Branded luxury

Pod in Nungambakkam is all about celebrating minimalism and high luxury designs uniquely
The hotel's reception area
The hotel's reception area

I&nbspdrove up to Pod in Nungambakkam on the evening of a long day, assailed by the profound urge to switch off. It was an unfair frame of mind with which to meet, leave alone review, anybody. Half an hour and a quick tour later, my world was a quiet, beautiful place with a quirky sense of humour and a fuzzy kind of glow (I think the word is comfort), and I was fairly rubbing my hands in anticipation. It was time for dinner.

Pod (not even a &lsquoThe&rsquo prefix) celebrates minimalism uniquely. The driveway is silent with watchful trees and embedded lights that look like a handful of stars have been scattered about the path. Glass constructs the reception, the walkway leading to the rooms, and over half of the prominently visible restaurant &mdash I was told the house-keeping staff cleans panes at least eight times a day, sometimes more. More than once, I wished for rain just to see it fall on them.  Languidly drifting leaves compensated.

The room numbers are circles appliqu&eacuted into translucent plastic panels, and read unitarily (one circle, and then nine vertical circles, added up to my 19). House guests enter the apartment-like hush of the rooms using swipe cards. The long desk-counter in the rooms is encased in nearly black leather. The floor is a dark wood. The muted blacks, browns and whites go well with the startling reds that show up regularly. Visually, geometry rules with a gentle hand. In fact, even though Pod looks very haute in pictures, the experience of it is welcoming (the warm and helpful service surely has something to do with this), and intimate.

Pod takes design seriously. Every object in the interior and exterior space of this hotel is by high-end luxury labels like Brand Van Egmond (customised in red for the first time on the stairs leading to the restaurant), Sicis (bathroom tiles), B&ampB Italia (sofas, beds), LigneRoset (furniture, lights, accessories, the metallic but non-glittery fabric of the seating in the bar), Poliform (wardrobe) and Kartell (lights). Owners AtulMehrotra and VikramPhadke, also the co-founders of Evoluzione, the pioneering luxe furniture and design store, say Pod has benefited from the import license they hold, their long association with some of the world&rsquos leading design houses, and their regular visits to the Milan Fair. What they have created is global, contemporary and desultorily sophisticated but not intimidating. The grape-coloured B&ampB Italia sofa in my room was certainly the most comfortable piece of furniture I have ever encountered, especially with a book.

The Indian touches are brilliant and original, and not the least bit contrived. The droll, Madras-inspired wall illustrations and stationery are by Himanshu Dogra&rsquos Delhi-based studio, Illum, bed covers and throws are by Abraham & Thakore, some of the accessories are by Vikram Goel, the bar looks like a silver skirt, a 200-year old Mughal roof is used as a contemporary wall panel, and the sleekly mounted, unvarnished wood yazhis (mythical beasts with the head of a lion and the body of a horse) that sat beside my laptop had probably travelled from the arch of an old house or ruined temple in the Tamil hinterland.

The property, where once stood the venerable Max Mueller Bhavan, since shifted to nearby Rutland Gate, keeps its old building though nobody would guess. Best of all, Pod graciously concedes centre stage to the grand old trees that line the driveway and tower over the lap pool, aglow in moody lights. Phadke says he used so much glass just so the trees could be seen from everywhere. They are, they are.

There is no restaurant quite like Absolute in Chennai, and house guests can reach it by an elevator painted with pure drama &mdash best understood when the doors slide open. Pretty oxymorons hold court &mdash the flatware is discreetly European but the plush sofas look like they belong in a &lsquo70s American diner, and the glass wing of the restaurant is air-conditioned sunshine during the day. Enter, then, a space where &lsquothe restaurant is a theatre, the dining area is a stage, guests are the audience, the menu is a script, the chef is an artist, food is a piece d&rsquo art, and every day the curtain rises for another performance&rsquo. The salmon comes from Norway, the organic polenta cake is from Auroville, the Vienoserrie is baked fresh, all sausages are prepared onsite and the first authentic water bar in Asia with 12 super-premium pure bottled waters curated from five continents is right here. The setting is almost educative. Handmade felt screens by Rajesh Pratap Singh are juxtaposed with plastic Louis Ghost chairs by Philippe Starck. Makes you realise that the ethnic-oblique-heritage ambience that sets many hospitality design standards these days is actually becoming overdone.

The gripes, summoned with some difficulty Apple TV is promised but loaded only with some music, I had to tiptoe to get a decent look at my bust in the lone bathroom mirror, and if there was a health faucet, I never did find it. While Absolute certainly wins my vote for a superlative fine-dining restaurant, and I discovered some truly fantastic dishes there, but after two meals of theatre, drama etc., I longed for something basic. A meal for two costs Rs 4,000. Note, Continental breakfast is on the house.Pod Hotels&rsquos complimentary touches are sweet one-way transfers, in-room locker, all light refreshments in the mini-bar with promise of refills, and broadband Wi-Fi connectivity. I never could fathom why luxury hotels cavilled over the little things. Pod is setting what I hope will be a trend. Pod&rsquos location also deserves mention it&rsquos bang in the middle of Madras and its coolest shopping district, but preserves whisper-soft tranquillity. Nothing is far &mdash if you are here during the December Music Season, the best sabhas are 15 minutes away, it&rsquos the same with Pondy Bazaar&rsquos rabbit warren of dubious treasures, and I whizzed to the Marina for my morning walk in 8 minutes flat. Two more little-big things same-day laundry service is arranged on request, the lap pool is open 24 hours, and the signature bathrobes in the room made me feel like Michelle Pfeiffer. I am rarely struck speechless but for this to happen severally over a couple of days is significant.

The information

Where&nbspKhader Nawaz Khan Road, Nungambakkam, Chennai (30 minutes from airport, 20 minutes from railway station)
Accommodation 19 rooms (6 premium singles, 7 premium pluses, 6 luxury), 1 suite
Tariff Rs 7,950 (premium single), Rs 9,750 (premium plus), Rs 10,750 (luxury), 
Rs 15,275 (suite)

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