Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Connemara in Madras

Taj Connemara, ChennaiThe Taj Connemara in Chennai is home to some unmatched culinary pleasure the city has to offer. However, what makes this hotel even more interesting is its intriguing history. Lord Connemara was the Governor of Madras from 1886-1902. As the story goes, Lord Connemara had a weakness for pretty young women and ended up in frequent dalliances with the fair sex. When the Lady Connmara chanced upon one such liaison, she walked out in a huff. Out of the Governor House into the only hotel in town for Englishmen: the Albany. By the time she left, the hotel had been renamed The Connemara in her honor. Incidentally, the hotel was built in 1867 and for the first twenty years was called the Imperial Hotel.

Taj Connemara, ChennaiAs I strolled through the hotel corridors, I was drawn to the framed black and white photos from those early days. The Connemara of Madras - with its colonial facade and small English garden, where nights fell to the sound of crickets and the whirr of ceiling fans, as the saabs and mems drew mosquito-nets down to keep out the annoying little predators.

Taj Connemara, Chennai
Taj Connemara, ChennaiPeople cheered from the vantage point of this hotel as Queen Elizabeth II passed by in a motorcade during a trip to India. The bar inside served up nimboo paani for the memsaab and martinis - stirred by the saab's koi hai! These were easy-going times with food every few hours starting with the Chota Haziri - or small breakfast, usually toast with tea and maybe eggs - served right at dawn. Then came a hearty breakfast that included fish, stewed steak with onions, eggs, curried fowl and rice with tea, coffee, bread and butter followed by Trichnopoly cigars for the saab. The tiffin or lunch was simpler; the afternoon tea with its cakes and scones, and finally the evening meal of soup, fish, side dishes, pudding and fruits. On special evenings, hushed laughter and the rustle of silks and taffeta alternated with the cultured clink of cutlery and the waltz in the Ballroom.

Taj Connemara, Chennai
Taj Connemara, ChennaiI returned to the Raintree restaurant for dinner, but the mosquitoes spoilt the dining experience. Hip Asia turned out to be the find of this trip. I wasn't expecting too much, and the fact the restaurant was almost deserted at lunch time didn't seem to augur well. But the food was a revelation. Right from the excellent salad - very cold, crisp with peanut and crystals of sugar - to the miso soup, maki sushi, teriyaki fried rice, fish, veggies and prawns, this was an amazing culinary ride! When I finally settl;ed down with the Thai dessert of water-chestnuts in coconut milk, I was completely satiated.

The only discordant note? The manager decided to take it upon himself to deny photographing the dishes. Even without a flash.


Swapna Raghu Sanand said...

Great, informative post! Lovely pics!

Aarti said...

I have some very fond memories of this place... when i was abt 10 or 11, i remember mom used to being me and my cousin here for swimming classes post which we would dig into their delicious Omlette... :)

Good to see the place is still standing tall amidst all those newbies... !!heard raving reviews on hip Asia, yet to visit tho...i love water chestnuts freak out on them in Benjarong

Shantanu said...

@Swapna: Welcome here and thank you!

Shantanu said...

@Aarti: Yup, it is certainly standing its own. One of those now rare low-slung hotels spead horizontally rather than vertically.

prashant said...

Great, informative post! Lovely pics!