27 Sep The Indian Touch -An enchanting sensory experience at GVK lounge by TFS Performa, T2,Mumbai International Airport
Chic luxury, sophisticated settings, great food and flavor, a vibrancy that speaks of a premium demeanor, and elements exuding opulence and grandeur. This in question is a dramatic traveler’s lounge, evoking royalty in its ambiance , known as the GVK lounge by TFS Performa located at the T 2 international airport in Mumbai; its first class lounge having anointed as the World’s Best Airport Lounge-First Class by the World Travel Awards, 2015.Which puts it in some sort of an acclaimed throne with standards set for every small element be it the setting, food, service ,hygiene, customer satisfaction perhaps, with the need to maintain consistency and live up to its winning medal.
Indian Touch festival : The ongoing month long “ Indian Touch festival “ at the lounge( which operates on two levels,) is a testament to the fact that TFS Performa stands tall in creating unprecedented initiatives in the category of ‘travel food’. After the most successful “Mumbai Food Festival” hosted last year, they are heralding a festival aptly named as the “Indian Touch” ,showcasing the delicacies of the varied regional cultures and a range of diverse arts and handicrafts that defines the culture of India.In short a wonderful milieu of art, handicrafts and flavors from specific regions. The lounge area is transformed into a cultural fest and gives you a peek into the rustic Indian culture of different regions and their premium cuisines. Well complimented with a customized setting and aided by beautiful lightings, myriad pop ups, motifs, effigies, paintings, a sitar artist , a hand-loom yarn showing the intricate work of handwoven art, décor at the entrance with the Kathakali dancer props , the effigies of the elements that define such culture, the presence of a palmist, the Chaiwala in his cycle and other value additions including the instant photographer who helps you capture these unique moments on camera and create beautiful memories. The festival takes you through not just a cultural food and culinary journey, but gives an insight of the diverse festivals and cultural elements through its décor and pop ups at the entrance. Overall, a great way to showcase the rich and diverse heritage of art and handicrafts of India to the international travelers and make their journey more memorable.
I call it an enchanting sensory experience that the traveler takes back with him . As I partook of the menu offerings, I realized that it is not just about the food but the whole scenario and aura that the festival manages to create with its well done up special decor trying to create a festival depicting a lifestyle of the cultural history of this diverse country named India.
TFS and the advent of travel food as a category: But even before I delineate my experience about the festival I halt to ponder about this whole new concept of lounges, or more so ‘travel food ’as a category that is fast growing, arduously providing an experience to travelers that never existed earlier. Today, the business lounges at the airports with all its privileges leaves you with an exhilarating experience. And TFS being the pioneers of promoting ‘travel food’ has largely been the contributors to this new found category and taking it up and creating a niche for itself, besides enriching the F & B experiences of a traveler. Airport lounges existed for long; but till recently ,they lived in a state of anonymity in public memory, until TFS emerged and changed the scenario .Travel food services or TFS( a K Hospitality group company), are the forerunners in propagating ‘travel food’ and has managed to introduce it as category. As pioneers, they operate most of the airport lounges of the country and other food joints in airports and railway stations as well, opening up a whole new category that seeks for attention now and slowly forming a formidable category. At the Mumbai International airport, TFS in association with Performa (part of Gategroup which is the leading independent global provider of onboard services to companies that serve people on the move) manages to create magic that takes it to the top of all airport lounges of the world.
Décor and hospitality: Revealing a plush, elegant décor, bold, royal hues and chic luxury, the dramatic business premium and first class lounge is tastefully decored. Lavishly furnished with dark hues of red sofas and brown wooden fixtures, it has a lot of indulgent options to offer to the traveler basis his need, desire or leisure. Right from when you enter your eyes are drawn towards a beautiful setting adorned with hues of bold red and complimented with a dash of white, gold and accessorized by a silver shine that compliments the wooden fixtures very aptly. Lit by beautiful mix of lights and chandeliers, it effectuates the brightness with its incandescent lighting emanating a certain class and vibrancy that evokes luxury and a certain warmth. Coupled with the welcoming stance of the contentious staff, their alacrity makes you comfortable.
