered room service – Mutton Biryani, which was delivered in about twenty minutes. The accompanying yogurt was more suited for Kadhi, but the Biryani itself was perfectly appropriate for a late, night room service order. A late-night room service order is essential for every property covered by Chef at Large and you wouldn’t believe the kind of stuff we experience during these meals. The Westin, Pune, I’m relieved to report, passed this one.
Breakfast was open from 0600 to 1000 hours at Seasonal Tastes, alongside a little, open air pool on the terrace. Bright, airy and with its own wine storage, Seasonal Tastes appears to be essentially a buffet restaurant. I tried, and I mean really tried to order a dish from the a la carte menu for lunch that day, but the manager on duty was quite insistent I do the buffet and short of refusing outright, did everything else to ensure I ate from the buffet. I wonder why? Considering the man himself was a nice chap, who, noting I wasn’t happy with the slow fried egg that morning, ensured it was done right the next morning, it is a question that I’d love to learn the answer to. Breakfast was a predictable affair, with two exceptions, one nice and one not so nice. The nice one was the presence of Indian lunch/dinner dishes. I like heavy breakfasts and abhor the ones where the only such dish is Sambhar… and there’s no bacon. Seasonal tastes had a bunch of lunch dishes as well as my beloved bacon. The second exception may provide the source of the first. A few dishes during my second breakfast there, were identical to dishes served at lunch the previous day. I understand recycling, but seeing identical dishes is a little unnerving. The standard Westin breakfast therefore ends up with a ‘satisfactory’ tag.
The Spa was an available option, but I skipped it due to not having parameters in the Chef at Large Property Checklist for it and insufficient spa experience to wing it. Similarly, I skipped the bar too.
By lunch time I was deeply concerned over what I thought to be diabetic gustatory sweating and until a qualified diagnosis could be reached, resolved to take it easy with my meals. Lunch therefore needed to what I thought to be healthy. Fortunately, Seasonal Tastes withstood this test and provided me an awesome lunch without the carbs.
I ate a platter full of delicately flavored and very fulfilling vegetables – french beans, broccoli, snow peas, pok choy, grilled zucchini and tossed bell peppers plus a serving of hummus and bocconcini. There were other items available too, including pizzas from a wood fired oven, a bespoke dessert counter and a starters counter making up to be what a few in Delhi might say could be passed off as a Sunday Brunch. Did I mention there’s a little pool outside Seasonal Tastes?
The afternoon therefore was spent with Mehak Mathrani, who was kind enough to take me to a few great places in Pune to pick up some of their key offerings. We first stopped at Kayani Bakery at East Street, from where I picked up Shrewsbury and Wine biscuits. Both were impossibly crunchy with the Wine biscuits carrying overtones of rose. I also picked up small cakes that were perfectly sweet and moist. The next stop was XYZ, where we picked up little triangles of baked puff pastry, called Khasta biscuits, ending up at Dorabjee’s, which was heaven. I could shop there for hours without tiring. Friendly and helpful staff, hundreds, perhaps thousands of food items of different sub-varieties and every price range. I of course couldn’t return without the peanut-garlic, garlic, kadi-patta chutneys nor the methkut or the bhakarwadi. The Sand Gorgon is a scary creature and can only be pacified by Bhakarwadi, much like Thimbletack the Brownie is pacified with honey in The Spiderwick Chronicles. The picture on the left is of the staff/owners packing/recording orders at Kayani Bakery. They’re only open for a few hours each day and jam-packed for time duration that they are. They were out of Wine biscuits and the little bag they salvaged, the very polite owner refused to charge for.
Now, I couldn’t leave without trying both Prego and Kangan. Yes, I’d already done the Sunday Brunch, but one really can’t just do a buffet meal at a specialty restaurant. Also, given how much I’ve heard about Kangan from colleagues in Mumbai, it wasn’t an option either. There was a single meal opportunity left and I split that meal between Prego and Kangan. Obviously, I couldn’t do justice to either, but did manage to sample the spirit of both. While the service attitude at both establishments needs looking into, the food was good. As with the last time, a whiff of yeast, baking flour and delicious bread greeted me on entering. The entire restaurant has the low lighting that’s characteristic of fine dining restaurants though reading the menu was easy enough. The wine menu was modest and so were the prices, with a Lobster entree for example, at INR 1300++. We selected an antipasti platter from the menu, Antipasti Misti (800), which was exceedingly pretty to look at and was a mixture of ricotta, olives, sun dried tomatoes, batter fried zucchini flowers, portobello mushrooms, provolone cheese, basil leaves, grilled tuna passion fruit and hadga flowers. This is the sort of platter one shares with others on the same table and indulges in different soul-stirring combinations of food that are rarely found together. This was followed by a well done, herb encrusted and plump Rack of Lamb with Dijon mustard and baby potatoes.
Part II of my dinner was at Kangan, Westin’s fairly well known Indian specialty restaurant, where I did enjoy the Chicken Dohri Tikki (600), chopped chicken tikka inside a coriander flavored, minced chicken patty, served with star anise flavored charcoal smoke. Interesting huh? Perhaps it was the rush of the evening or maybe the fact that I could barely see any of the other dishes, but this is the only dish I feel worth mentioning. I’ll save the other dishes for a dedicated review of Kangan and Prego.
So that’s the end of that. Pune is a delightful city to visit with loads of food to discover and lots of food shopping to do. The Westin, Pune is ideally located to facilitate and host your stay with Pune with it’s helpful staff, awesome location, soothing interiors, lovely rooms and great food.