Not another Review!!

Not another review! What makes this different? Well, for starters, the person(s) reviewing stuff here are people who grew up in a world thats far removed from "the Reviews on Gruyere cheese and Asparagus..." In other words,
1. We love Amul butter - the salted yummy thing better than all the 'sophisticated' imported butter in the world!
2. We love the gooey, drippy sweetness of Indian sweets
3. We have, at some point in our lives, ate spoonfulls of Milkmaid conensed milk - right out of the can
4. We understand food and wine pairing (Courtesy the persistent lecturers in Hotel mgmt college), but would rather have chilled beer or the exotic looking potent cocktail with our spicy chicken tikkas or fish fries
5. Prefer to use words like 'delicate' for silks and 'sharp' for tools... NOT food!
6 Are dying find product which make lives easier for working mothers, wives, girlfriends or considerate (also read that as hen pecked) husbands and boyfriends!

So go on... pour your heart out about stuff you liked or hated!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Britto's Goa and Redemption of faith ......

Recently I wrote a review for a hotel in Goa, which kinda finally looked like a crib session in writing! But something reinforced my belief that somewhere out there, a God does look out for me!! :-)

Ta-Da ......! The Britto's Restaurant and Bar in Baga Beach was an eye opener.

Pics courtesy google images
 A little history first:

  • I had a few waking hours in Goa - most of which was spent in meeting rooms
  • Grumbling me had not stepped on a beach till 9.30 pm, and my local office shook their head sadly when I asked if I could go to a beach at 10 pm
  • Had an intuitive feeling that the hotel guys would ruin my long time fantasy of Goa Seafood....
  • Rebelled and told the office guys that they can either feed me proper dinner, or find me muttering obscenities the next day between training sessions
  • Ofcourse, the office guys jumped down the building and put me and another colleague into a car for the restaurant with an urgency that was new to me :-)
Now, the review :-)

Location : Sigh! Right on the beach! My heart did a quick Dhinka - chika when I saw the thatched roof, the sand which served as the floor, and many many tables with candles lit for effect. At that very moment, I wanted to hug the little Manager of our Goa office, and tell her I was indebted to her for life!!
Pic courtesy google images

There was also this cute curios shop, and a tattoo artist. (After a couple of glasses of the superb house wine, I'd have had a rendezvous with this tattoo artist, had my friend not intervened sensibly)
The tattoo place - pics courtesy google images
Service : Colorful shirts, smiling staff, and a live band. That was the first impression. The restaurant was full (on a week night - but hey! this is Goa we are talking about) and the staff were scrambling about, trying to serve all tables as soon as they could. The live band was strumming out romantic numbers one after the other, and, for the first time in many years, I called up G to tell him I was missing him! (music has this effect on me)

But the thing that yanked my eyeballs out was the confidence with which the service staff handled all sorts of weird requests. Let me tell you mine:

I asked one of the servers if he would reserve our table (we had already placed our orders, and we - no I wanted to go to the beautiful beach on the full moon night) while we wandered around the curio shop a bit. Do remember that the restaurant was packed to its brim. I half expected the guy to shrug his shoulders and tell me to go find food elsewhere.

He was all smiles when he asked me 'Ma'am are you going to the beach?'

Like a child caught lying, I sheepishly nodded my head. He said, "No problem Ma'am."

And with a little whoop, my colleague and I grabbed our purses and stood up. At this, the guy said something I will remember for years to come. "You can leave your bags here. No worries."

Both of us had disbelief writ all over our faces. I asked him if it was really safe - it was, after all, filled with visitors and staff alike. And he said with the confidence of a proud team member "Absolutely safe. You can leave anything here and you'll find it where hen you come back." It would have been an insult to the guy if we still carried our bags, so we left it behind.... with a little trepidation. We needn't have worried, though - everything was intact when we returned a good hour later.

Food (and wine ofcourse):  I am a huge fan of Goan food, and have spent many evenings driving distances in Delhi trying to find that elusive Sorpotel. So ofcourse, the food was good. I knew it would be good. But I had no idea that everything we ordered would be lip smacking good. We had a pork Vindaloo (how can you miss a Vindaloo in Goa?) and a Prawn sorpotel. Awesome - with light fluffy rice, and a local bread called Sanaa. Ofcourse, we had the Pao too, to dab up the gravy.

