After booking a one-way flight ticket from Mumbai to Kolkata with Vistara, it was time to turn my attention towards finding a worthy accommodation in this city. Before heading to the famous Oberoi Grand, I decided to stay at the ITC Royal Bengal - an ultra-modern, newly-built property which would offer a completely different experience.
About ITC Royal Bengal
Having recently celebrated its first year anniversary, this 30-storey ITC Luxury Collection hotel houses 374 rooms and suites, and 82 serviced apartments. Located adjacent to the older ITC Sonar (connected by a walkway), this imposing property has five food and beverage outlets, a lounge, a Kaya Kalp spa and several banquets and meeting venues.
The location of this hotel could be one for the future, as this is an emerging commercial district and hence, you won't find much in close proximity once you step out of the hotel. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport is 16 kms away, while Park Street (where you'll find pubs, restaurants and a lot of activities to do) is 15-20 minutes drive from the hotel.
Booking ITC Royal Bengal
I booked this place with hotels.com just a couple of nights before arrival, and got a pretty good deal with breakfast. The total cost of the room for two nights was INR 11,340 (USD 153).
Also included in my stay was a 20% discount on the food, soft drinks and spa at the hotel, though the spa was sadly not operational during my time there. There was no early check-in as part of my package, though upon requesting I was granted one.
Arriving at the hotel
This was a bit of a frustrating experience. I ordered an Uber as soon as I got out of the terminal building, but the estimated waiting time was 19 minutes. I decided to go with it, but the driver cancelled the ride after 15 minutes.
I tried a second time, but was forced to cancel it as the driver's location didn't move for around seven minutes. I then took a cab from the airport to ITC Royal Bengal, which cost INR 890 (USD 12) - nearly twice as much as Uber would have been - for the approximately 40 minute journey.
I finally arrived at the hotel, but my problems weren't over yet. I decided to pay the driver by online payment (Gpay), but his account was showing invalid and now I was worrying over cash, because I have reduced visiting the ATM ever since this pandemic.
I had to ask the hotel to raise an invoice, and I paid them by card in return for cash. In short, the start to my stay in Kolkata wasn’t a great one.
By the time I got done with all of this and finally came back to check in, I was drenched in sweat (thanks to Kolkata weather). It did not feel like 29 degrees celsius, as announced on my Vistara Boeing 737 business class flight into Kolkata.
I called the hotel the day before to let them know that I would be arriving early in the morning, and to request an early check in (normally this is only from 2pm) and an upgrade, if possible.
Fast forward to Kolkata and I was already on my way to the hotel when I received a call from them telling me about the Covid norms. I mentioned that I was already on my way, and the agent sounded a little surprised and seemed like she was in a haste to inform her seniors about this.
Upon arrival, I was welcomed by the gateman with the iconic turban. Thanks to Swarnali’s sweet and kind approach who escorted me to the check-in counter, I was already feeling at home.
I checked in to the hotel at 11am and the process was smooth and simple. My booking was already paid for, so I had to just sign the Covid declaration form, which required my travel details of the last 30 days. I was specifically told that I can’t bring any guests into the hotel.
There’s a protective screen installed at the counters, and I noticed that the attendant checking me in followed the Covid protocols very diligently. He asked me to place my ID on the counter and sanitised it before handling (the same thing was repeated when I had to give him my card for payment).
From there, I was shown to the lift by Swarnali who mentioned that the staff aren’t allowed to show the guests into their rooms, because of the current protocols.
Another staff member arrived with one of my bags while I was still opening the door, though he apologetically refused to help with the things I was holding, saying he’d "rather not".
I can understand the need to follow hygiene protocols, but I did expect him to be more helpful when I was clearly struggling with all my luggage (he could easily have sanitised my bag handles if he had any concerns).
He showed me the 'Sani-tag' on the bag and kept the bag at the door, without entering.
ITC Royal Bengal, exclusive room
I was in room no 5406 - a 48 sqm "exclusive" room with a city view. Unfortunately, no upgrades were available but the room was very large, considering the "exclusive" rooms are the entry-level ones. The room was sanitised and sealed before my arrival.
There was a nice sofa in the room, though I didn’t end up using it much because of the spacious work table and comfortable chair. The queen bed was big enough for me and the mattress was to my liking, as were the pillows.
An iPad was provided in the room for controlling the lighting, TV, in-room dining and video on demand. There was also a sign stating that “ITC hotels are a single-use plastic free environment”, which is a commendable initiative taken by ITC and one they have implemented across all their properties.