As you enter, you are welcomed to a beautiful feel of the culture of our country ;as on either side of the entrance, the props ,motifs and decor depicts the different regional cultural history and art and makes you halt and ponder in gaze, with a desire to know more. The Kathakali form of art with its beauty while mesmerizing and intriguing to the unknown, the effigy of King Ravana on the right side of the entrance portrays the story of Ramayana. Beautiful ladies dressed in the traditional Maharashtrian attire greets you with smiles, while the sitar artist manages to offer you a soothing effect with his music. For the first time ever at an airport lounge,the traveler can also get a first hand experience of artisans creating colorful handicrafts, especially the hand-loom yarn, which showcases the art of the hand-woven craft and the live puppet making crafts. And for the excitement of astrology, there is also a palmist on site to add some fun. With all this fanfare, as you are led to the reception following a traditional welcome , the staff at the reception is extremely courteous who guide you to your seat. Efficient , warm ,courteous and lively which is a proof that TFS holds customer service and infallible etiquettes of hospitality as the utmost priority ensuring that they provide an enriching experience to the traveler creating memories of nostalgia and yum.
Food and Service: Representing varied traditional cuisines of the country, the buffet is an exotic fare, vast and diverse, comprising of authentic dishes of certain regions like Chhattisgarh, Assam, Bengal, Punjab, Mumbai, Rajasthan and South India. Like the Prawns Malai Chingri from West Bengal or the Laal Maas from Rajasthan, or the Bengali sweets or the Mughlai cuisine domineering over the luscious Chicken Biryani, all of them speak a story about its cultural history and the region that it represents perhaps. The buffet in general at the lounge is a multi-cuisine one with a mix of different International cuisines including a little of Indian food to it. However in lieu of the food festival, the spread has been specifically conceived by their talented and prolific chefs to include a diverse spread of Regional Indian delicacies.
The chef also added some unique and exquisite dishes that fall into the category of the current trend of fusion food that’s rising high on popularity charts amongst customers. I tried out the scrumptious looking Chicken Tikkas . They were prepared with a lot of thought and precision, is my belief as they evoked a display of fusion flavors . While the Pahadi Tikka is vintage stuff and boasted of the perfect match of flavors to the moist texture, it is the Goat Cheese Tikka and the Kasundi-Curry leaf Tikka that managed to hold my attention. The combination of curry leaves and kasundi worked to a great delectable dish . The meat is flavorful, juicy and perfectly cooked. A quite tete a tete with Chef Rajesh sealed my views on his talent and skills. A proof to the fact that the lounge can hold sophisticated flavors with great panache and élan.
Beverages and starters (Cocoanut Water/Papads/Chaats/Kathi Rolls/Chicken Tikkas): The décor and the value additions to the spread is what gives it a festival look. Along with the main square shaped buffet bar, with the salad and side dishes placed horizontally on the center, you are also exposed to a beautiful ‘Chaat Counter’ that’s devised on a roadside push cart kind of a design, just to give an element of authenticity of relishing these street special lip-smacking Chats and Bhels .This apart, the beverages counter is also designed in a similar style of a push cart with Cocoanut water being served the way it is at the street side , rising up as the highlighter. Creatively developed on the basis local drinks, you have a choice of Kokum Fizz or Aam Panna as well. Sandwiched between these carts are two baskets that holds varied Papads and Pickles. A rustic feel to the design of the carts and baskets is what gives a feel of the traditional cultural food festival. And before you walk out, right at the doorstep is a beautiful, humongous tray of numerous variety of ‘Mukhwas'( mouth fresheners for the unknown), that Indians are so fond of .
The spread is vast and massive, a confluence of cuisines and flamboyant regional flavors bunged together along with the Lasagnas and Sushis co-existing uniformly together in harmony. As with any Indian buffet, the Chats are the palate cleaners according to me, setting in the mood for the delicious spread ahead. So the Bhel and the Sev Puri was the start of the great meal that tickled my taste buds. They seemed perfectly balanced in the parameters of taste and flavors, sweet, tangy, spicy, and most importantly extremely hygienic. As you look around, searching for that perfect starters, the Kathi Rolls and Chicken Tikkas are the ones that enchant you with their appetizing look. Starting off with the Tandoor section, you suddenly turn slaves to those gorgeous, alluring Kathi Rolls that can’t be given a miss. Perfectly filled with succulent pieces of chicken, it paired well with the green chutney,while the Chicken Tikkas took the spread to a different level with its innovative flavor . Like I mentioned, the vintage Pahadi Chicken Tikka apart, the Goat Cheese Tikka and the Curry Leaf-Kasundi Tikka bowled me over. A perfect blend of two distinct cuisines working out a fantastic fusion flavor. The meat was tender and juicy and it combined well to create that Tikka. With a subtle smoky flavor it is very delicious .Amazing flavors and unique preparations should I say
Main course( Chicken Biryani/Prawns Malai Chingri/Laal Maas/Diwani Handi/Paneer Gravy): The Chicken Biryani that depicts a cultural cuisine from specific states of the country was absolutely brilliant. The aroma of the fragrant spice lingering, the subtle undertone of saffron gives it the desired punch. Soft pieces of chicken with the coating of the masala that sticks on to the rice is all that makes your meal so fulfilling.
