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Staycation at Howard Johnson

Monday, November 28, 2016Me! In words

It had been a long week - an extended period of being unwell, coupled with a massive backlog of work and the thought of being alone for the weekend, was made better only with the thought of a staycation at Howard Johnson. The hotel has been around for 3 years or so now but considering the distance from Jayanagar where I live, the stars took all of 3 years to align to enable to visit. This visit was a special one - Nest, the hotel's only restaurant open 24 hours was launching some additions to their menu - what better than to couple an experience at the hotel along with sampling the new fare that Chef Dev Bose had created. 

Chef Bose, as a few other members of the marketing staff at Howard Johnson have been around since its inception. Such long term relationships I believe make for a great way to take a hotel and its popularity forward. Considering the hotel's location close to Manyata Tech Park, the hotel primarily sees a business crowd coming in. Many of these are long term guests, each making the hotel their home anywhere from a week to a few months and some for a year and beyond. Many such guests also come along with the their families. What becomes important, as one can just imagine, is having something to remind one of home and what better way to do that than with food believes Chef Bose. So whether it is whipping up some black pudding and serving it up hot for some British guests or getting a pencil scribbled menu for the week from a young member of European family, Chef Bose is ever willing to customize a meal.

With these thoughts, let me take you through the experience at Howard Johnson, from one afternoon to another!

A friend and I, along with Little A, availed of the hotel's cab service to get to the hotel. It being a Saturday and still early days of the demonetization drive, the roads were relatively empty, with most of the crowd at the ATMs and banks. Arriving at the hotel a few minutes shy of an hour, the first thing you notice on entering the hotel is how the noise levels are instantly cut off. This despite being placed on a main road, next a large mall. The acoustics are brilliant and you feel instantly relaxed. We were served a litchi welcome drink and were through with the front desk formalities for check in a few minutes. The keycard provided comes with a WiFi password included on it. Take a look at the video tour of our room. This room is priced at Rs 7500++ inclusive of breakfast, WiFi and a free airport pick and drop.

Once we were settled in our rooms, we were taken a tour of the hotel, coupled with an interaction with Chef Bose, who took us through the thought process of the creation of the hotel as well as his specialty, the food. This conversation took place at a spot in the hotel that is now casually being called the Library. A lovely nook, with a skylight placed a few stories higher giving a lovely hue to the space. From the classic Victoria Station clock, to an old gramophone to the ornate dial pad phone - the space is a lovely one. Whether you are looking to read from the collection of books in the glass door wooden cupboard or play a game of chess with some really beautifully designed chess pieces, this is the space to do it. We were told that the area will soon be converted to a whiskey bar and I can't think of a better use for the space.

At this point, Little A got a little tired of hanging around with the grown ups and requested permission to go up to the room. Paranoid mum that I am, I hesitated, only to be told that the hotel is home to a lot of children, who are quite comfortable navigating on their own. So whether A wanted to go to the room or the restaurant or even the lobby, she would be safe, sound and happy. Nevertheless I did send her along with my phone, which I am happy to say she never used.

The hotel has a pool and gym on the campus but a highlight is Sohum Spa. A small outlet, with just 2 rooms, this spa offers massages and facials. Ever willing to surrender to experienced hands for a massage, I went in for a 30 minute back massage. The petite young lady who took me on has magic in her hands and I can say, for fact that I was reduced to a puddle of happiness, the glow of which lingered long into the night.

A lovely nook in the hotel is Chef Bose's little herb garden. Small it may be, but the staff, as does he, take great pleasure in coming here, picking up some fresh herbs for garnishes and to muddle in drinks. Of course there is nothing like a green corner in the hotel to retreat to when you need a break.