There were magazines kept in the room, which I felt wasn’t entirely in accordance with the Covid19 norms as it encourages unnecessary touchpoints.
The wardrobe in the room was quite spacious, with ample storage space for my belongings. "His and hers" bathrobes were available in the closet, along with a locker and a laundry kit.
The minibar in the room was completely empty, but there was an option to place an order in the room using the QR code. I was told during my stay that liquor wasn’t being served at the restaurants, however one could order to have it in the room.
There was both a shower cubicle and bath, however I didn’t end up using the tub during my stay here. The shower was nice, until I felt the water clogging on the floor after about 4-5 minutes in the shower.
The bathroom amenities were from Essenza Di Wills, and I didn’t feel anything special about them. The conditioner just wouldn’t wash away, which was a bit frustrating.
I then decided to get some work done, and while I was checking out different compartments of the study table, I felt something sticky on my fingers. As I bent down to see what it was, I noticed that there was a chewed gum stuck under the table. Clearly not each and every spot was sanitised thoroughly!
Forget sanitisation, this was a crime against basic hygiene. I didn’t feel like sitting at the table anymore, and so I decided to head down for lunch.
Dining at ITC Royal Bengal
There are plenty of options available at ITC Royal Bengal: a multi-cuisine restaurant (Grand Market Pavilion); a luxury vegetarian restaurant (Royal Vega); an Italian restaurant (Ottimo); a tea bar (Darjeeling Lounge) and a tapas-inspired bar (The Brass Room).
The first experience regarding food and beverage at the hotel wasn’t exactly smooth. When I enquired with the hotel regarding a restaurant for lunch, they suggested I should try out the North Indian speciality restaurant, Peshawri, which is located in the neighbouring ITC Sonar.
Note that options for non-veg Indian food are limited at ITC Royal Bengal - you'll only find veg dishes at Royal Vega.
Anyway, I agreed to head over to ITC Sonar and was escorted all the way to Peshawri. Since the air conditioning wasn’t turned on in the walkway, this walk seemed long and we reached only to find out that the restaurant was shut and would only be opening for dinner.
I was pretty frustrated at this point and was then suggested the lunch buffet at Grand Market Pavilion back at ITC Royal Bengal. I wasn’t very keen, but the only other option was the Darjeeling Lounge, as the other speciality restaurants were also not serving lunch (and I was saving the Lounge for high tea).
I was faced with a very busy restaurant at Grand Market Pavilion, which is also where the breakfast buffet is served. Social distancing was clearly not being observed, as I saw many of the guests at the buffet without even proper face covering.
If you’ve read my previous reviews, you will know that I am not comfortable when presented with a lot of choices and I was being indecisive once again. I chose to go ahead with a few Indian starters, dumplings and sushi before moving to nihari for main course, though the bread which came along with it didn’t go very well with nihari. I also tried the biryani, but it was just okay.
I then decided to jump to dessert, and had a feast in that section. This was clearly the best part of my meal.
One thing that stood out for me during this buffet was that the service was being provided from behind the protective screens so the guests didn’t come in direct contact with the food.
I chose to skip dinner as I wasn’t much hungry at the time, also I had a few cookies in the evening so that kind of killed my appetite.
Breakfast was at the Grand Market Pavilion again, and I managed to find a table in the restaurant (unlike what I experienced on the second day). I started off my breakfast with a doughnut, a danish pastry and a muffin.
I then asked for a two egg masala omelette with sausages and hash brown on the side while I helped myself to some watermelon juice. Upon enquiring for any other options, I was served sweet lime juice.
I sensed a major lack of communication among the staff members during my time at the ITC Royal Bengal, one such incident happened during breakfast when I asked for some fresh cut fruits.
I was first told that the fruits weren’t being served due to Covid, but then later I was brought whole fruits.
Those fruits were then taken away by a different server and I was finally served cut fruits with an apology for the miscommunication.
I chose to skip lunch and went for high tea at the Darjeeling Lounge, which is known for its variety of tea (including tea cocktails). The first impression of this place was really good, thanks to the attractive furniture, ambience and decor.
I experienced some misguided suggestions here as well, as I was first recommended cutting chai along with garlic bread, which I wasn’t sure about but I chose to go ahead with the order anyways.
I was then approached by Amar, another member of staff at the lounge who seemed to know the dishes well. He suggested I go for crispy estate fried chicken instead of garlic bread and I appreciated him changing my order, because the chicken was really good, and the mustard chutney complemented the dish well.
