Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Earl's Regency Hotel, Kandy

One of the two wings of the Earl's Regency Hotel in Kandy. 
It's actually prettier than this in real life, but not a lot prettier...

Grubby, sweaty (despite the frighteningly efficient AC in the Lexus), smelling faintly of Frangipani and with the ugly sight of chained elephants still in our minds' eyes, we checked into the Earl's Regency Hotel in Kandy.

The hotel choice had been the source of much angst - a glance through TripAdvisor shows Sri Lankan hotel reviews are all Alpine in their nature - a collection of vertiginous ups and downs. It's like Marmite, there's so much love and hate you don't know who to believe. I went for the least dangerous-looking of the lot and it wasn't a bad choice at all, really.

The Earl's Regency is actually quite a small hotel with something in the region of 130-odd rooms (according to staff - the website says 104) - although it looks larger. The reception area screams 1970s, browns and brass with a lot of woodwork on display - but that's just Sri Lankan decor for you - it was actually opened by the Minister of Tourism in 1999.

The hotel looks from maps and so on as if it's just out of the centre of Kandy but the combination of snaking roads and the driving can mean a 15-20 minute schlep away from Kandy proper. It's by no means walking distance from town.

Check-in's fine, one of those 'take a seat and we'll bring the form to you (containing fields to fill in which you've already filled online but who am I to cavil) and welcome drinks of watermelon juice' jobs.

A balcony overlooking the Mahawelli River in Kandy. Truly lovely.

The room was rather beautiful, large and wooden-floored, overlooking the Mahawelli river doing its placid meandering thing. All mod cons are to be found here, bathrobes (tiny) and slippers, tea and coffee making, a nice enough bathroom with toiletries. There's a TV offering crackly reception and a minibar that was poorly stocked and didn't work properly. The accompanying cabinet has room for more choice - spirits, crisps and that sort of thing but they weren't in evidence. A bottle of wine in the fridge was half-drunk when we opened it, a swift complaint resolved after much Manuel-like 'me no drink this' play-acting.

The plumbing and AC worked, by no means a 'given' in a Sri Lankan hotel, by the way - although the bath took an age to drain and the toilet flush had to be shuggled around to stop it constantly draining from the cistern into the toilet. We asked housekeeping to take a look at this but they didn't. The room had a balcony which was a magical place to enjoy early evening drinks overlooking the lazy waters. Room service was excellent.

The 'Mountbatten Lounge' should offer a fine venue for a pre-dinner drink, but didn't. For a start, it has no bar - drinks are served from the well-stocked bar in the hotel's Indian restaurant which, if the truth were told, would have made a nicer bar than restaurant. The waiter didn't understand vodka dry Martini or any other combination of these words to produce possibly the world's most famous cocktail but did get 'Gin and tonic' so we resorted to the fallback. The only wine by the glass was a Chardonnay, but if you prefer Pinot Grigio or other varieties, you have the option of buying your own bottle. Getting enough ice into the G&T proved a mission, but we got there in the end by pulling together as a team.

The hotel has two outlets - Royal Spice reflecting Sri Lanka's strange obsession with Indian food (seen as 'more sophisticated' than Sri Lankan - and rubbing cheek-by-jowl with an equally mystifying love of 'Chinese' food) and Far Pavillions, the buffet operation which cranks out breakfast, lunch and dinner.

It's worth noting Kandy has limited eating out facilities. It's not really part of Sri Lankan culture to eat out, so you're likely to end up eating in your own or other hotels.

We ate at Royal Spice on our first night. The food is billed as 'Northern Indian' and wasn't at all bad at doing that, but it wasn't exactly ground-breaking - chicken makhani is hardly the pinnacle of Kashmiri eating. We sent back the undercooked murgh malai kebab, but generally enjoyed the meal which was pleasant if not outstanding. Given we live five minutes away from arguably the best Indian restaurant in the Emirates (The Ajman Kempinski's stunning, if expensive for where it is, Kashmiri joint Bukhara), it would be hard for us to be impressed by anyone's take on 'Northern Indian' food.

