French flair and chic … But is Paris still a moveable feast …?

It was Ernest Hemingway who wrote: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

Andy Hayler

It was Ernest Hemingway who wrote: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

He also said that to be hungry in Paris is tougher than to be hungry anywhere else in the world.

In his memoirs, A Moveable Feast, published posthumously, he wrote of how hungry one could become in Paris because of all the bakeries, the food shops and the sight of the food on the plates of Parisians lunching and dining on restaurant terraces.

Perhaps it is a little less tough these days to be hungry in Paris. There are fewer bakeries, charcuteries and butcheries here now. There are even fewer wine stores, whereas once, there had been a Nicolas on almost every street. It always made me sorry for alcoholics with such temptation right on their doorsteps.

But wanting to know whether it is less tough, I’ve gone in search of someone who really knows about France’s restaurants and hotels.

I found Andy Hayler, restaurant and hotel reviewer and food writer.

Based in London, Mr. Hayler has, for about 20 years, traveled the globe, at his own expense in order to remain objective and free, staying at hotels and eating in restaurants to discover what they have to offer. The list of where he has been is long, so I will just say that you can probably put a finger on any country from Australia to Zimbabwe, and he’s slept and eaten there. In 2004 he could claim that he had eaten at every Michelin 3-star restaurant and had slept in most of the world’s top hotels. In 1995, he had written the highly-acclaimed 192-page London Transport Restaurant Guide. It was published by Boxtree and is available from amazon.com.

Mr. Hayler is kindly allowing me to blog about him and his findings here now.

Seeing that my website focuses on France, I will only speak of his verdicts that concern France.

He lists his favorite 49 3-star Michelin restaurants. (I wonder why not 50?) Of the 49, 26 are in France. Of the 26, ten are in Paris.

His French favorite (No. 2 on his list) is Troisgros in Roanne in the Loire region and on the River Loire.

Paul Bocuse’s restaurant in Lyon is on the list too, but it comes in at No 40.  You will find the list here.

You will see that the No. 1 restaurant on his list is the Louis XV in Monte Carlo.

Prince Albert 11's palace

He lists Monte Carlo as in France which I am certain Prince Albert 11, the 795-year-old Principality of Monaco’s current ruler, won’t like. Monte Carlo is indeed the independent Monaco’s capital (and only city). France might have had designs on the palm-treed haven in the past, but a 1962 showdown between Prince Albert’s father, the late Prince Rainier, and the then French president, General Charles de Gaulle, had been a stern warning to France not to be bossy. It had been a brief war of threatening words, but all’s hunky-dory now between the two states.

Picking one of the Paris restaurants at random – Le Grand Vefour – rating 41 on Mr. Hayler’s list and thus the one at the bottom of the French restaurants, he writes on his site ‘A starter of four scallops had excellent scallops cooked well, though the mustard sauce with them was a rather sad brown sludge with only a faint hint of mustard (8/10 for the scallops). Lobster from Brittany was cooked well, served partly in its shell, with just some fennel to one side as an accompaniment (7/10). Cheese was in generally good condition, though Munster was rather unripe, and the Comte not as good as one might hope (7/10). The best course was dessert, with pineapple cubes served warm, with a sponge topped with excellent pineapple sorbet (9/10).’

His bill for two had come to €530($736 /£456) Need I say more?

Yes, I will say that in 1983, the terrorist ‘the Jackal’ Carlos, now serving a life sentence in one of Paris’ jails, and his group Action Direct, planted a bomb in this restaurant which left several diners without limbs. But 27 years later this very awful incident is of the past.

The top restaurant in Paris is Le Cinq in the George V hotel on Avenue George V that runs from Avenue des Champs-Elysees.

As far as hotels are concerned, Mr. Hayler has a list of 25.  Four only are French, and only one of them is in Paris.

The best of the French hotels is the 338-room Carlton in Cannes. It is there where the stars stay during the Cannes Film Festival, and the hotel prides itself on always giving each star what he or she wants: mash and beans at 2 a.m., pink toilet paper in the loo and so on. The hotel is third on Mr. Hayler’s list.

In fourth place is the Chateau d’Isenbourg outside Roufflach near the city of Colmar in the region of Alsace.

The Crillon

The Paris hotel is Le Crillon on Place de la Concorde. Its American owner, Starwood Capital, has just this month (November 2010) sold the hotel to a Saudi prince who has not been named. The hotel has been on the market since June 2009 at the price of €300 million ($417 million/ £259 million). The new owner paid €250 million ($348 million / £216 million) for it.

The Ritz

The Crillon now Saudi-owned means that this is the fourth 5-star Paris hotel to be owned by foreigners. The George V’s owner is Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, the Meurice is owned by the Sultan of Brunei, Le Bristol by the German group Oetker and Mohamed al-Fayed who was nearly Princess Diana’s father-in-law is the owner of the Ritz.

I won’t be wrong, I think, if I tell you that the Crillon is more than a hotel. It is an institution. It’s luxury, it’s class, it’s chic, it’s what I will give myself for an entire week should I win the Euromillions, or should my book Die in Paris about Dr. Marcel Petiot, suddenly take off and become a bestseller and be made into a movie.  This reminds me to mention that the late French comedian and impersonator, Thierry le Luron ( x359y8_thierry-le-luron-giscard-marchais_fun), had booked himself into the Crillon for the last weeks before his death of AIDS in 1986. (I wouldn’t go that far.)

So, what will Hemingway say about being hungry in Paris should he suddenly return today, but not the wealthy man that he was at his death, but yet again the struggling young writer?

I think he will say that it is still hell to be hungry in Paris.

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

2 Responses

11-8-2010 at 22:15:44

You didn’t say what he considered to be the top restaurant in Paris. Once the home of the finest.

11-19-2010 at 14:00:17

I’ve heard that Prince Albert 11’s palace is wonderful and deserves to be seen. This is one of the places I want to visit very soon. Regards from Hotel Charles de Gaulle

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