Paris and I had to have a little break – a cooling off period after several torrid trips. My last visit was at least two years ago, so this time, before checking into my hotel, I decided on a stroll around the city to break the ice. I wanted to take things slow, and luxuriate in the city of love affairs. But instead of the slinky silk stockinged mistresses and sooty-lashed heavy-petting teens of old, all I found was discord. Within an hour I witnessed fisticuffs, an arrest, a shoplifting incident and general malaise and tension.
Paris, it seemed, has lost the love and become the disgruntled old spouse who forgot how to flirt and only picks fights. It’s a city in turmoil. French unemployment is at a record high. The Charlie Hebdo massacre has put the immigrant population under an uncomfortable spotlight, and the French National Front headed by Marine Le Pen is swiftly gaining popularity. Its silver screen polish is looking a little rusty.
the risk of getting a damp room, squeaky bed, and c’est pas mon problème service has meant my intent has never got beyond a Google search
A fixation with late period Woody Allen and the Paris of classic cinema has often had me considering those sweet, intimate Left Bank hotels. But the reality, and the risk of getting a damp room, squeaky bed, and c’est pas mon problème service has meant my intent has never got beyond a Google search. Instead, on my latest visit I booked in to Le Royal Monceau, part of the Raffles group of hotels – one of only eight hotels in the city with Palace status. This should be good, I thought, as I packed my finest matching silk unmentionables
I arrived flustered, but once I crossed the threshold I found myself in a plush otherworld where it is difficult to feel too morose. It was just before Easter, and the lobby was displaying a cheery, giant orange egg. This was just one of a multitude of quirky art installations and design features – it has all the humorous sensibilities of any other Phillipe Starck-designed space, framed by the original architectural features of the 1920s building. There is also a branch of the cutting edge contemporary Parisian boutique L’Eclaireur, an art gallery where the curator is on hand to arrange private viewings for guests, and a spectacular 99 seater screening room that hosts umpteen premieres. Expect celeb sightings at every turn – the hotel is popular with Kim-ye, Bey-ze et al.
No matter what is happening with Europe’s economics, it’s clear to see that the patrons here are still eating cake – and why wouldn’t they when the resident pâtissier is Pierre Hermé? The bar and restaurants were already buzzing with Paris’s nattering classes and it was barely midday when I walked in. The Long Bar is a triumph of vanity lighting – close to candlelit, making the atmosphere more romantic than stark. This is where canny Continentals broker deals and where Euro-wielding hotties hook up. The chocolate afternoon tea seduced me on paper, but in reality was one ganache too many. Where cocoa is concerned, more is not always more.
My room was modern and large – space is a luxury in itself. The floor to ceiling windows overlooking Avenue Hoche filled it with a bright golden light. There was artsy furniture, luscious leather furnishings, two large flat screen televisions, a Japanese bidet toilet, and a bathroom entirely tiled in mirrors for the naughtiest of narcissists.
I had managed to snag a table at one of the hotel’s two Michelin starred restaurants – La Cuisine, which serves French food, as opposed to the other, Il Carpaccio, which serves Italian. When in Rome I thought… My fellow bon viveurs seemed to be a mix of martini addled brokers and pleasure seekers. Hotel restaurants can be limp in terms of atmosphere and flavour, but young chef Hans Zahner has rebooted traditional butter-laden French cooking to create a menu that is light, modern and easy to eat. I started with the freshest prawn carpaccio with sweet confit kumquats and a technically brilliant dish of yellow fatted chicken from “Mr Tauzin”, with an eight hour confit leg served with rich woody ceps. The cooking is stylised but the service and the delivery are less stuffy. The dessert menu is a bordello of calorific sin – all flaky, buttery shortcrust pastry, whipped Chantilly cream with the texture of rumpled bedsheets and boozy rum babas. All courtesy of Pierre Hermé, of course.
Breakfast at the hotel is evidence that the chicest Frenchies have far more than just cigarettes for breakfast. It is a popular choice for business and pleasure and the offering is unrivalled: bread from Eric Kayser, pastries and granolas from Hermé, every kind of health food and cold pressed beverage for the juicing and intolerant brigade, and plenty of cooked options, including the butteriest of eggs benedict. It’s no wonder that the hotel won the prestigious Villégiature Award for Best Breakfast in Europe.
This is a hotel that attracts its fair share of poseurs and personalities, but it also has a more discrete scene where you can relax gawker-free amongst a never fazed, been-there-seen-it-all crowd. It’s lively enough if you are looking for some action, but quiet enough to be able to schmooze over dinner or just snooze.
On stepping out, the sun was bouncing off the Arc de Triomphe and Paris looked more like her old bombshell self again – sexy and alluring. It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep and a decent breakfast can do for your perspective.
Le Royal Monceau – Raffles, Paris
37 Avenue Hoche, 75008 Paris, France
+33 1 42 99 88 00; raffles.com