Portions sizes are reasonably large, and we were stuffed by the time we finished all that we had ordered. Dessert was a luxury that we took only because the menu was so tantalizing. The server smiled and told us to order only one dessert with two spoons - and he was right!!! We ordered a fruit salad with Ice Cream, and it was heavenly! Between the two of us, we couldn't finish it.

We also had the house port wine, which is the only thing I drink when I am here. I like my wine sweet, fortified and full bodied. Lived up to my expectation here too. Again here, a word for the server. He ensured the food arrived on time, the wine glasses were refilled promptly and when we discovered in horror that we were terribly late, the bill reached us in matter of seconds. Impressive!

 Cost : A complete meal for two with around 4 glasses of port wine cost us Rs.1300.

The Verdict : The next day was a total disaster, which I have already blogged about, and this little restaurant was the only thing that made me smile when I think of this visit to Goa. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ronil Beach Resort Goa - A review

The organization I work with has presence in over 150 locations in the country, which means there are often sudden SOS travel plans that are required to be done. The presence of an uber-efficient admin department ensures that the tickets miraculously get booked, accommodation and cabs are waiting to receive you, and much of the heartburn associated with official travel is taken care of.

One such split second travel plan was made to Goa. (consider my plight - I reach Goa after a murderous 3 hour flight from Delhi, rush in and out of meetings, and virtually drag myself into bed - only to rush out of Goa the next day - its GOA we're talking about people - and I didn't even seen the damn beaches!!).

Anyway, the closest hotel to the unit I was supposed to visit was a place misleadingly called 'Ronil Beach Resort' - I say misleading, because the beach is nowhere to be seen, and it was hardly a 'resort'. As I have said many times over, the product is important; but much more important is what you do with the product - the service.

In my usual style - the review, ladies and gents:

  • Location : this is Goa we're talking about. Throw a pebble into the air and it will land on a hotel or a home stay. So I would much rather go to a place that has a beach within walking distance. And a place that has access to many other food joints - especially seafood! This resort is located a little away from the beach, and is also a tad difficult to locate if your driver is not a local guy. Also, if you do not have a car, going to any other food joint is impossible, and you are pretty much at the mercy of the hotel chefs (more on that later).

  • Rooms : Well, lets just say that the first room that was given to me, I was aghast, and after a few screaming friendly threats, I was shown another room, in a similarly sad state, but cleaner. The place looked like the owner was just milking the resort without actually investing anything back. Once upon a time the resort would have been a pretty place, with rooms and balconies that overlooked the pool. But today, it needs renovation, and prayers.

  • Service : After 11 pm and before 7.30 am, don't expect your phone calls to the reception to be picked up. And God forbid if you need an early breakfast - in the words of the service staff, "The breakfast starts at 7.30 am. And 7.30 means 7.30." (complete with crossed arms and grumpy face). A sucker for trouble, I decide to see if "7.30 means 7.30..." And guess what - 7.45 am and the chef walks in whistling a tune, hands in his pocket, unaware of the smoke coming out of my ears. I grabbed a knife and stabbed him on his paunch spread some marmalde on a slice of bread (I had a long day ahead, you know! And one shouldn't take out anger on the food....) and then stomped out of the restaurant, and checked out immediately! At the reception, I thought I'd pour my woes out to the grandfatherly Front Office Executive, and he simply said, "Whatever you want to say, you can write in this remarks book." Yeah right! As if the report would reach the right person! In fact, as if the 'right person' cared!!

  • Facilities : The pool was clean. The washroom was clean. (in need for maintenance, but clean). Don't expect fluffy towels and feather soft beds - these are worn out too. Clean, yes. No toiletries to boast of. Luckily I carry my own.... the ones kept in the washroom were not in any sense of the word, appealing.
Verdict : For a rack rate of over Rs. 3500 for a standard room, which can go up to Rs 7000 in season time (October to Feb), this is a place I'd not be venturing into if someone held a gun to my head!

