The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel,
Apollo Bandar, Colaba, Mumbai, India
There are hotels and then there’s the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. A Mumbai landmark, it’s also one of the world’s most exceptional hotels, an exercise in exemplary service, relaxed opulence, dazzling hospitality plus the swimming pool. Oh, that pool… It’s the sort of place where, within minutes of your arrival, all the staff seem to know your name and where suitcases are whisked from your hand and arrive in your room before you do. Indeed, you suspect if you were delayed en route by a couple of minutes, you’d arrive to find everything unpacked and your shoes polished.
Unsurprisingly, this level of excellence also extends to the Taj’s multiple dining options, from breakfast to dinner and, in the case of the 24-hour café, before and beyond. However, it’s breakfast where, for my money, it really shines.
You can, if you want, wander through many familiar breakfast items – cereal, fruit, European-style pastries, eggs in a plethora of ways – and all, inevitably, are of exceptional quality. To opt for dishes you can have anywhere though – including your own kitchen – is rather missing the point because, frankly, Indian breakfast is one of the great pleasures of international travel.
Those textures and that intense spicing is something of a quantum leap the first time but once you’ve taken the plunge, all other breakfasts pale by comparison. You can get a hint of this depth of flavour in the UK thanks to thriving Indian chain Dishoom’s excellent morning menu – the bacon and egg naan is a thing of cross-cultural beauty – but going to the source… It’s simply unforgettable.
In the Taj’s hands, while there’s the sort of presentation one would expect from a five star hotel buffet, they are also not afraid to show they know when to leave well alone, hence the large bowls of assorted classic dishes alongside straightforward, street food favourites, such as boldly spiced mutton keema, served with soft, buttered, pillowy pav to mop up all the shirt-threatening, chilli-dotted juices.
Washed down with glasses of punchy chai, and looking across to the water and the impressive Gateway to India, there are few better, more life-enhancing, comforting starts to a day.
New Orleans, US
At R’Evolution, chef John Folse is reinventing local fare for the 21st century, removing some rough edges but never losing its heart. Death By Gumbo is a clever take on a classic dish. Instead of a soup full of shredded meat, rice and sausage, it’s a soup of remarkable depth, plus a quail stuffed with those other key ingredients. Clever, fun and very satisfying.
DinnerEl Rincon de Santiago
Comas, Lima, Peru
El Rincon is an unassuming local spot. The shambar, a classic Andean soup of beans, wheat, pigskin and various other ingredients, is also known as Monday soup – possibly because it’s hearty enough to set you up for a week, possibly because it could be made from assorted leftovers. It’s a delicious, soothing hug of a meal, well worth negotiating Lima’s infamous traffic to try.