For a thirteen-year-old belonging from a typical middle-class family walking into a five star (so called) hotel can be a harrowing experience. Usually, five stars meant shower caps, miniature soaps and some lotions which were always a part of gifts when my father returned from a tour or some relative came to meet our family. Forget staying for a night even a meal was out of the question. So finally when I was entering Great Eastern Hotel to attend an audio cassette launch from my father’s organisation it was both a celebration as well as a bunch of unfulfilled expectation.
Great Eastern Hotel for me was like what we associate Harrods of London. It was much more than just a hotel but a shopping destination for many. From Queen Elizabeth II, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain and many other luminaries it was my turn to step into the “Jewel of the East”.
However by then (1990’s) the hotel was is a complete despair, by then the city had other star hotel and combined with bad unionism the hotel was just a name and had no service facility as such. While the program was underway I could spot cat sized rats running around. The waiters and servers were wearing their traditional white uniform which had almost turned yellow due to their over usage. The food was the worst part, sandwiches were just two pieces of bread with an unknown stuffing somehow assembled to resemble a sandwich. All that charm suddenly was gone right out of the window.
The last time that I had visited was in the year 1998 when I had gone there to attend a Tourism Quiz on behalf of my school hosted by the state government and by then the hotel had gone from bad to worse. The noodles that we were served in boxes tasted bland, even the street vendor selling Chow Mein and Rolls could cook better.
Forwarding to the year 2016 and I am obviously not a kid anymore and years of corporate and passion travelling meant staying at many star hotels and by then the memories of Great Eastern Hotel had almost faded. With Christmas fast approaching I was extremely busy preparing for the annual event and for a change I had kept my blogging hobby in a mute mode. Christmas obviously for our family is a big occasion and baking Christmas fruit cakes are much more than a tradition for us it’s a part of the festivity actually. So for me, Christmas cakes always would mean only home baked cakes.
Being a blogger has its own perks and one fine day I was informed that my friend Sukanto would be dropping by with a special “Christmas Surprise” from the bakeries of Great Eastern Hotel. Yes, this is the same Great Eastern hotel which how has been rechristened as The Lalit Great Eastern Hotel. Initially it was decided that the surprise would be given to me at my house but due to some reason, it was changed to my office address at Park Street. Meeting at Park Street has its own set of problems due to the one-way traffic rule and if it’s at 1 PM then it can become a nightmare since there is a shift in the direction of one-way traffic.
After much confusion finally, I was able to meet up with him in front of Chatterjee International Building on J L Nehru Road. Now finally the surprise was here with me, a big red box with something mysterious objects. Since I was attending office thus decided to skip opening up and wait till I reach home in the evening.
Seeing a bright red box in my hand my daughter was ecstatic and hurriedly opened up to discover a treasure trove of goodies which included a Fruit Cake, Cookies, Masala Bread and Muffins. Sharing this with others was the obvious option and one person who I definitely wanted to share these was with my father. Long gone are those days of Great Eastern Hotel with the new management and a completely renovated hotel one thing which has remained constant was the heritage and tradition. Once the bakeries of this hotel were renowned for its cakes and savouries and that tradition has lived on.
The products were really fresh just out of the oven, the freshness can be easily smelt in their masala bread. The crunchy cookies were just taken away by my wife Smita and I had to settle down for the muffins which are my all-time favourite.
Gone are those days of old Great Eastern Hotel under the new management this place has become a one-stop shop for the best of hospitality along with some of the finest restaurants. If you ever happen to visit this place then you must visit The Bakery which is their official bakery. This place is very special as this was the exact spot for the old original bakery and one can still see the old oven which has now been converted into a seating area. Some of the old equipment can also be seen around the property which has been kept as a souvenir of the glorious past.
A few weeks back I had written a blog about Traditional Christmas Cake Shops in Kolkata which obviously included the Great Eastern Bakeries but ironically I had not tasted the products from this outlet so finally my earlier blog was complete and The Lalit Great Eastern Hotel along with its bakery was back “Like a Phoenix Rising from the Ashes”.