The laas Maas was as authentic as it could be,with a red runny gravy that was super delicious with the soft meat absorbing the flavor into its flesh.The meat was so soft that it almost fell off the bone.Perfectly done .
But for me, the Prawns Malai Chingri was the epitome and star of the great mix of spread. A Bengali dish, that’s a part of their culinary dictionary, the gravy was perfectly creamy with the thick coconut milk. While the luscious prawns were engulfed in the gravy, it was perfect for me. Fresh and juicy, the prawns blended so well with the gravy as it absorbed the creamy gravy into its tender flesh lending a beautiful taste to it.
The Diwani Vegetable Handi and the Paneer Butter Masala were so distinctly unique that you almost are amazed at how can you cook up such an amazing veg curry or perhaps make a regular vegetarian curry so defining and exquisite. The vegetables in Diwani Handi were as crunchy as they should be as they bathed in a green gravy. The Kashmiri Dum Aloo was bursting with the spice flavors that lend a glorious taste to its runny gravy
Desserts (Bengali Sweets/Cheesecakes): As a food aficionado, while the buffet was a gastronomical delight for me that scored high on my parameters of taste, flavor and visual appeal, it was the hauntingly divine Bengali sweets that made me a slave to its taste. The mix of the Bengali spread of Sandesh and the English cheesecakes were stellar, each exhilarating and enchanting in their own taste. My favorite was the Lebu Sandesh , being a sucker for Bengali sweets as always
And if this isn’t enough, then the lounge also puts up a live ‘Jelebi counter’ for the guests to marvel and savor this most popularly loved Indian sweet.
Oriental and Continental Cuisine( Sushi/ Vietnamese Rolls/ Lasagna): This apart, the spread obviously had its share of other international regular cuisines to suit the taste of the international travelers. The oriental section of noodles and veggies were an absolute treat if you love Asian cuisines. The Prawn Sushi with Wasabi was perfectly done up with the right balance of piquant and pungent flavors ,while the Vietnamese Rolls took me by surprise with their paper thin soft texture and aesthetic appeal .And the Lasagna was pitch perfect not just in taste, and texture but on the parameters of visual appeal as well. With a plump layer of cheese on top and layered along with a copious amount of the tangy tomato based sauce, your food on plate feels perfect as you dig your fork into it.
And after this amazing culinary adventure, you are bound to feel a fulfillment that evokes a laidback sluggish feeling with a yearning for that special cup of Chai( refers to Tea in English). And much to your delight there is the ‘Chaiwala Bhaiyya’ with his bicycle by his side , ready with his ‘cutting chai’ to serve you.
Surpassing all standards TFS has elevated to a unique level of hospitality and innovations. To create a cultural food festival, transporting the look and feel to a heritage cultural mela (fair, so to say for the international readers and travelers) is unique in its own way and an work of art I say.
Lounge Privileges-Both the lounges, in spite of posing a different look and feel, is a representation of all elements of need, requirement, desire and luxury for a traveler. Be it great ambiance, luxurious feel, scrumptious spread of a buffet, need of a library and work stations ,or just a way of a small nap by the recliner chairs or even a foot massage at the Spa (franchised out to the popular brand of Soham Spa), or perhaps even a quite area to hold that last minute discussions on the presentation if you’re a corporate group of a few people heading abroad for that all so important conference/ meeting that could help you/your company crack that million dollar deal. All of them at one place. My experience has been an extremely good one, with its amazing food, courteous staff, luxurious royal ambiance and the beautiful showcase of the Indian culture through its festive feel that treats you to a sophisticated cultural mela.
Summary: While food festivals are a part of the marketing calendar for many thematic and premium restaurants, yet ; a festival that swears authenticity is the one that touches your soul. The ‘Indian Touch’ is one such food festival. A first of its kind at an airport lounge, it moves you with its impeccable spread and the overall customized ambiance, but the part which touched my soul apart from the great mix of spread and the thematic heritage decor is the courteous staff, and their great customer service which seems like their foremost aim, the management that frequently greets you to check if you are doing fine and the efficient servers and the overall eagerness of the staff to serve and ensure that you go back as a happy customer. So if you happen to be at the airport for a trip abroad , or perhaps going back home to your country, do step in and spend some time at this lounge. Festival or not, you will walk out with deliciously cherished memories and perhaps return back with a compelling reason to spend more time on your next voyage via the T2, international airport.