The Paris palace hotel scene is burning: the Ritz closed in August 2012 for refurbishment, and the Hôtel de Crillon followed suit in April of this year. The Peninsula is on its way, and the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme was promoted to official “palace” status in 2011. Things are heating up, because with that previously informal palace status now being bestowed – or removed – by French tourism authorities, the heavyweight hotels can’t afford to be out of the club. The bar is being raised.
The Shangri-La Hotel, which opened at the end of 2010, is a relative newcomer and still – officially – earning its stripes. But as with the now much maligned Michelin star system – so what? The Shangri-La Hotel and its regulars could care less: it’s one of the few hotels in the city to operate from inside an actual palace, and it has the best views of the Eiffel Tower of any hotel in the city. And by many accounts, with its delicate fusion of Parisian grandeur and Asian luxury motifs, it’s the best luxury hotel in Paris.
Originally built in 1896 as a home for Napoleon Bonaparte’s great nephew Roland, the Shangri-La Hotel is still ready for its close up. All day, a succession of vintage and current-day sports cars loiter at the front of the hotel, posing for pictures, while inside, three salons on the first floor – former ballrooms – have been lovingly restored to their 19th century grandeur. The wooden floors are original, while the beautifully ornate wall decorations, ceilings and cornicings of the immensely proportioned rooms have been faithfully recreated (using a fantastic quantity of gold leaf in the process). A bee, Roland’s emblem, appears everywhere, as does his initial “B”.
The palette of grey-blue, gold and a deep green seen here continues into the rest of the hotel. So too does the feeling of luxury: the bed in our suite was the widest Civilian had ever seen. It could sleep a family, though they might have to jettison some of the half-dozen immense pillows. We had to wonder: where do they get the bed linen to fit?
Three on-site restaurants include Shang Palace, serving Cantonese dishes. On our recent Monday afternoon visit, the space was busy with local ambassadorial and business types, and one mature gentleman with the kind of vertical grey hair, plunging neckline and jewellery that suggested he was “somebody”. We Googled a picture of Johnny Hallyday. It wasn’t him.
There are classic dim sum like siu mai and har kao as well as more unusual examples, and several pages’ worth of meat and fish dishes. It’s odd to see “chef’s recommended dishes” on the menu at a restaurant that has a Michelin star, but perhaps we were foolish not to follow this advice, since a wok-fried sliced beef dish with sugar snaps wasn’t quite as distinguished as we’d have expected. That said, a minced pigeon dish was on par with the same dish that famously tops the menu at Mr Chow. While Civilian’s eyes are customarily larger than its stomach, we should have drawn the line at one of the unsurprisingly dispensible desserts, a mango cream with pomelo.
Upstairs, L’ Abeille is the Shangri-La Hotel’s gastronomique restaurant – a sumptuous dining room furnished in luxe silver, grey and taupe, bathed in the soft light of two Michelin stars. We can’t vouch for it personally, but reliable reports peg chef Phillippe Labbé’s work as being on par with Ducasse at the Plaza Athenee and Eric Briffard at Le Cinq. What we can vouch for is the proper use of the term “gourmand” on the breakfast menu at the hotel’s third dining space, La Bauhinia. It makes us want to offer violence when we encounter the word used as an interchangeable, less 1980s term for “gourmet”. It doesn’t mean that at all. In La Bauhinia, as your frothy cappuccino arrives with the Shangri-La Hotel’s logo sprinkled on the top of far too much foam, you can order from the “pour les gourmands” section of the breakfast menu: choose from “pancakes au sirop d’érable” or “crépes de froment au sucre ou au chocolat”. And then get yourself downstairs to the gym, fast.
Service throughout the Shangri-La Hotel is overwhelmingly friendly, courteous and helpful. The concierge team was able to arrange, at very short notice, our timed-entry tickets to an exhibition at the neighbouring Musée d’Art Moderne; afterwards, the concierge discussed the show with us with genuine interest and enthusiasm. We wondered if staff are despatched to view the current shows there and at the adjoining Palais de Tokyo as part of their training or if, better, that’s just something they like to do of their own volition.
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A freshly minted spa (the health club and pool opened at the end of 2012) is located in the lower levels, as is a substantially sized indoor swimming pool. (Here, as in every other hotel spa Civilian can think of, the changing rooms are equipped with some of the tiniest slippers known to man. In some anonymous factory in the middle of nowhere, a conveyor belt is churning these out ad infinitum, presumably beneath a marquee emblazed “One Size Fits None”.) While the pool setting is classic, with columns either side and a trompe l’oeil ceiling so backstrokers can gaze into a false sky, an adjoining outdoor seating area looks substantially more contemporary, all raw wood and wrought iron (but with a view onto an admittedly quiet side-street).
When twenty new garden suites open in the summer of 2013, the Shangri-La Hotel will have 101 rooms in total. A number of these give spectacular views onto the Eiffel Tower – although, as Roland considered Gustave Eiffel’s monument rather infra dig, the fabulously ornate grand suite which was once the master bedroom doesn’t face the Tower. For those of us more generously inclined towards it, there can be few experiences more pleasurable than lying in the big bathtub, or on one of the Shangri-La Hotel’s monumentally huge beds, watching the magnesium-bright flashes of the Eiffel Tower’s hourly night-time light-show skitter and dash around the gold-lit structure come midnight. Luxury and glamour all in one: we think the Shangri-La Hotel is Paris to a “T”. C
Shangri-La Hotel, 10 Avenue d’Iéna 75116 Paris
+33 1 53 67 19 98; shangri-la.com