It’s hard to express just how cool Anouska Hempel’s Blakes was, back in the day. There was a time in the 1980s when it felt like the focal point of the whole of London’s fashion scene. It was all about Mickey Rourke, Madonna, and the sort of occident-meets-orient vintage-montage interior that no one had seen before, executed with such ease that you wondered why we all weren’t living in that world already. What happened at Blakes, stayed at Blakes, but Hempel’s reputation became the stuff of legend – and for so much more than her way with arranging and designing interiors. She is one of the wildest, greatest eccentrics of the world of design.
Blakes is still there, but not what it was. But what IS something right now Hempel’s new venture in Paris – Monsieur George. If Blakes feels like nostalgia, Monsieur George, just off the Champs-Élysées and about sixty seconds walk from the most useful Metro line in the city (the 1), is absolutely contemporary. On a recent visit, the tiny lobby was fully of violently fashionable individuals with well-groomed dogs, and there was a fine joaillerie shoot going on in the bar.
As is the way with most designer-led hotels these days, Monsieur George is based around the fiction of a resident. Hempel has described her leading man as someone who comes to lunch every day and “likes Brie de Meaux with a shot of brandy and a cigar”. He “wears a dark green velvet jacket and a fedora and carries a weathered crocodile notebook”. We wonder if he finds the lobby less confusing than we do. You walk in and do a full circle around a table of fancy art books before you realise where the actual check-in desk is. It’s right behind you.
The interior is the thing here, of course – and black and jade define the look. Creating this kind of lush mood in a relatively petite space is tricky without it feeling cluttered, but lush it is. For such a small corner property, it packs in a lot. There’s a spa and Le Tigre yoga club in the basement, and a private dining room in the cellar. Bedrooms are chic, monochrome, and comfortable. You can just imagine the bible-thick style guide from Hempel detailing precisely how the white pillows must be stacked in front of each arrangement of her own design of patinated mirrors. Monsieur George is as much a showroom as anything. You can order the green velvet perch stools and dining chairs with hand-painted ceramic handbag holders, or the engraved lanterns and yard stick lamps that are in your room. Ms Hempel makes them all.
The restaurant here is a gem, particularly if you’re looking for anything other than steak frites and a pitchet of house red. Its name, Galangal, is slightly misleading – one half-expects French-Indian fusion – though there are some Asian ingredients in dishes that are clean, contemporary and well-balanced. Trout fillet is served with artichoke three ways: the root, roasted until it has the texture of butter, forms a cup holding a purée and a little crown of artichoke crisps: delicate flavours with textural range. An outstanding starter of girolle mushrooms with a poached egg yolk – so far, so Basque – is elevated with the addition of tiny cubes of yuzu jelly, delivering little glints of sharp citrus, like the last warm flashes of sunlight in gathering autumn.
There was a fairly serious lunch scene when we visited recently on a Tuesday afternoon, which suggests the place has found its feet in an area that already has the George V and any number of other luxe options. We like Monsieur George a lot. It’s the total opposite of the palace hotels in the neighbourhood when it comes to scale, but it feels like home. Wherever you lay your fedora… etc. C
Monsieur George, 17 Rue Washington, 75008 Paris, France
+33 1 87 89 48 48; monsieurgeorge.com