The chicken is a must-have at this place, Amar described it as the "North Eastern specialty", while curry leaves gave it a bit of a North Indian touch.
I really enjoyed the tea here as it was strong and reminded me of the tapri (tea stall) in a good way. The presentation was commendable, because it came very close to the way chai is served at the tea stalls in Mumbai.
Overall, my dinning experience at Darjeeling Lounge was the best one so far at ITC Royal Bengal. With a combination of sofas and comfortable chairs, the seating here is more luxurious and relaxed. I am glad I went for high tea here - do visit this place if you can, you won’t regret it.
Next up was dinner at Peshawri over at ITC Sonar, and I was looking forward to this, because the hotel staff had already suggested me this more than a couple of times during my stay.
I was taken by a golf cart to the restaurant, where I was greeted by Shant Anu, who was warm and gave a brief introduction about the restaurant, mentioning that the food is inspired from Peshawar (as the name of the restaurant suggests).
I scanned the QR code for the menu, which was brief, and he pointed out that there weren’t any rice dishes on the menu. The explanation was that rice requires a lot of water, which is a luxury that people from Peshawar can’t afford, and hence the diet in those regions doesn’t consist of rice.
The papad along with salad and chutneys was brought to the table as I ordered a non-veg platter, dal bukhara and butter naan. I also ordered a 'fatal attraction’ mocktail, which was light and I enjoyed it.
The food is just too good over here and it lived up to the hype. Dal bukhara is their specialty, cooked overnight, and it is a must try.
The half portion of non-veg platter would have sufficed two people and it consisted of various types of chicken and lamb kebabs (including malai tikka, seekh kebab and galouti kebabs).
The raita was made of hung curd (waterless yoghurt), and this went along with the food very well.
You can feel a strong culture, which shows in the seating, food and ambience of this place. Small things like being offered to wear an apron and served water in copper glass go a long way in giving you a proper feel of this place.
I paid a total of INR 4,115 (USD 55), which included the 20% discount on food & beverage that I received with my booking. Though it sounds a little expensive, there was a lot of food for one person, and I was a happy customer walking out of the door.
It was already late by the time I got done with dinner, so I just hit the bed after. The breakfast experience next day wasn't great as I had to wait for approximately 15-20 minutes before finally being seated at the Darjeeling Lounge, which was being used as an overflow breakfast restaurant.
I felt that the waiting period was long because it was a Sunday and the hotel had a lot of outside guests for breakfast. This made me a little uncomfortable due to two main reasons. First, there was a lot of crowd, and social distancing wasn’t being followed. Second, I expected better treatment for in-house guests.
This was another example of ITC Royal Bengal not having a proper system in place yet, and Covid-19 surely hasn't helped. Eventually my order was taken and I went with the server’s suggestion and ordered loochi chola (a north eastern specialty) and pancakes.
I enquired for juices and Santanu suggested I try the ABC (apple, beetroot and carrot) juice, which was nice.
The dining experience at ITC Royal Bengal was overall a disappointing one barring a few highs - Peshawri and Darjeeling Lounge. The quality of food was decent, however, the poor service on a number of occasions let them down.
ITC Royal Bengal has a swimming pool, a gym, a salon, and a Kaya Kalp spa. During my stay there, the spa and the pool were not operational due to the Covid norms in place at the time.
The gym is really spacious with a separate room for zumba, aerobics, etc. With high-tech machines, it definitely gives the gym buffs something to look forward to.
There are separate salons for ladies and gents.
The swimming pool was off limits and hence, I had to make do with pictures from behind the glass.
I also managed to check out one of their spa suites.
There is also a Residents Lounge at lobby level, though sadly this wasn't operational during my time at the hotel. However, I did manage to get pictures of this place...
I had high hopes from this hotel, but sadly it didn’t live up to my expectations. Lack of communication among staff members was one of the factors that led to a poor service, but I am sure with some extra efforts, ITC Royal Bengal can overcome their shortcomings.
Although the hotel has strict Covid rules in place like 'no outside guests allowed in the room', they seem to be lacking in holding up the standards in other areas. The entry-level room was large and comfortable, though I could do without the second-hand chewing gum next time!
This is a beautiful property with a lot of amenities inside, and I would surely like to visit the hotel again, though not until they get better systems in place.
What are your thoughts on ITC Royal Bengal? Would you like to stay here?