Oberoi Rajvilas conjures a magical memorable moment in midst of Coronavirus pandemic

A divine dining experience


June 24, 2020

/ By / Jaipur

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The personal touch and attention to the detail made the dining experience a memorable one (MIG photos/Varsha Singh)

Dining out during the pandemic comes with several formalities and tedious processes, but the right place, the right occasion and the right personnel can make it a magical moment.

It was my first birthday ever away from home and in view of the coronavirus pandemic, it goes without saying that it was also the first celebration where I had to maintain social distancing. Just a couple of days before my birthday I had landed in the pink city, Jaipur. I was all prepared to spend it in a hotel room all by myself, with the highlight of the day being a video call with some of my closest friends who had managed to surprise me with a birthday cake even 1,500 km away. As I was all set to switch on the TV and amuse myself with the mundane shows, a call from one of my colleagues changed my entire plan. Instead of spending the evening locked up in my room and being a couch potato, I decided to treat myself on the occasion with a fancy dinner. Little did I know I would return with the memories of one of the best birthday dinners of my life.

After doing a bit of research, I found that Oberoi Rajvilas was open and so I called and booked a table for myself. They asked if there was a special occasion and I excitedly informed them. So, finally just before dusk, I got into a cab and began the drive to Oberoi Rajvilas.

Located about 30 km from the city centre on Goner Road, the approach to the hotel is rather nondescript enhancing the contrast with the low-rise, sprawling property that sits pretty on over 32 acres of land. As you approach the gate, the security guard delivers a crackling salute that would make any drill sergeant proud. While he carries out the regular security check of the vehicle, I cannot help but notice the changes that the coronavirus pandemic has brought upon the procedure. Wearing a mask, the security guard sanitises the door handle of the boot of the car before opening it. Then after duly noting the car registration numbers as well as checking my name off a list that he has, he opens the gate to welcome me into the Oberoi Rajvilas.

As the car heads towards the porch, I can spot a small table duly equipped with some masks, a hand sanitiser as well as the ubiquitous digital thermometre. A staffer, attired in traditional attire, ticks my name on his list, takes my temperature, offers a mask that I decline and hand sanitiser that I accept. With the new formalities that are now part and parcel of any visit to a public place in the country or indeed the world, he escorts me to the imposing building that is ornately decorated and stands like a small fort, commonly found across the former princely state.

A beautiful chandelier and traditional Rajasthani artefacts give the lobby a stunning look

Between the porch and the door of the main building that serves as the lobby and has the restaurants as well as a few shops is a beautifully built small pond with typical elements of the Rajasthani architecture such as canopies, statues and urns.

Just as I am about step in the lobby, my body temperature is measured again with another digital thermometre in order to account for the difference in the ambient temperature and the real temperature of the body since we are in peak summer period when the day temperature is seldom below 43 C and the minimum is in high 30s. I pass the second test, too, and am asked to sit in the lobby while another set of formalities are completed. While waiting for them to do the paperwork, I sip some water and look at the amazing lobby, whose predominant element is a massive chandelier that casts a lovely glow throughout the tastefully decorated lobby.

The formalities, tedious as they are, have been mandated by the government and a hotel of Oberoi’s standing would necessarily follow them word for word. Having filled a self-declaration form about my health and my travel history in the last 15 days as well as showing them the status of my Aarogya Setu app, a contract tracing app that basically serves as a data collector for the government about movements of the citizens but has had very limited real impact on preventing the pandemic from spreading in the country as the daily records in the numbers of new infections show.

All formalities behind us, I was asked by the hotel client relations manager if it were my first to the hotel and whether I would like a short tour, an offer that I delightfully accepted. So I hopped on to a golf cart and was shown around the lovely property with its swimming pool, a 300-year-old temple and some villas that can normally cost between INR 30,000 a night to INR 1.6 million, with the latter coming with its own private pool, private garden, butler and numerous other frills.

dining at oberoi rajvilas

All over the 32 acre property are several elements that add to the royal experience at the Rajvilas

As it was dusk, the entire tour was dominated by the chirping of thousands of birds that were returning home to their nests on the trees within the property and literally dozens of peacocks that are not domesticated but have made the Oberoi Rajvilas their permanent abode.

The tour over, we returned to the main building of the hotel and as my appetite was building up, we headed to the restaurant. When we entered Surya Mahal, I was floored. Right next to my table, the hotel had decorated the floor with a big Happy Birthday written with flowers.

As it happened, thanks to the pandemic, I was the only guest for the night and my experience was no less than a royal one. A table decorated with perfumed candles was set up right in the middle of a room and the ambience for the evening was set with some light classical music of a santoor playing in the background. I was handed a digital tablet with the menu for the evening and placed on the table was a printed paper with a QR code that one could scan with a smartphone to get the menu.

dining at oberoi rajvilas

A table and a room for one

The pandemic and restrictions imposed by the government ruled out a nice glass of red wine and the menu had been curtailed to account for lack of proper supplies. Curtailed it may have been, but it still left me spoilt for choice as I had a wide variety of items to select what I would be eating that evening.

So, instead of wine, I went for a glass of fresh watermelon juice, with a hint of ginger and lemon, to spice it up. The juice was just right in consistency and upped my appetite for the evening. For the food, I decided to go multicultural. I began with an Italian vegetable brodetto, essentially a soup with large chunks of vegetables. A generous helping of ground Parmesan cheese and a basket of warm, freshly baked bread were just the right assortments to go with the soup.

For the main course, I decided to go oriental and ordered a vegetarian Thai green curry with jasmine rice. The main course was equally delicious and I relished every spoonful of the meal. A bottle of sparkling water served as the beverage with the meal. I was pretty full with the meal itself and decided to skip the dessert. But then the hotel staff told me they had baked a special chocolate cake for me to celebrate the special occasion. Soon, the cake was in front of me, with the customary candles. As I blew the candles and cut the cake, my hosts burst warmly wished me even as I was digging into the delicious cake that seemed to be melting in my mouth.

All armed to fight the pandemic

Finally, I could not take another bite and asked for the check. But the pleasant surprises for the evening were not over yet. The staff gifted me two sets of handmade coasters with Rajasthani motifs. The total bill for the dinner was perhaps what an ordinary restaurant in New Delhi’s Khan market would have cost me, but without any of the excellent service and the warmth of the personnel who, despite being totally strangers, had managed to not only disprove my fears over how to celebrate the first birthday away from my family and close friends, but also managed to make it into one of the most memorable evenings of my life.

Having spent the last four months on reporting on the misery caused by the pandemic across the country, the dinner at Rajvilas proved to be just the right break that allowed me to recharge my batteries and get ready for the next round of field reporting.

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