Monday, September 3, 2012

The final verdict of the Resort

Sometimes the trick to an excellent customer service experience is to lower expectations, and then prove the expectation wrong. The only problem with this strategy is that there may be a huge dent on the goodwill of the organization.

Case in point : remember the dude with the crazy telephone etiquette in an earlier post about a resort?

Well some amount of coaxing and lets-see-how-bad-could-it-be kind of spirit (which I suspect is largely due to the fact that G and I just had to get out of Delhi before we shot each other) made us take that daring trip last weekend. And voila! here is the report - as I experienced it.

Ramnagar, a quaint city in Uttarakhand (famous as the railhead for Corbet) is a few hours by train (we started at 10.40 pm from Delhi, and we reached at 5.00 am). At Ramnagar station, we had our cab waiting for our resort in Corbet (10 kms away), as was promised to us while booking. (The first hint of a smile on G's face told me this was good!). The cab was neat, clean, and working perfectly fine, and the driver was a well mannered fellow. (G had started humming by now).

We reached the Club Mahindra Corbet Resort in the wee hours of the morning, and was greeted by a tired looking, but smiling receptionist, who was not in the least like the guy we encountered on the phone. G's look said 'Really? Is this the same place?'

We were checked in pronto, and were even given a choice of room. We were two families - four adults and four kids (between ages 9 and 5). The excitement of the swings and the slides placed strategically in a garden took the sleep out of their eyes, and we had no complaints about waiting for a few minutes while the bell desk collected our baggage.

Location : After checking in, we walked a few minutes, after which we could hear the unmistakable sound of water flowing. All of us looked at each other (much like Christopher Columbus might have done so when he saw shore) with a glint that said "River!"..... The resort is located right on the banks of the Kosi river, and our room was right over the gurgling river. Ofcourse, there was barbed wire fencing (with a warning from the management not to venture into the river) that took care of any curious toddler going right into the river. Over the next two days (and nights) the river was a constant awe-inspiring view.

view from room

Room : Classy, contemporary, and spacious. Straight lines, wood, stone and glass everywhere. Huge bay windows in both the bedroom and the living space. A kitchenette with microwave, toaster, kettle, tea / coffee supplies, crockery, cutlery, bowls and other nick-knacks such as peeler, knife, bottle opener etc. Everything one could possibly need. Clean linen, super-soft beds (five star classification requires a certain mattress thickness - this was adhered to), and a no-nonsense, clean bathroom. Minimal toiletries, but then these days most of us prefer to carry our brands with us - so this is only a small minus. Superb shower head though. (in the words of my luxury-crazed 5 year old - "Feels like someone is giving you a massage")

Of course, after a few minutes of taking in the beauty of the place, we all crashed right into bed, waking up barely to be able to make a quick trip to local sightseeing points.

The swimming pool is splendid. Sparkling clean; and pretty soon you know why - The lifeguard keeps an eagle eye on the people venturing into the pool - whether they have showered or not, whether the ladies with long hair are wearing a shower cap (I was forced to wear one too, which I did so sulking, till G told me how this rule would have kept the pool hair-free and more hygienic).

But the guy crossed the line when he walked up to my 5 year old and told him he had to wear 'huggies' if he wanted to enter the pool. When I looked at him incredulously, he promptly proceeded to explain to me what 'huggies' was. This caused a few irritable minutes of pool-side action (where I challenged the guard to get me a diaper for 5 year olds, and a lot of other unpleasant things) after which the Entertainment Manager (yup! they have a designation like that) apologised and told me to just ensure the kid had his trip to the bathroom before he entered the pool. Again, erring on the side of caution for hygiene never killed anyone, eh?

The pool
Late afternoons are for activities. There was water zorbing, Burma bridge, spider web, table tennis, pool table, caroms, and for the more active ones - some village game (this time it was 'seven tiles')

The evenings are lively in the resort. Every night they have a different cultural activity. We were there for two nights, on the first night we had a DJ and a sweet chap teaching the kids how to dance with easy steps. My little one dancing is a sight I would laugh to, years later too. Of course, how could Mommies be far behind? The second night was a Kumaoni night, showcasing the kumaoni dance and music. This too, ended with all the guests attempting the Ghadwali dance style. And a competition for the kids.