Next up on the tour was Nest, the 24 hour restaurant of the hotel. Walking up to it, you cross a little coffee shop to get to the reception table. Adorning the wall behind the reception table are engraved plates - each depicting nests in various trees. A very subtle and nice touch to the decor. In fact, the hotel is peppered with such small decor elements that give the hotel that classy touch. From the chandeliers in the private dining spaces at Nest, to the cove lighting above the bar at the in-house bar adjoining Nest, to the table tent that says "happily committed" instead of "Reserved", the decor at HoJo is subtle but very impressive.

Now coming to the food at Nest - We had the Saturday lunch buffet and the Sunday Brunch. Both times, the spread included a range of salads, meat and vegetarian, some served straight up, a few others with simple dressings. While the Saturday buffet gives you the choice of a vegetarian or a meat soup, on Sunday you will find a specialized soup such as a Laksa being assembled before you. Sunday also sees the addition of sushi to the spread - simple ones of salmon and vegetarian. You then have a mixed board of Indian, Chinese and Continental, this last being the strong suit of Chef Bose. The dessert spread also offers a mix of Indian and international sweets.

Sunday Brunch sees the addition of live counters serving up pasta, kothu paratha, kheema pao, and paniyaram. But with these counters placed in closed confines, the aromas can get a bit too heady. You will also be served a host of starters at the table - a really good ones was the Chinese Fish that was served which saw multiple helpings being called for. The kebabs were also quite pleasant.

The dishes that stood out for me on Saturday and Sunday were a superlative Baingan Bharta that I had with a simple Lasson tadka dal and rice. The Eraichi Kuzambu and the Fish curry were also quite impressive. In the continental section, the Chicken au Gratin stood out. The Kothu paratha and Kheema pav on Sunday were both really good. Among the desserts, the bread and butter pudding as well as the Chocolate Financier, though not in its classic version, were wonderful treats. Sunday Brunch also offers you drinks from the bar.

Overall, across both meals and the launch of the new menu, it was the Indian food that stood tall for me.

Glimpses of the spread at Nest

And now, coming to the main reason that we were at the Howard Johnson, the launch of the new menu by Chef Bose. Each year the hotel announces this launch with a lot of fanfare. The menu is thought of in depth and a focal ingredient is chosen. This year, it is figs. To mark the launch, the management held a formal event in one of its banquet halls, with the unveiling of the menu by the children present there. Anoushka loved the idea of being able to go up on stage and pull away at the ribbon. This was followed by a sampler style formal tasting of the newly launched dishes.

We started off with an Amuse Bouche of Watermelon and Feta cheese before moving on to the Figs and Mozzarella Salad which was followed up with a Minestrone Milanese soup. While each of the ingredients in this initial set of dishes were great choices, they came together in a slightly underwhelming manner. Perhaps the pre-plating did the dishes in. But what really brought things to life were the main course offerings - the Grilled Salmon with Panzenella had a great crisp to the top and the citrus caper sauce provided the perfect foil to its meatiness. A good dish. The Stuffed Chicken Breast is what a friend had and she too declared it good, with the chicken being well stuffed with a flavourful mix of mince and veggies and topped up with balsamic and served with wedges. There were unanimous nods of approval for the Mushroom Risotto, not easy to achieve with a dish like risotto. It made me doubly happy that the little one asked for a plate of her own of it. The Vegetable Lasagne was something I did not taste. The sampler meal ended with a Greek Yogurt Cheesecake served with a jelly. 

With the formal part over, the evening turned casual with a buffet spread out and some very interesting live counters. The Kheema Kaleji and Boti being done up on the spot on a wide tava nad served up with appams and pao was the hit of the evening. Take a look at it here . That along with a fabulous Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Three Peaks hit many a right spot.

A look at the buffet spread at the launch of the new menu

Howard Johnson makes for a nice getaway if you are looking for something in the city. It is also perfectly positioned as a business hotel, ensuring that you have everything you need close at hand. In fact, the hotel soon plans to launch car pooling facilities for its long term guests and will coordinate pick ups and drops to prominent business locations to also do their part for the environment. We spent a great weekend there and had a wonderful mother-daughter getaway.

Here is a link on how to get to Howard Johnson

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