Aristocratic Frenchman Scripts an F&B Success Story at Accor’s 100th Pullman in New Delhi Aerocity
TRISTAN Beau de Lomenie has the natural finesse of a Frenchman and the gut instinct of a consummate hotelier. This unbeatable combination became apparent to me when the General Manager Delegate of the Pullman and Novotel, New Delhi Aerocity, turned the menu of the 140-cover Pluck restaurant on its head. What started out as a 100 per cent European restaurant serving brasserie food is synonymous today with cutting-edge Modern Indian Cuisine.
“I would have been crazy to push French cuisine into Pluck,” de Lomenie said to me as I gorged on the most delectably cheesy gougeres I have had in a long time (they’d been brought to the general manager for tasting). “I very quickly realised I had to add an Indian element, so I said to my chefs, this is your lab, I want you to experiment,” the aristocratic Frenchman continued, adding that it was his strategy to “do away with a traditional, buffet-led all-day restaurant.”
De Lomenie’s plan seems to be working. If at Pluck the Deconstructed Mulligatawny Soup and the pairing of Roghan Josh with Risotto Khichdi are making waves, Honk, the Pan Asian restaurant a level below, is getting rave reviews for serving Asian street food in a contemporary style that does not crimp the original flavours, even as it keeps pushing the creative envelope on decor, plating and table tops.
As team leader, de Lomenie believes in empowering his team, which explains why he’s giving a free rein to his talented team of Culinary Director Ajay Anand, F&B Director Vishrut Gupta, Head Mixologist Topesh Chatterjee and Sommelier Kriti Malhotra to make the hotel a food and beverage destination.
“I want to erase the notion that airport hotels can’t be known for their food and beverage offerings,” de Lomenie said, watching me make the gougeres disappear. Turning to his personal style, he said: “I like to give a lot of space to people. I say to each one of the employees, ‘Use this hotel to showcase your talent’.”
Having seen Accor since 1987, when he joined the growing global chain (it recently acquired Raffles, Fairmont and Swissotel) and was posted to Muscat as an assistant food and beverage manager, de Lomenie knows very well that the stakes are high in the hotel complex he heads in New Delhi Aerocity. He has created the 100th Pullman in the world, which because of the landmark it represents is grander than the rest of the family. It is also for the first time that Accor has invested so heavily in a hotel — 32 per cent; the balance being provided by Indigo founder-owner Rahul Bhatia‘s company, InterGlobe Enterprises, and the Singapore sovereign fund, GIC. And for the first time in its history, the group has allowed a Pullman and a Novotel to come up together in the same complex.
The general manager delegate therefore carries a heavy burden of expectations and yet he’s fighting the competition with one hand tied behind his back. The two hotels have a combined inventory of 670 keys, but de Lomenie can operate only 375 because of red flags raised by security agencies against all Aerocity hotels. Pullman has an executive lounge, but it cannot be operated because it overlooks the runway. And the two hotels did not have a liquor licence till quite recently. Yet, de Lomenie has kept hopes afloat by making F&B central to his story, although he’s very much aware that “F&B is like bicycling — you have to keep pedalling harder”.
De Lomenie’s pure passion for F&B goes back to his education at Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, the iconic Swiss hotel management school, and it helps that his wife Isabelle owns a chateau in Barsac, Bordeaux, but moving into India three years ago has also been an education for him.
“Before coming here, I had pictured India as being very conservative on matters regarding food and beverage, but I have realised that people here are very open to new ideas and new products,” de Lomenie said, putting the evolution of Pullman New Delhi Aerocity as an F&B destination in perspective. It also did not take him long to figure out that the market is “curious but not very loyal” — and that it gets bored very quickly.
What, then, is the strategy to turn “a new hotel in a new and unknown destination” into a foodie magnet? “We’ve got to be progressive, aggressive and innovative in order to become a food destination,” de Lomenie explained. “F&B has got to be the vibration of the hotel. And we need to tell stories about every element of the food experience.”
Nowhere is this philosophy better expressed than in the ‘farm’, a kitchen garden that replaced what was to be a landscaped garden so that the chefs and bartenders could have their own supply of vegetables and herbs through the year. “It is not a gimmick,” de Lomenie said. “I want to be able to trace where our vegetables come from.” The hotel now has an exclusive arrangement with a farm in Chhattarpur for its year-round requirement of vegetables.
People tend to write off Aerocity hotels, but de Lomenie brims over with confidence. He points to the hotel data benchmarking service STR Global‘s report that says Delhi’s occupancy levels have gone up because of the new demand created by the Aerocity. “And I am just at the start of the Aerocity success story,” de Lomenie said, pointing out that the neighbourhood will have the International Monetary Fund‘s first regional office for South/South-East Asia as well as the offices of Airbus, Bombardier, World Food Organisation, and a host of other reputed names. They will all be operating out of the Bharati Realty‘s three Worldmark complexes, which have inject 1.5 million square feet of office and commercial space into the Delhi market.
With so much happening around him, de Lomenie cannot rest easy. “We should be ready for the big boom in the Aerocity,” he said as I had my last gougere and shook hands with him. There was a quite determination in his bright eyes.