The kids lined up for a competition - the dude in yellow shoes and the girl in white behind him are mine!

Food : There are buffets for the members, and a-la-carte dining for the others.There is also a riverside open grill, which smells great. Food was mostly okay, with the exception of breakfast. Breakfast was a surprise - I haven't had such an authentic South Indian breakfast outside of the region of its origin!

Service :
Every evening, the kids couldn't wait to get back into the rooms - reason? The housekeeping staff would have made lovely elephants with the towels on the beds. The housekeeping staff were the best - quiet, efficient and very observant. Needless to say, our rooms were cleaned thoroughly each day.

Elephants waiting for a hug!

Similarly, the Restaurant and Room Service staff would go out of their way ensure you get what you want. There is also a little grocery shop within the resort, which stocks bread, soft drinks, cup-a-noodles etc. so that you can have prepare a quick snack in your room. (all this at MRP). A special mention for the chef, who thoughtfully sent us packed sandwiches for our journey back - which was a life saver for a bunch of hungry kids in the back of an Innova.

In short, this trip was like a knock on my head, reminding me never, never to judge a book by its cover - in this case, a resort by the first chap who picked up your call!

Trip Highlight : Full moon shining on the river, lush green grass at your feet, kids asleep after exhausting themselves, G and I holding hands.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Customer Service? Huh? What's that?


As a trainer who specializes in customer service skills transfer, I have a skewed sense of criticality when it comes to any kind of service lapse. Traditionally, industries were either the manufacturing industry or the service industry. But today, a fine line divides the expectations that customers have from products and services.

I know, I know .... 'make a good product and the world will beat a path to your door' - but today, this just isn't enough, is it? Especially when every tangible item in the world is sold with a sense of the intangible - take a look at all the tag lines:
  • 'Drive home a relationship' - for a car brand
  • 'Open happiness' - for a cola brand
  • 'Connecting People' - for a mobile company
And many more such tag lines, that focuses on the people aspect of any product. Clearly indicating how important service is, even for a tangible product like a car or a cola.

Let me give you another example. The government operated 'Cottage Emopriums' in Delhi have much more variety in artifacts and craft-based products than most of its privately run counterparts. The pricing too, is quite fair. However, step into one of the Cottage Emporiums, and the almost empty shopping spaces will tell you a different story; right across the street, Fabindia or Anokhi would be brimming with visitors - both Indian and foreigners. The difference is in the service.

I am an ardent vacationer ; G (the better/bitter half) and I love to grab an overnight bag and vanish from the city whenever we can. Of course, after having kids, we plan much more now, keeping in mind their convenience. Also, since both of us are hoteliers, when we plan, we really plan! So invariably, we take turns in calling up the hotel that we have booked, which gives us a fair amount of insight into their service standards.

Very often, the decision to stay in a particular hotel / resort is governed by how well you were treated on the phone. Let me give you the conversation we had with a front office executive recently - verbatim:

G : Hi! I am calling from Delhi, and we have booked a room for next week. Can I get a confirmation on that?
FOA (front office Assistant) : You booked from Delhi? Then they would have given you the confirmation letter.
G : Well, yes, but I want to know which kind of room you would be allotting us.
FOA : Sir (exasperation already in his voice), we only allot rooms one day before the arrival of the guest.
G : Ok, but I have a preference of a river view room, and if I give you a preference so much in advance, can't you make sure that I get it? (most hotels even block by a specific room, if the guest insists)
FOA : No, we only put the preference one day before. You can call us again to tell us your preference one day before you check in.
G (almost grinding his teeth into a fine paste) : But you can note it somewhere and do it yourself one day before right?
FOA : I may not be on the shift, Sir.
G (doing his deep breathing exercises) : Ok... please make a note next to my reservation request in the remarks column - you do have a remarks column right? Where you put the billing instructions? OK... put a remark there, so that anyone who handles my reservation can see it.
FOA : Fine, Sir. Anything else?
G : The website spoke of activities for the family in the evening. What activities do you have?
FOA : Nothing much, Sir. There is the swimming pool.......
G : That's a facility - what's the activity?
FOA: Ummmm.....errr....... I don't know much about that Sir. Some activity might be there.
G: Can I get a pickup from the railway station?
FOA: Yes Sir. We can send a car to pick you up. It will cost you Rs. 3500/-
G : But its sixty kilometers away! Even a flight will cost lesser! And your website said something about market priced cabs......
FOA : Sir, website says a lot of things.................

