Published in The Independent, October 2010
Stepping inside The Sheraton’s Vintage Restaurant feels like rewinding the clock by two centuries and travelling a few thousand miles westwards. The lighting in the antique-themed restaurant is as low as that cast by paraffin lamps; it throws a warm glow over a brass gramophone that rests on the ledge of the welcome desk. Pencil sketches of some of the earliest automobiles adorn the restaurant’s oak panelled walls and an elegant piano provides a focus point in the first of three intimate dining areas. Its player, dressed in a crisp suit and tie, taps out instrumental classics and smiles gently between bursts of deep concentration. Only a five-star attention to detail can succeed in creating an atmosphere of old world charm – The Vintage replicates history where other similarly-themed restaurants can only imitate it. The final result is unapologetically exclusive, lavish and decadent.
Even before the first drinks are poured and presented, waiters dressed to the nines offer diners a steaming cotton hand towel to refresh weary hands and faces. It’s the first of a long line of luxuries that diners will inevitably receive at The Vintage – and, depending on your preferences – the experience may conclude with a fat Brazilian cigar. After a few sips from a glass of crisp Nottage Hill chardonnay, I felt as though I was melting into the plush cushions lining my seat. A pleasurable sensation indeed.
The Vintage Restaurant, which is located on the ground floor of the behemoth Sheraton complex, lacks windows, which is a boon for those who enjoy (or even require) low profile dining. An ample amount of mirrors stave off a closeted feeling, instead providing a gentle cosiness. The surroundings are not dissimilar to those of the Titantic’s first class dining room – a resemblance that was amplified when the piano player, purely by chance, performed the romantic ballad from the Hollywood blockbuster of the same name. Regardless of whether it’s a testament to the film, the restaurant or the tragic event itself – my first and fleeting instinct was to check that my antique brass plate wasn’t shaking.
Due to the privacy The Vintage affords and the lavishness that has been associated with The Sheraton brand for more than 80 years, few places in Dhaka – if any – are likely to rival its exclusiveness. Indeed, after the Sheraton’s Food and Beverage Manager Jayedul Chowdhury described his restaurant’s clientele as businesspeople and politicians, he indulged this reviewer in a quick game of “name the famous guests.”
“Has Sheikh Hasina dined here?” I enquired.
“Many times,” said Jayedul, before adding, “For professional functions.”
“Khaleda Zia too?” I asked – and received the same response.
“What about sports stars?” quipped The Independent’s photographer.
Sachin Tendulkar, one of the world’s greatest batsmen, was the first name to come to Jayedul’s mind.
However business was surprisingly slow last Tuesday evening. A small group of foreign guests occupied the rear dining area (which can be booked without extra charge for 10 people or more and even boasts a sliding wall for added privacy) and a lone customer, identified by Jayedul as a regular, sipped red wine at a table adjacent to the entrance of the kitchen. Whilst it’s true that only a select minority of Dhakaites can afford the luxury of eating at a five-star restaurant, I nevertheless wondered why there weren’t more customers. Jayedul was quick to point out that Thursday is by far the busiest night of the week, but cited the restaurant’s location in Shabagh as an obstacle to attracting more diners. Since the Sheraton opened in Dhaka in 1984, the hub of fine-dining and business activity has moved northwards to Gulshan – and it has taken many of the wealthiest residents with it. Diplomats, businesspeople and the like prefer to avoid an hour or so in Dhaka’s heavy traffic and are instead dining locally in one of Gulshan’s many upmarket restaurants, explained Jayedul. “Many customers remain very fond of The Vintage,” he added in conclusion to my query.
Such loyalty arises from the “unparalleled quality” of the steaks and lobster that dominate the menu at The Vintage, believes Chef Pintu Rozario. He described local red meats as “lacking in tenderness,” which is why The Vintage imports 100 percent of its steaks – the majority arriving from Australia. Lobsters, however, are sourced from the Padma and Jamuna Rivers. I chose a lobster salad as an entrée and an Australian rack of lamb for a main. I was delighted when no less than two lobsters, beautifully presented, arrived on my plate with a salad nestled delicately in between. However I was slightly confused by the presence of olives amongst the lettuce, as they were something of a distraction from the delicate taste of the crustaceans’ flesh. The rack of lamb, whilst also being generous in quantity, had a disappointing amount of fat left on the bone. Yet both these points are but minor criticisms of a highly enjoyable dining experience. The cheesecake and ornate chocolates that followed complemented the decadence of the meal perfectly. The service was impeccable. All in all, The Vintage Restaurant is in a class of its own.
The Vintage Restaurant is open from 7pm – 11pm from Saturday to Thursday and offers lunch on request. Set dinner menus are available for groups of around 40 people. Bookings can be made on the same day of dining – call 02 833 0001 or for more information, visit www.sheraton.com/dhaka