“My expectations were obviously too high,” says a singer from speakers secreted in columns. These bear small cases of taxidermy insects, the macabre but striking pet project of the hotel’s designer.
Le Royal Monceau was Paris’s first “palace hotel” to be unreservedly modernised. Founded in the heatwave of 1928 by entrepreneurs with interests in top properties in Cannes, Biarritz and Paris, guests included Coco Chanel, Churchill, Eisenhower, Hemingway and Ho Chi Minh. But, following auction, all that remains of what such check-ins witnessed of original architect, Louis Duhayon’s interiors are skeletal chandeliers, collected, cleaned and mirrored into infinity over the main stairs. The results are dazzling ...
The author of Le Royal Monceau’s current chapter is Paris-born, Philippe Starck, who founded his first firm in 1968 to design inflatables. A philosopher, Starck perhaps blasphemously appraised, “We are God”, “God is dangerous” and “We are mutants”.
Aside from designing an acclaimed, vanity-over-sanity, spiky juicer, Starck fitted-out President Mitterrand’s private apartment, planned an entire avenue, and styled several hotels including New York’s Royalton, and with oldest daughter, Ara (over four marriages, he has fathered five children) aspects of Le Meurice.
At Le Royal Monceau, Starck’s logo (the “t” of his surname morphs into a “+”) unravels as a sumptuous carpet, overlapping the street then leading to the lobby. One segment finds the discreet reception; another bleeds to “La Librairie des Arts”, Here, Venetian blinds filter daylight over a carefully curated trove of first edition design manuals and books by Pierre Hermés, maker of “fetish tarts” and designer of bespoke desserts for Le Royal Monceau’s restaurants. I also clock a singing sculpture by UK-based artists Gilbert and George.
Beside the in-house L’Eclaireur boutique, its highly sought after stock searchable on an iPad, five floors of private suites are served by their own entrance and gym within a newly acquired wing once wasted as offices. Here too is the art gallery (“art district”) administered by the hotel’s resident ‘art concierge”. An exhibition by master of “hyperphoto realism”, Jean-François Rauzier shows glossy squares of international interiors layered, then densely populated by a collage of famous faces including Madonna (who once checked-in), Hendrix and Jagger. I am told purchasers may add their own face (if not already present).
Back in the original building, Le Bar Long bar culminates in a bureau-like cocktail counter bookended by sheer glass shelves of glasses, many of which Starck foraged in flea markets. The most amusing is the china espresso cup on a crystal stalk. “It’s like a game,” says my willowy guide, Anne-Sophie. “Choose your drink, choose your glass, then the bartender climbs the ladder to get it.” Beside, a red velvet smoking-room cheekily and enticingly resembles a boudoir.
The approach to the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Il Carpaccio, belies its bright conservatory setting, complete with isometric floor. In fact, a beautiful Berkel slicer stands in a grotto-like corridor where walls are coated in tactile limpet shells. Outside, on the geranium-fringed courtyard is a concrete table, convincingly ridged like wood grain. This grazes, on tiles separated by grass beside a massive metal-framed teapot sculpture. In the courtyard’s centre, the strokes of swimmers in the pool below may be perceived through a panel of water - and vice versa. Close to the main stairs is the entrance to the hotel’s 99-seat cinema. The “producer’s seat” is distinguished by its colour: bright lipstick red. A hidden door leads to the main restaurant, La Cuisine.
At the open pass, chefs, Laurent Andre and Gabriel Grapin serve their spring menu. Highlights include smoothly textured, subtle pea and chive soup with caramelised shallots and warm carrot cake. From an almost entirely French list, this is served with unusually tropical Chablis from the year the hotel closed for its two-year refurbishment (2008). Continuing the artistic theme underpinning the building, its label shows a petrified hand punching through a terrain of fingernail-sized fossilised oysters, fingers clasping a green grape.
To follow, succulent swordfish fillet with blooming chive develops a Mediterranean inflection when combined with artichoke. With rested “Pétrus of Provence”, Château Pibarnon, served crisp at cellar temperature, Normandy beef is joined by cured and crisped Alsace bacon. Even though the fillet is tender, the maitre d’ offers five makes of knife. Unlike real life, I choose a costly Porsche. I feel no temptation to scatter a single grain of the five types strong salt selection provided.
Finally, although not quite delivering the “fetish” experience suggested by his fabled “tart”, Hermés’ millefeuille enjoyably lightly mingles wispy pastry with creamy chocolate. A jasmine tea cleanser in a custom built gold cup (available to purchase from La Librairie) reflects and magnifies an attractive eye painted on the saucer.
In this case, the ocular really is as big as the proverbial saucer.
Fortunately, unlike the initial lyrics heard, like wayward whisper, in the lobby, my high expectations have been fulfilled ...