At this point, G's face had developed a hue that falls in between purple and red in the color palate, so he just put the phone down and continued with his deep breathing exorcises.

A question ...... Would you take the trouble to visit the resort?

(I was almost tempted to write the name of the resort here, but resisted it, since I'd like to draw conclusions after maybe one more phone call - quite against my standard modus operandi, but we really liked the pictures so..........)

Friday, August 10, 2012

The curious case of Dior Poison

Memories, it is said, is what shapes us for the person that we are. I mean, think about it - basically, we are all cells, pretty much similar in constitution - flesh and bones. And as babies, most of us behaved and looked just the same (well, mostly) .... Then, along the way, we picked up memories, shaping us as we went along, adding an ingredient here, or leaving an ingredient there. It is this very same chance incidents that create memories, which in turn, create us.

Phew! That was quite a bit of gyan just to introduce a memory called "Poison" in my life.

It began with a sinister looking, yet beautiful, half full bottle that my mother gave me when I was packing to travel to my first job after college. A purple bottle with a crystal stopper I had seen her guard like it was the crown jewels!

the enigma, the rebel, the forbidden fruit
Ofcourse I was familiar with the smell it left on her. It was an exquisite fragrance, with a mysterious, questioning, sometimes cynical "Dare you" attitude. That's how I will always remember the EDT (Eau de toilette) called Dior Poison.

Before I go any further, just a little on the fragrance terminology. I would cover more fragrances in the future, and this can be a base reference to understand perfume types and notes.

There can be many strange names on perfume bottles. These depict the strength of the essential oils in the perfume, and subsequently, the cost.
  • Parfum / Perfume Extract has the highest strength ( can go up to 40%)
  • Eau de Parfum (EDP)  (10-20%)
  • Eau de Toilette (EDT): (5-15%)
  • Eau de Cologne (EDC): (approx. 5%)
  • Perfume mist (body mist too) : (approx. 3%) usually non-alcoholic solvent
  • Aftershave: (1-3%)
Fragrances, especially when various essential oils are mixed together have various notes that come together to form the perfume experience:
  • Top notes : These are the scents that are perceived immediately upon application of a perfume, which quickly evaporate to the initial impression of a perfume. Usually, scents of this note are fresh, citrus, sharp etc.
  • Middle notes : This note comes into play after the top note has evaporated quickly and forms the "heart" or main body of a perfume. The middle notes are usually more mellow and "rounded." Scents from this note class appear anywhere from two minutes to one hour after the application of a perfume.
  • Base notes: This is what remains or 'lingers' in a perfume. Also the part that interacts with the person's own skin and sweat to form a 'signature' for that person. This is why some scents suit some people and they don't suit some others. The base and middle notes together are the main theme of a perfume. Base notes bring depth and solidity to a perfume. These notes are typically rich and "deep" and are usually not perceived until 30 minutes after the application of the perfume
 Now back to the enigma called Poison. This perfume, called 'the forbidden fruit' (and shaped just like an alluring, inviting, serpent's fruit) was touted as a rebel when it came out in 1985 - and it received every bit of the limelight a perfume of that stature should. And as with any celebrity, this perfume had no middle path. No greys - only blacks or whites. You either fell in love with it, or loathed it with all your heart. I fell hopelessly in love with it.

The minute you sprayed a whiff, it knocked you down with tuberose, and sweet honey. After you have gulped your fear and dared to sniff again, the perfume has evolved into spicy pepper and cinnamon, with a huge bouquet of roses. Then when you finally sighed, smiled and smelled it deeply yet again, it had grown into a flower garden mixed with musk and sandalwood. (am sighing again - as you can see!)

The perfume leaves a trail - letting people know you are bold. It also carries on for days together - sometimes even a couple of washes do not remove the smell from clothes. The fall side of this is that people with sensitive olfactory organs can have a severe headache due to this rebel of a perfume.

