HOTEL ROYAL MONCEAU
Of all the palace hotels in Paris, one has always struck me as being more discreet than the rest. This has something to do with its position, on one of the less busy avenues near the Arc de Triomphe. But it also comes from the whole tone of the establishment, from which has been banished any hint of vulgarity. Amidst such calm, the most stressed Parisian begins to relax. And so does the foreign visitor. If you like your luxury allied to quiet dignity, you will adore the Hotel Royal Monceau.
This lovely place has been an adornment to the avenue Hoche since 1928. The Allied general staffs had the good sense to stay here in 1945, and three years later it was here that David Ben Gurion signed the proclamation creating the state of Israel. My own presence was perhaps of less historical significance, but I am sure that I appreciated my surroundings just as much as my distinguished predecessors. In particular, I liked the lighting. I am a fan of chandeliers – as long, of course, as they are not too bright. In the Royal Monceau’s public areas there seemed to be hundreds of them, all of crystal and all, importantly, equipped with the tiny, moving ‘candle’ bulbs made (I believe) in Sweden. These bulbs emit but modest illumination and are therefore ideal for use in large numbers.
Up on the fifth floor, I was equally taken with my accommodation. Room 501/2 is classified as a ‘deluxe suite’ and was therefore 1,700 euros a night for two, breakfast extra. This was a spacious and comfortable billet. A proper, wide hallway (with the safe and the mini-bar tucked away behind doors) led to the elegant sitting room. Its colours were entirely to my taste: pale gold for the wallpaper and the carpet, and deep red for the silk curtains and for the sofa and easy chairs. Overhead was, of course, one of those crystal chandeliers (although, sadly, not with the Swedish bulbs). Through the French window I stepped – somewhat gingerly – onto the small balcony. I rested my hand on the stone balustrade and looked up the avenue at the Arc de Triomphe. A splendid sight, to be sure.
Back inside, a second hallway – made elegant by a marble-topped cabinet – led to the bedroom and to the bathroom. The former was wonderfully spacious, with a small dressing room attached, and was possessed of – yes, you have guessed it – a crystal chandelier. A little writing desk with pretty marquetry was supplied for those moments when I wished to commit a passing thought to paper. For other less elevated activities, the bathroom offered two wash basins, a tub of proper size, a separate shower and a separate loo.
Had I been so minded, I could probably have mapped out a jogging track around this commodious suite. Physical activity of that sort has, however, never been quite my thing. Still, those of you for whom exercise is a pleasure rather than a penance will find delights within the Royal Monceau’s spa (pictured) on the lower ground floor. I admired these elegant facilities, but confined my own exertion to clambering into my private bath for the usual pre-prandial soak.
Remarkably, each of the hotel’s two restaurants has a Michelin star. The Italian eatery, Carpaccio, is much admired, but my reservation was at its French restaurant, Le Jardin. I bathed and dressed in eager anticipation of dinner, for I had heard good things of the chef of Le Jardin, 36 year-old Christophe Pelé.
This dining room is a circular glass house, surrounded by the hotel gardens. In 2004 it was decorated in a style reminiscent of the Second Empire. In colours of plum, white, gold and black, it makes an impressive setting for some seriously good food. As the harpist plucked and the dark-suited waiters lifted silver domes, I settled into an armchair at a round table next to the plate glass wall. Before me sparkled glasses both Riedel and Spiegelau. The lighting was low. All was set for a fine meal.
And that is what I got. First came fregola (a tiny pasta, with the appearance of pearl barley), cooked like a risotto, with generous helpings of tender lobster. Onto the top, Fabrice Despatureaux (the excellent 2 nd maitre d’) shaved slices of white truffle. Only those without a soul can be indifferent to the aroma of this divine fungus. Here its hint of dirty socks was captivating, adding an extra dimension to the superb tastes and textures of a beautifully prepared dish. Then another intelligent combination: langoustines, fried in batter, with sweet red peppers. For the meat dish I chose venison, and enjoyed as tasty a piece of meat as I have found in many a moon, served with celery gnocchi and hints of mango and hot pepper. Finally, something which appealed to me as an oddity – a pumpkin soufflé, with liquorice ice cream. It turned out to be not only well executed but also gloriously flavoursome. (170 euros for these four courses.)
France supplies most of the cellar, but I noticed two intelligent imports from America: from California the 1999 Au Bon Climat chardonnay (90 euros) and from Canada the 1990 Inniskillin ice wine (190 euros, half). Prices range from 45 euros for a red Loire to 2,760 euros for the 1983 vintage of the grandest of all red burgundies, Romanée-Conti. Bordeaux supplies some real temptations – like 1966 Cheval Blanc (1,400 euros), 1982 Latour (1,400 euros), 1985 Pétrus (2,280 euros) and 1986 Pavie (325 euros).
One or two interesting bottles have been brought from South West France, including a red wine I much admire, Grange des Pères (1996 – 190 euros). The fine sommelier – Stéphane Lochon, from Tours – decanted for me a white burgundy of golden colour with flavours of nuts and minerals (Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, St-Philibert, Dom. Méo-Camuzet, 2002 – 70 euros) and then recommended a red coteaux du Languedoc with intense black fruit and stern tannins (Aurel, Dom. des Aurelles, 1998 – 70 euros).
My other eating experiences at the Royal Monceau also deserve comment. Each morning I returned to Le Jardin for the buffet breakfast (42 euros). This was a relaxed and enjoyable experience. I had the sense that I would have been welcome to linger for several hours, which is exactly the sense I want when I am breaking my fast. Chunks of sweet melon and slices of delicious cold beef fillet were the gastronomic highlights. I also tried an informal lunch in the hotel bar, a space of black and red, with mirrored columns and giant silver candlesticks. Here, an affable young waiter called Gwenael (from Brittany) brought me plates of ham, lobster salad and fruit tart (72 euros), washed down with flutes of champagne and glasses of St-Emilion. All was done with quiet charm.
And that is what this Parisian palace is all about: quiet charm. And, of course, comfort, fine food and immaculate service. So, if you want your luxury in Paris to be discreet, head for the Royal Monceau.
HOTEL ROYAL MONCEAU
37 avenue Hoche, Paris 75008, France.
Telephone +33 (0)1 42 99 88 77
Fax +33 (0)1 42 99 89 91
Double rooms from 550 euros, breakfast extra (continental 30 euros)
Restaurant Le Jardin: closed Saturday and Sunday, and Monday lunch