On our second night we dined at Far Pavilions. This was barely adequate buffet food, a mix of Indian, Sri Lankan and 'international' dishes that managed to do none of the three terribly well, although a tom yum soup on offer was very good. The desserts were awful international hotel buffet dessert selection fare and best not talked about.

Breakfast at Far Pavilions is a similarly strange affair - but it's hard to see what else you could do with a rainbow nation of visitors - there were Europeans, Sri Lankans, Malaysians, Indonesians, Koreans and Egyptians we managed to identify in an idle game of 'spot the strangest plate of food being consumed'. Watermelon, salt, croissant and scrambled egg nestled together on the plate with green salad won the day.

The egg station is in an enclosed room where the frying action takes place - this station is responsible for frying pork bacon, beef and chicken sausages, puri and other varieties of fried breads and eggs. The result is frequently little less than chaos, with milling crowds of guests proffering their cold plates Oliver-like for their chosen savoury to be placed thereon. I'm sure our Muslim fellow-guests would have been a great deal more disquieted to see the non-pork sausages handled with the same tongs as the bacon than we were.

Sri Lanka only does cold plates. Seriously.

The bacon is done on request, so you can wait a long time while your eggs cool unless you know how to work the system. Likewise, the toast machine is one of those conveyor belt numbers and takes three passes to actually toast the tiny slices of sweetish milk bread on offer. By the time you've fought to protect your slices of toast you're exhausted. I couldn't face the fray on day two and asked the staff if they could possibly provide some toast. Of course they could, sir. Of course they didn't.

It's important to note that "Yes" means a number of things in Sri Lanka. It can mean 'I do not have the authority to give you what you have asked for' and also 'I have severe attention deficit disorder and my assurance will be forgotten, along with the nature of your request, in about two seconds' and it can be certainly interpreted as 'I do not want to disappoint you or appear rude but I have no idea of what you are asking me'. It certainly never, ever actually means yes. The sooner we work this out and accept it, the happier we will all be, trust me.

We didn't use the pool, but it looked very nice. The hotel's in two blocks, one above reception and the restaurants, one slightly removed - we thought booking the reception block was a good idea. Overall, this was an enjoyable experience. We used the hotel as a base for some long trips out, so really didn't see it other than breakfast and drinks/dinner. But the service was generally fine (always friendly if frequently ineffectual) and returning to Kandy, we'd certainly come back here again. And yes, you read that right. By the time we'd checked out of the Earl's Regency, we'd recanted our 'never again' vow and become fascinated by Sri Lanka.

The reason why is partly a result of how we spent our first day. But for that you'll have to wait until tomorrow...
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Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

I stayed there back in 2008, and other than vastly improved photographs, no longer looks like a cell-block, the service remains as it was, tolerable to poor!

I would recommend the ground-floor rooms in the extension for your next trip.

Some peculiar memories:
the one and only time I have had pizza as room-service;
watching Chelsea live on huge tv screen in room.

The hotel breakfasts were always eye-opening and I agree the lack of Sri Lankan cuisine in hotels is puzzling.

Finally, that trip was the last time I ever bought a Babycham, I did not consume, in a hotel converted from a tea factory surrounded by a sea of leeks, which imposed a rigorous dress code on male diners, surreal!

Alexander McNabb said...

Would that be the Tea Factory in Nuwara Eliya?

We thought to avoid the extension 'cos of the schlep from all the restaurants!

And, answering your earlier question (so rude not to before but a tad busy right now), no I couldn't post from Sri Lanka - apart from the Earl's Regency, we were resolutely offline! :)

Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

Yes that is the one, at night the room was freezing, we woke up to request more bedding, and that was early June!

That was the only one of the five hotels we stayed without internet connection, so it seems Sri Lankan connectivity has regressed!

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