Let me end this review by telling you what my then fiance said to me when I wore it for a party - he told me never to wear "whatever-it-is-that-you-smell-of-today" when I am not with him. I looked at him quizzically, and he said he could eat me up and didn't want to risk that happening when I was not with him.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review - Spa Hibiscus

I am a sucker for spas. From the smell of the essential oils to the candles, to the soothing instrumental music and the hushed tones in which the staff talk to each other (don't even get me started on informal conversation among staff members while attending to customers!) I am in love with the Spa experience. Thus, it should be of no surprise then that I need no coaxing to visit one.

I am now a frequent visitor to a day spa located in the oh-so-upper-middle-class locality of Mayur Vihar. The location is of importance here, because one should remember that the location is completely residential, and thus have over a dozen beauty parlours, hair salons etc. scattered within 50 meters of each other.

And yet, this one has stood out amongst all the others, drawing in women AND men in for spa treatments. Yes, you read that right - men too. My love story with Spa Hibiscus began a couple of years ago when a hotelier friend excitedly called me up asking me what my plans for the evening was. Of course, she knew I would drop everything to join her for a 'spa day out' .....

Let me go straight to the experience:

1. Ambiance : Yup! Its all in there - the unmistakable lemongrass oil, the lovely strains of haunting piped music, the smiling staff talking in hushed tones with an eager-to-help attitude. Comfortable waiting area, cordoned off areas for privacy, and squeaky clean. (The cleanliness comes by way of a couple of housekeeping staff constantly wiping, dusting and polishing)

2. Service: Now we all know that the crux of a spa experience is the service levels. Surprises here too - there was not a single instance which made me think 'if only they did this.....'. Let me give you a few examples:
  • You are 'allotted' a spa personnel to take care of your treatments/services. From the preliminary 'Good morning', the spa staff take over the services so smoothly, you don't realize all the various ingredients coming together to provide a complex treatment.
  • The service staff are in no hurry to complete the work in hand to take over a new customer. (you know how in most places they put on a face mask and you start wondering if they forgot you were waiting? That doesn't happen here.) In fact, if there is a service that involves a mandatory wait, such a drying masque, then the staff promptly tells you how long a wait its going to be, and proceeds to give you a surprisingly good shoulder massage! Blown away!
  • You will not catch any of the informal banter between the service staff in this spa - but does this mean that they are a grouchy lot? No - to the contrary there are quite a few smiles doing the rounds - to you as well as each other. Now that's what I like - respect for fellow human beings - even if its for the barely literate girl who sweeps the floor! 
3. Spa offerings : From that perfect haircut to the wonderful pedicure that leaves you with an urge to keep looking at your feet, this place has it all. There are facials, clean-ups (which is a rather unfair word for a treatment that's so effective), and all the other beauty treatments you can think of (including chocolate treatments). And then, of course there are the steam rooms and the saunas that add to the already pampered feeling you get. Don't forget to try out the hibiscus tea or a little sandwich (complimentary during your treatments) which are offered to you.

4. Value for money : Let me put it this way. When you walk in the door of the Hibiscus Spa, you almost shudder to think the dent it might leave in your purse - especially if you've been to the five star hotel spas. The reason? It looks and feels just as if you have made a detour into the Sheraton to get your pedicure done! But please walk up to the reception and ask for their rate list. That's when you begin to breathe and a smile crosses your lips - its far less than what you expected!

My favorite services are the clean ups and the pedicures (as you probably have guessed already) and I have not gone anywhere else to get these services since then)

The Hibiscus Spa (currently in 4 locations) is now a growing chain, moving out of Delhi into other locations too. It is run like clockwork under the eagle eyes of Shweta Jai Gupta, a young entrepreneur, who has incorporated her learning from a long career in hospitality into the culture of the Spa.

Bottom line : This place will prove true value for money - especially if you are a stickler for services, cleanliness and the luxuries that a good spa can provide. They also offer annual memberships - for individuals or couples (of  Rs.5000, 10000 or 20000) which are a convenient way to avail the services here.

Further information at