By Philippa Campsie

Hotel Ritz Paris France Barbara Redmond L'Espadon Ernest Hemingway Cesar Ritz Auguste Escoffier fine art paintings of Paris

Barbara Redmond

What do you think of when you hear the words “Hotel Ritz”? Do you think of Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole in How to Steal a Million (she drives him there in the middle of the night, dressed in a nightgown and rubber boots)? Do you remember it as the place where Princess Diana ate her last meal before the car crash that killed her in 1997? Do you think of Coco Chanel, who lived there for almost 30 years in a suite that she had had specially decorated? Do you think of Ernest Hemingway, who claimed to have “liberated” the hotel at the end of the Second World War? Or something else? (If so, send a comment to tell us your own associations.)

So many stories, so many associations. It looms larger than real life. The Ritz, of course, encourages all these stories and burnishes its reputation as much as possible on its website (the section “Legends of the Ritz” includes a soundtrack of Fred Astaire singing Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz”—actually the song evokes New York, with references to Harlem and so forth, but let’s not split hairs).

César Ritz and Auguste Escoffier

The hotel was created in a former private house on the Place Vendôme in 1898. It gets its name from César Ritz, a Swiss hotelier. In 1897, he and the French chef Auguste Escoffier were fired from the Savoy Hotel in London (Ritz was implicated in the disappearance of a large quantity of wine, and Escoffier had apparently accepted inappropriate gifts from the hotel’s suppliers). They came to Paris to start over, and established a hotel intended to rival the Savoy.

Their start in London explains the rather un-French institution of “tea at the Ritz.” Escoffier always found this an appalling tradition and is said to have remarked, “How can one eat jam, cakes and pastries, and enjoy a dinner–the king of meals–an hour or two later? How can one appreciate the food, the cooking or the wines?”

We couldn’t agree more. One should not ruin one’s dinner in Paris. So let’s have breakfast here instead.

(An espadon is a swordfish, by the way. According to the hotel website, the restaurant was given this name because César Ritz, like Hemingway, and like Barbara, was a keen fly-fisherman.)

For breakfast, you can have a glass of champagne to wash down your omelette, which can be garnished with black truffles or caviar. The sheer luxury takes your breath away (also spending money for the rest of the week). But it’s the Ritz. There’s only one like it.

Some of the enticing offerings on the French-language menu include “Cocktail d’agrumes frais parfumé au gingembre” – citrus cocktail flavoured with ginger and “Corbeilles de viennoiseries,” or baskets of pastries. (It always seems odd to us that the French name their pastries for the Viennese.) If you are feeling particularly extravagant, you might try the “Homard breton,” or lobster from Brittany.

VOCABULARY: French to English translations

Cocktail d’agrumes frais parfumé au gingembre: Citrus cocktail flavoured with ginger.
Corbeilles de viennoiseries: Baskets of pastires.
Espadon: Swordfish.
Homard breton:  Lobster from Brittany.

Philippa Campsie

Philippa Campsie teaches part-time in the urban planning program at the University of Toronto and runs her own writing and research business, Hammersmith Communications. Before starting her own business, she was editor-in-chief at Macmillan Canada. Philippa lived in Paris as a student and regularly travels to Paris and Normandy. 

She is interested in stories of famous Parisian women throughout the ages and how they influenced the Parisian style we have come to love and know.

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, Ritz Paris: makeover for “la grande dame” by writer Kristin Wood who shares the incredible story of her stay at the Paris Ritz for several nights, when her college roommate “D” invited her on a European getaway. The petal-pink robes and slippers for a quick power nap, then to the piscine (pool) for a refreshing wake-up swim before embarking on their first adventure à Paris. 

Indulge at Le Meurice Hôtel, Paris, by Parisian Eva Izsak-Niimura who shares how to achieve a bit of luxury at Le Meurice Hôtel, Paris for afternoon tea or evening cocktails, when “constraint” is a word more in vogue than “indulgence.” 

Le soufflé – l’amour, la romance and ladies who lunch, by Barbara Redmond who invites us to join the “ladies lunch,” with French food specialist Deborah Lee Johnson (founder of French for A While) and Kathy Morton (a Certified French Specialist, retired professor, co-recipient of the Julia Child Endowment Fund Scholarship, and also current designer of culinary tours for Tour de Forks). The soufflés, wine, and champagne were enjoyed at La Cigale Récamier, a restaurant located on a tiny pedestrian street in the seventh arrondissement in Paris. Recipe included for Soufflé au Chocolat (Chocolate Soufflé), by Georgia Downard from Evie Righter’s book, The Best of France: A Cookbook.

l’Américaine, by Parisian Eva Izsak-Niimura who writes about the myth of the unsophisticated and pathetically naïve American where book after book and article after article there is the lament of the hopeless quest of the American woman to resemble her French counterpart. 

French women do get wrinkles, by Parisian Eva Izsak-Niimura who writes about the super French myth of the coquettish French nymph—her “je ne sais quoi”—in her ballerina shoes, hair effortlessly tied in a messy chignon blowing in the wind, large sunglasses over her naked, no make-up, nevertheless beautiful eyes, and she then continues to define how we are all measured by it.

Apéritif: Cocktails in Paris, by Barbara Redmond who writes about the sublime experience of cocktails at six-thirty or seven o’clock in Paris and the journey into a slower paced world of genteel manners and day-to-evening transformations. Cocktails: Fashions from the 1930s to the 1960s—Chanel’s “Little Black Dress” and Dior’s “The New Look.” Including a recipe for the French aperitif “French Kiss” by Pernod. 

Text copyright ©2010 Philippa Campsie. All rights reserved
Illustration copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.