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The Lalit Grand Palace Srinagar ticks all the boxes: chef Vijay Dubey

A chat on all things food and hospitality with the executive chef of the heritage palace hotel

Karo Christine Kumar | Published 05.08.22, 05:54 PM
Chef Vijay Dubey, and dishes from the hotel

Chef Vijay Dubey, and dishes from the hotel

Delhi boy Vijay Dubey is the executive chef at one of the most celebrated luxury properties in India – The Lalit Grand Palace Srinagar. Under the cool shade of a Chinar tree, and over a hot plate of Tandoori Himalayan Trout, he shared updates with My Kolkata about hospitality trends in Kashmir, food recommendations, and even a sneak peek into a recent high-profile event at the ‘Maharaja of the Mountains’. 

My Kolkata: Chef, some of the country’s most high-profile guests check into this palace hotel. Can you share details of any recent event?

Vijay Dubey: The 80th birthday of Sajjan Jindal’s mother-in-law, Urmila Kanoria, was held in the palace in April. It was attended by his close-knit family, including the owners of Modi Mills and Dabur. The menu featured Indian and Oriental cuisine, and our chaats were appreciated in particular, because one is often unsure about the chaats in this end of the country. Mr Jindal keeps visiting, he was here a few months ago for a golfing trip. The Royal Springs Golf Course, close to the property, is one of the best in India, and he flew in with his buddies on a private jet. 

(His wife Sangita Jindal, who was born in Kolkata, has signed an MoU with the floriculture department to restore the glory of Srinagar’s famous Shalimar and Nishat Gardens)

What are four dishes or meals you would recommend at The Lalit Grand Palace Srinagar?

  • Our Himalayan Trout (fish), grilled or from the tandoor. It is a freshwater fish that can only survive in running water; there are trout farms in Dachigam National Park that breed the fish 
Tandoori Himalayan Trout

Tandoori Himalayan Trout

The Lalit Grand Palace Srinagar
  • Gucchi or morel, the coveted mushroom found in the Himalayan foothills. The urban legend is that these mushrooms pop up with the sound of thunder and lightning! It is available on the menu as a starter, Tandoori Gucchi, in the main course as Masala Gucchi, as a rice preparation, Gucchi Pulao, and we even have a morel risotto 
  • The Wazwan, of course. We even serve vegetarian and vegan versions. The vegetarian wazwan has haak saag, which is native to Kashmir, Nadru (lotus stem) Yakhni, Kashmiri rajma and Kashmiri dum aloo. 
  • The chaatsaloo tikkis and golgappas. We prepare it for private events, but sometimes it is part of the dinner buffet.

Can you break down the guest demography and profile, and room occupancy?

Currently, 95 per cent of our guests are Indian, from cities like Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi. Around 15-20 per cent of our guests come from the east. 

If we look at the whole year, then leisure guests would be around 70 per cent. People come here to relax and unwind. The rest would be business guests, especially for big conferences, parliamentary committees and government heads. Recently, a group of 40 CEOs visited Srinagar to look for investment opportunities in Kashmir. So, the way the government is looking at Kashmir is positive, they want development to come into play. 

Around 70 percent of the guests travel for leisure

Around 70 percent of the guests travel for leisure

The Lalit Grand Palace Srinagar

The hotel is also a popular wedding destination, and the Gandhi Chinar Garden Lawn is in demand for functions because of the view it offers of the Dal Lake and the Zabarwan mountain range. The current occupancy is 40 per cent – it has dipped because of the restrictions imposed due to the ongoing Amarnath Yatra – and is expected to go up after August.

The Gandhi Chinar Garden Lawn

The Gandhi Chinar Garden Lawn

The Lalit Grand Palace Srinagar

As a destination venue, was the hotel impacted during the pandemic?

Destination hotels across India were less affected during the pandemic. People wanted secluded and large spaces they could escape to, and all those boxes were ticked by the palace. We must remember that Kashmir was still recuperating after the 2014 floods and then the pandemic happened. The influx of tourists in the last one year has been tremendous, with April to June seeing the highest number of tourists in the last decade. 

(Over 79 lakh tourists visited J&K between October 2021 and March 2022 - source ANI)

‘People wanted secluded and large spaces they could escape to during the pandemic, and all those boxes were ticked by the palace.’ says the chef

‘People wanted secluded and large spaces they could escape to during the pandemic, and all those boxes were ticked by the palace.’ says the chef

The Lalit Grand Palace Srinagar

Tell us more about the Bollywood connection with the palace hotel! 

From the ’60s to the late ’70s, numerous Bollywood films were shot on the property (and in Kashmir), before Europe became more accessible. Many big stars would stay in the palace for months. The main Palace Wing was also known as the Bollywood Wing, and the rooms were occupied by the likes of Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and, of course, Shammi Kapoor, who shot at least a dozen films here like Tumse Achha Kaun Hai (1969) and Andaz (1971). The story goes that Shammi Kapoor had flight phobia, so he had a driver who’d drive him all the way from Bombay to Srinagar! He was such a regular there, that a garden in the palace is named after him. 

When you enter the palace there is a hut on the left side, where the superhit song from Bobby, starring Dimple Kapadia and Rishi Kapoor, was filmed. And in recent years, Student of the Year, where Siddharth Malhotra, Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt made their debut.

A grab from the trailer of ‘Student of the Year’, parts of which were filmed in Kashmir

A grab from the trailer of ‘Student of the Year’, parts of which were filmed in Kashmir

Finally, having lived in Kashmir for nine months now, can you recommend a few places to eat outside the hotel?

  • Makai Point, on the banks of Dal Lake, named after the roasted corn that is available there. 
  • Tujj Point, also along Dal Lake, which gets its name from tujj or barbecued skewered meat.
Stalls selling Tujj are found across Kashmir

Stalls selling Tujj are found across Kashmir

Karo Christine Kumar
  • Krishna Dhaba, a famous vegetarian dhaba in Durganag, Srinagar.
  • The local bakeries for sheermal, kulcha and other breads, along with the local speciality noon chai.
  • In Gulmarg, try the food at the restaurant in Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa, and in Pahalgam, at Welcome Hotel.
Last updated on 05.08.22, 06:12 PM
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