Tata For Now: Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences
Depending on whom you listen to, around the time the Empress of India summoned her pet Pomeranian with her dying breath for a final stately pat – and one would imagine a few wheezy words of wisdom – a somewhat poorly Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, exhausted after years of holding court as the Father of Indian Industry, resolved to accomplish one of his main life goals: to open a fine hotel in Bombay, with all the European mods and cons, including that new fangled electricity stuff and less of that old-fangled discriminatory stuff. His mission was accomplished not a moment too soon, because Mr Tata found himself on his own deathbed shortly afterwards and was never to experience the growth of the regal Taj Mahal Palace into one of Asia’s largest and most respected luxury hotel groups.
Back in Blighty, but a few corgi hops from the current royal residence number one and hidden behind large wrought-iron gates, lies the British bastion of the Taj Group: Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences. Although this hidden court has had royal involvement through its multiple incarnations as cottages for poor children, a cluster of schools and a hospital since the early 17th-century, it was only as old Queen Vic drew her last breath (and Mr Tata found his resolve) that the gates were flung open to paying guests. Naturally, the proximity to the various seats of power made it a huge draw to the political forces; not least a young Churchill, and grand, world-changing decisions were made here over port, cigars and coffee.
Others came (and still come) for the beautifully embellished court itself: satyrs and nymphs mucking about on the balconies and pediments and disputably the world’s longest frieze intricately carved into the red brickwork, re-imagining all of Shakespeare’s plays rolled into one around an iron fountain centrepiece.
To the right of the court, three of these restored Victorian townhouses, named respectively after their former residents of kings, ministers and falconers, offer 85 suites and residences replete with personalised butler service, a cosy living room and a kitchen, which I’m sure I would have used had I not been on the adjoined doorstep of one of London’s finest Indian restaurants, the Michelin-starred Quilon.
Without a doubt Mr Tata would have been most pleased with the sterling efforts of Chef Sriram Aylur and his team, boasting a series of light yet complex Southern Indian treats such as a delicate pyramid of mini Masala dosa and more progressive dishes like the succulent chunks of spiced, baked black cod that had me salivating for days. I hasten to add I wouldn’t recommend any single dish. You should try them all: the tailor-made tasting menu is a whirlwind of flavour, with trios of delicious bites interrupted only by palate cleansers, from a glass of soup here to a thimble of sorbet there.
Forgo the fine wine for a change and have a peek at the excellently curated beer list: no bland or predictable brews here, rather an excellent collection of British and world craft beer, footed by an impressive selection of vintage ales. The rich, peppery 2009 vintage from Fuller’s served in a brandy balloon was a slow-sipping revelation; joining in the jazzy tastebud jam like a smooth mature bass player dropping in a few notes in every now and again.
Whether to while away the hours in the regal courtyard, plan port-fuelled world domination in your private chamber, retire from the seats of power to have the butler run you a hot bath and mix a Martini or to swoon at the myriad flavours and textures that one of the finest Indian chefs in Britain keeps tucked away in his kitchen, a stay at Taj 51 Buckingham Gate will ensure your last wheezy words to your pet Pomeranian won’t be spiked with regret.
Visit www.taj51buckinghamgate.co.uk for more information or call +44 (0)20 7769 7766 for hotel reservations.
Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences has just opened new restaurant Kona which offers an innovative interpretation of southern European cuisine (www.taj51buckinghamgate.co.uk/dining/kona).