Review: Saint James Paris


It’s not for all tastes, but this Through the Looking Glass chateau property and private members club in the 16th has much to recommend. Jack Hanley reviews the Saint James Paris

Picture: Civilian Paris

Picture: Civilian Paris

Of all the things the Parisians pull off with aplomb, it’s their way with leopard-print that I most admire. In the US, it has the same meretricious vulgarity as hot pink PVC and creased dollar bills poking out of nylon lace trim. In Paris, for some reason, it usually works.

There’s a fair bit of leopard at the Saint James Paris, for years a slightly fusty private member’s club and now a much groovier one, mixed with a 48 room hotel, spa, restaurant and bar, all presented under the Relais & Châteaux umbrella in a striking chateau property in the 16th ar­­rondissement. If this building were on the Rue St Honoré, it’d be nightmarish, mobbed with idiots wearing sunglasses indoors. As it is – with not much in the way off passing foot traffic, though it’s just a short walk from the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower – it feels as much a discovery as a destination.

The implausibly and rather fabulously named Bambi Sloan was drafted in and given what was clearly a free hand to reboot the interior. There are touches of Costes in the red and the black, the recherché velvets and the mishmash of chandeliers. There are visual puns, most notably in the carpets, which look, from photographs or afar, like black and white tiling or heavy wood flooring, and there is a wacky Cecil Beaton mood to the grand staircase. Apparently, Sloan wanted it to channel the monochrome gowns of the racing scene in My Fair Lady, but with deliberate imperfections: there is no pattern to the order in which the banister uprights are painted black or white. In the rooms there are authentic Metro tiles on the walls and rustic Loire kitchen tiles on the floor. In the stairwell there’s wallpaper depicting a fleet of hot air balloons carrying monkeys – seemingly a fashion in the late 18th century (the monkey motifs rather than sending chimps up in balloons) – the pattern chosen because of the chateau’s situation on the grounds of Paris’s first airfield. In the summer, the garden comes to life with an outdoor bar and restaurant and richly decorated domed marquees.

Picture: Civilian Paris

Picture: Civilian Paris

Sometimes all of this is too much. One bedroom is positively migraine-inducing: partly African-themed, partly tartan, and entirely horrible. But it’s a rare visual misstep in a building that’s got enough architectural balls to carry off whatever Bambi can throw at it. On the whole things are frivolous but chic, with bedrooms full of Tiffany blue, and a whole suite devoted to seminal interior designer Madeleine Castaing. There are lovely little details throughout the building, like the legs of chairs ending in the shape of a dancer’s foot wearing a slender ballet pump, and richly decorated light switches.

The real beauties of the building are the library bar and the dining room, where the visual updates are at their most restrained. These are truly grand spaces. During my recent stay I ended up in the bar every single night – its armchairs, wood panelling and low lights are just the ticket for a nightcap or three. And books really do furnish a room: in this case, 12,000 of them.

Chef Virginie Basselot suffered some vicious reviews of her cooking when she first arrived from the Hotel Bristol across town. My expectations were low

I visited the restaurant for lunch, when other guests included a table of women celebrating a birthday – with Champagne and freshly untied Hermes ribbons all over the table –  and an elderly businessman reading the FT and enjoying his usual single glass of claret with his meal. Entrance is reserved for members and hotel guests only during the day, but non-members can drink and dine after 7pm. The restaurant – with dark walls, red velvet seating and vast oil paintings – is handsome and stately. It’s the sort of room you’d be quite happy to get married in.

Chef Virginie Basselot suffered some vicious reviews of her cooking when she first arrived from Hotel Le Bristol across town. My expectations were low. As it turned out, despite having my head in some of the most celebrated troughs in the City of Light for a long and greedy weekend, it was my lunch here, in Basselot’s dining room, that I enjoyed more than anything else. The menu is misleadingly prosaic – “plain old style vegetables” with two colours of quinoa was reminiscent of the vegetable plate at Ducasse at the Plaza Athénée, where the flavour of baby root veg is brought to the fore with a freshness and lightness you wouldn’t believe possible. This is a truly beautiful dish – it takes serious science and a lot of skill to take something so simple and make it so slick and impressive. For a main dish I ordered the filet of venison. After overdosing on the bread basket (I have an amnesty on it in Paris, resistance is futile), I was dreading a caveman slab of meat. Instead it was trimmed, rolled and essentially sculpted into something very pretty indeed. If it wasn’t a prime example of food writing bullshit bingo I’d use the word “exquisite” here…  but damn it, it was. It was exquisite. As was a Caribbean chocolate cake with coconut milk mousse to finish – phenomenal, light and pretty as a jewel box full of macarons.

There’s a scene in an episode of Frasier in which the perennially fussy Niles voices the opinion that the only thing better than a perfect meal is a perfect meal with one flaw. One must, after all, be able to criticise…  At the Saint James Paris, I couldn’t find anything at fault. Virginie Basselot’s dining room is now amongst my favourite places in the city and I can’t wait to return.


Saint James Paris, 43 Avenue Bugeaud 75116 Paris, France
01 44 05 81 81;

For reservations call Relais & Châteaux: 00 800 2000 00 02 (toll free for calls from the UK) or visit the website at: