Luxury Hotels

An ageless luxury Paris hotel is high fashion, even out of fashion-week periods

François Delahaye and Laurence Bloch

François Delahaye, MD of Hôtel Plaza-Athenée Paris – and COO of The Dorchester Collection – describes each of his hotels as unique, with a once-off sense of place. You know you are in Paris’ fashion district, here at this particular luxury hotel, when you look through into the beautiful Dior spa, above, and during fashion weeks themselves every beautiful person is here, dressed in Chanel for that presentation, and for Dior for that show.  Yes, the fashion crowd arrives with a lot of baggage. Year-round, however, in the lobby, where giant high-up flower displays adorn all four ceiling-high columns, anyone, size-zero or not, might be greeted by two oh-so-chic French hoteliers, M. Delahaye and his right-hand, Laurence Bloch, a Parisienne who runs the hotel when her long-time business colleague is away (which is much of the time since, says the gal, he has to visit other Dorchester Collection hotels, from California east to Geneva).

Skyline from suite 744

There are local views out of bedroom windows here that can only be Paris. Some rooms look out across avenue Montaigne at the couture boutiques for which this area is justly famous. I could have taken elevators but loved climbing the 160-step oval staircase to the seventh floor (there was one more floor, above). End suite 744, a haven of pale champagne with the signature blood red and black, had an intimate balcony looking over rooftops and south to the Eiffel Tower – see the video below. I had Beltrami linens, Bang & Olufsen, and big-size Guerlain toiletries, and minibar drawers offering both Moët & Krug. As well as a very welcome silver charger holding perfect whole fruits, there was a bottle of Alain Ducasse Champagne, by Lanson. This is indeed a hotel group that likes to partner with many top brands in the luxury lifestyle sector.

Signature amuse, caviar atop langoustine

On the food side it works with Wolfgang Puck in London and Los Angeles, and Sir David Tang in London, but its main culinary association is with Alain Ducasse, brought into the company by François Delahaye in 2000. I had never dined here in the main restaurant of Hôtel Plaza-Athenée Paris, and oh what an experience it was to be. First, I was taken down into the wine cellars, hewn out in 1913, plundered during WWII but now holding 45,000 bottles, dating back to much much earlier (there are also a surprising number of half-bottles, apparently popular in room service). In one of the cellar rooms, a three-foot-wide silver table top can come down from the ceiling to sit atop a tower of hotel-branded wine boxes to form a tasting venue, for up to 20.   Then it was time for the meal to begin. Patrick Jouin’s dining room design stresses space, palest champagne-grey colours, three massive multi-crystal chandeliers overhead. At dinner heavy wood tables are unadorned: they are set with crystal sculptures that are lights, and twisted china ribbons in lieu of chargers.

Signature post-dessert, rum baba, carved and prepared table-side

Our meal, cooked by Alain Ducasse’s Romain Meder and his team (in such pristine whites one’s eyes dazzled), started with ice-filled tumblers topped up with ginger-flavoured turnip juice, the vegetables from Alain Baraton’s produce garden in Versailles. To snack, we had a box holding church-size multi-cereal wafers. One amuse particularly stood out – a signature mound of langoustine topped by caviar, with fish stock to pour over. I ate San Remo langoustine with sea urchin, and salad with coffee-grilled avocado; I proceeded to Gulf of Gascony turbot, its usually-discarded peripheral bits presented with green vegetables. A chosen dessert, Nice lemons as a sorbet with estragon-flavoured seaweed, was followed by the Ducasse signature, rum baba carved at table (what did we drink? Ch Léoville Poyferré 2007 St-Julien). After that it was back up this luxury hotel’s 160 stairs, to bed. NOW SEE THE VIDEO OF SUITE 744, BELOW

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Luxury Hotels

Lunch with the tallest luxury hotelier in Paris

Christian Boyens

It was a blazing hot spring day in Paris and the tallest hotelier in Paris, if not France, wanted to show off his garden. Ritz Paris, in the centre of the City of Light, stretches from its main entrance, to the northwest corner of Place Concorde, west to Rue Cambon: the five-floor hotel, formed of five buildings of different ages, is like a long drawn out C, its arms wrapping around the garden. It is a typical French garden, said that hotelier, Christian Boyens, who has been GM here since 2011 – this means it is all green and white, with no other colour. We looked along to the trompe l’oeil cover of the Rue Cambon end of the building (it was erected after a fire, on February 19th, 2016, stopped that part of the 142-room hotel re-opening along with the rest of the building, on June 13th, 2016.

Spoons of pre-meal tastes

Within eight months the hotel has picked up two Michelin stars for its main L’Espadon restaurant, and a first-ever one-star for the more-relaxed adjacent Jardin de l’Espadon. This is in the conservatory, its ironwork painted in the soft teal that is a feature of many important Paris building: its hemispherical roof, which can, thanks to Alsatian workmanship, be automatically opened or closed within two minutes, apparently is quite a challenge for window cleaners. In summer the Jardin becomes even more informal but, still in its winter gear, it has oriental rugs, and quite substantial seating, and palest pink linen cloths are set with gold-shaft, silver-topped Peugeot salts and peppers and Haviland Limoges recreating the patterns used at the hotel’s original opening, in 1898.

Divine faux spaghetti, real truffle

Chef Nicolas Sale moved here from Kilimanjaro and K2, both at Courchevel 1850, in January 2015. I loved his lunch menu (even the actual print-out is a delight, a two-fold A-4, its cover the same Paris teal). We started with tiniest-cherry-sized balls, one small bite of beetroot in a jelly – each morsel sat on a silver spoon on a silver tree, which also held two other amuses but I was talking too hard, sorry chef. Surprisingly, the country bread chunks, no choice, were the size of brickettes for a wood-burning stove: both salted and unsalted Beillevaire butters sat under silver cloches. And then came my starter, salsify tagliatelle, pasta-style with truffle, and that was followed by a portion of sautéed John Dory on top of an artichoke barigoule (the chef had, at my request, held the curry that should have gone with a decorative mussel).

Le Jardin’s roof slides back in two minutes

Christian Boyens leaped at the chance of moving here from Los Angeles, where he had been number two at Peninsula Beverly Hills, initially under one of his mentors, Ali Kasikci. Apart from anything else, he admits, Paris is nearer his parents, back in Hamburg, plus who would not be excited at the thought of running what is one of the ten most iconic hotels in the world? He is picking up awards, Michelin and Forbes Five Star, and he has a superb team of 600 which includes legendary barman Colin Field and the hotel’s first female head sommelier, Estelle Touzet (who said her two wines to take to heaven would be a German Riesling, and a Cheval Blanc). What now, to take this luxury hotel even further up the elegance ladder? Christian Boyens says the next focus is fine dining. Even the best still has room for improvement.


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Luxury Hotels

The creative vitality of a luxury hotelier in Paris

Angels on the lobby ceiling

If Claudio Ceccherelli had achieved his childhood ambition of being a professional footballer he would be known as one of the great characters of the game – move over Messi, Ronaldo and the rest. Instead, as one of the top travel advisors’ best-loved GMs, he has taken one luxury hotel after another even further up the ladder of perfection and elegance. From Villa d’Este he moved to Park Hyatt Milano, and thence to what is now Grand Hyatt Martinez Cannes. Now, in charge of Park Hyatt Paris Vendôme, he is once again weaving his creative magic. He does, mind you, have the stage for this. Look at the fabulous Orchidées breakfast buffet, above. Look left at three angels hanging from the lobby ceiling.

Amazing sweetbreads with smoked spinach

When designer Ed Tuttle converted what had been the 1891-vintage headquarters of couturiers Isador and Jeanne Paquin, on rue de la Paix, he produced a golden 199-room hotel unique in its flying-angel sculptures on everything from ceilings to window knobs (in room 221, one of the smallest in the house, there were eight angels of various sizes – see the video, below). But now the hotel is 15 years old and some things are being tweaked, still by Ed Tuttle. Sensational green serpentine stone, from Lake Como, will embellish the outer lobby, giving a sense of colour to what is currently honey-hued and black marbles – and the team members working that area are all in black, too. In addition, in a couple of weeks’ time the first of the new-look bedrooms, with acres of gold-leaf framing windows, doors and as cornices, will be put to use.

Chef  Jean-François Rouquette and Claudio Ceccherelli

Obviously, being Paris, this is a hotel that has to offer good food, and the fine dining restaurant, Pur, is one of the most enjoyable Michelin stars on the circuit. It has a five-person chef’s table but we ate in the main restaurant. I wish I knew how to smoke spinach: my main course of crispy sweetbreads with dollops of smoked spinach purée was heavenly – somewhere it also had Swiss chard and mini leek, citrus zest and juniper berry in the recipe. I liked the way, at the front of the menu, chef Jean-François Rouquette thanks, by name, so many of his mentors, people like his Lebanese baker friend Issam, and Oé San who taught him shabu shabu. I also liked the unpretentious serving of the Chassagne-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes 2013 Thomas Morey, simply from the bottle held in a metal sculpture.

Ceccherelli is masterminding new fragrances

What seemed like only a few hours later, after breakfast, I was back with the boss of this luxury hotel hearing about future plans. Just as he had done in Milan, with perfumier Laura Tonatto, here he is creating a unique perfume for the hotel, branded not with its name but as 5 rue de la Paix, its address – his chosen perfumier here is DreamAir’s creator Christophe Laudamiel, president of the non-profit Academy of Perfumery and Aromatics (he was French national chemistry champion at the age of 19, went on to get a Master’s Degree in Chemistry from the European Higher Institute of Chemistry in Strasbourg before joining Proctor & Gamble and subsequently switching to designing perfumes, for Tom Ford and Estée Lauder and now for Claudio Ceccherelli. This man can orchestrate anything – thank goodness he did not stick with football. NOW TOUR MY ROOM, BELOW

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