Angelina Paris, Bar 228 Le Meurice Hôtel Paris, Cocktails in Paris, Eva Izsak-Niimura, France, Galignani Paris, Hotel George V in Paris, Hotel Plaza Athenee, Le Meurice Hotel Paris, Paris, rue de Rivoli Paris, Tearooms in Paris, WH Smith Paris
By Eva Izsak-Niimura-Fourcans
In these fiscally harsh times, when “constraint” is a word more in vogue than “indulgence,” one still craves a bit of luxury. Here is a lovely way to achieve it.
If you are in the vicinity of rue de Rivoli in Paris, shopping for books at WH Smith, the Parisian-English bookshop, or Galignani, for example, walk down the street to Hôtel Le Meurice. Le Meurice was intimidating to me during my first three years in Paris and I avoided its lavish quarters. It must be prohibitively expensive, I assumed. And, it is. If you stay in one of the suites, or even its standard rooms, you will be set back a few hundred or even thousand Euros and get severely scolded by your significant other, or, alternatively, have divorce papers served on you (why, may your other half wonder, would you stay in an exclusive hotel when you are living in Paris—unless you are having an affair?). But, that should not necessarily prevent you from feeling like a Sheikh from the United Arab Emirates. Here is how to overcome your inhibitions.
Holding your shopping bag (preferably a designer bag), stroll into Le Meurice as casually as you might walk into your own apartment building, and enjoy as the concierge greets you with a smile. Then, walk directly toward the end of the elegant lobby; turn left, and then right. There, you will find the loveliest free restrooms in all of Paris: flowers, decorated mirrors and all. Freshen up. Now, confidently re-enter the lobby feeling like the princess that you are.
But, this is a restaurant, not a toilette, review. Instead of proceeding to the exit, we will head back to the lobby and install our royal selves onto one of the perfectly appointed sofas, cross one high heeled leg over the other, place our mobile phone on the table in front of us—or start texting in earnest—completely unfazed by the luxurious surroundings. You may also take out a magazine and gently leaf through the ads. Breathe. Inhale the rich aroma of splendor, the beauty of the room. Glance from the corner of your eye trying to spot any familiar faces (familiar from the magazines, that is—not your next door neighbor).
This being Paris, even Le Meurice is not immune to its environment. You may be waiting ten minutes or more before one of the 200 waiters actually notices your presence. I will forever wonder at this seemingly endless talent that French waiters possess to look in all directions, 360 degrees, without ever seeing the clientele desperately waving their arms in an effort to catch their eyes. But, under no circumstances, should you wave. Maintain your dignity. After all, this is Le Meurice. One of these waiters will finally approach you.
Ask for the menu. You will notice three or four different varieties of tea specified. Don’t be impressed. Let yourself be the high maintenance, demanding, discriminating persona that you are—ask for the “tea menu.” When it arrives you’ll notice a splendid variety including white, green, black teas, infusions, hot chocolate, etc., ranging between 10 and 16 Euros. This is not exactly low-budget tea, but considering the fact that you get an excellent pot, served in a splendid environment and that you can spend an hour immersed in your book, if alone, or in conversation, if with a friend, it is well worth the price. For a while you can escape your troubles, the traffic, the pollution, the teacher’s remark in your kid’s notebook, even the rude person on the Métro. You are in total nirvana. And, did I mention that the tea is great? Particularly if you choose some exotic tea that you don’t usually find in a typical café or brew at home.
What about that less-than-perfect service? On a recent visit, the manager overheard my spoiled New Yorker’s remark to the waiter as he asked me what I would like to order, “I have been trying to order something for the past 15 minutes.” To my very pleasant surprise, not only did the manager come by several times to charmingly verify that all is to my perfect satisfaction, but when I asked for the check I was told that this time it was “gratuit” due to the long wait. Now, that makes you even forget that you are in Paris.
Another option to enjoy Le Meurice on a budget is to stop for an afternoon drink at the quiet, posh bar right next to the lobby. A glass of Champagne will set you back close to 30 Euros, but it is accompanied by a delicious set of snacks—a garlicky hummus to be picked at with the lightest, feathery cheese sticks, some of the best olives served in Paris and a generous portion of assorted nuts that should hold you through the early evening or a movie. Indulge. You deserve it.
Similar bargins can be sampled in some of the other luxurious hotels in Paris. If you are shopping near the Champs-Élysées or just out for a movie, the Hôtel George V has an imposing lobby and bar, as well as Hôtel Plaza Athénée (where, my daughter adds, “the hot chocolate, at 10 Euros, is divine”). Avoid Hôtel Fouquet, on avenue George V. Its prices are just as high without the exquisite ambiance, the snacks are non-existent, or not worth it, and you feel like you’re in a café at a central train station. Angelina, a tearoom also on rue de Rivoli, serves the best hot chocolate outside of Italy, but during rush hour you may have to stand in line with a several tourists, which is not at all consistent with feeling like a princess.
Eva Izsak-Niimura-Fourcans was born in Transylvania (a Hungarian-speaking province in Romanina) and educated in Israel. For more than twenty years, Eva practiced law at some of the largest law firms in New York and served as In-House Counsel with U.S. and French financial institutions before pursuing a career as a writer. Eva, mother of two daughters, has lived in Tel Aviv, Tokyo, and New York and is currently residing in Paris where she is working on her first novel.
You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, Café Culture in Paris, by Parisienne Flore der Agopian. The café, writes Flore, is a pleasurable way of sitting unbothered for hours on end with a book, with friends, or jut watching all sorts of people coming and going. Le Café de Flore, one of the oldest and most prestigious in Paris, where you can meet or observe its famous clientele among the Parisians, tourists and waiters dressed in their black and white uniforms as if they were still in the 1920s. To Flore, Café de Flore is almost mythical, legendary—a real institution.
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.
Chocolate Mousse — debonair, dark and irresistibly rich! by Barbara Redmond who looks into this crème de la crème of mousses and uncovers the source of the original dish. Mousse as the supreme seducer was first known as “Mayonnaise de Chocolat,” created in the 1900s by French post-impressionist artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Recipe included for Mousseline au Chocolat (Chocolate Mousse), by Julia Child from her book, The French Chef Cookbook.
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.
Paris macaron, love in the afternoon, by Barbara Redmond who tells about the French women who vanished into the streets of Paris and later exited Pierre Hermé, an elegant confectionary, clutching little cellophane bags of macarons, a little ‘Le goûter’ (afternoon treat). But, Frenchwomen do not snack… or do they? Paris locations included for Pierre Hermé and Ladurée, beloved for their Parisian macarons.
Text copyright ©2012 Eva Izsak-Niimura. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.