Le Bristol Paris revisited, by Nigel Bolding

Maybe I have stayed more often at Le Bristol than any other hotel in Paris. If so then lucky me. My first visit was back in 1993 when I got off the overnight train from Dusseldorf and freshened up in the men’s room before meeting with the legendary GM Pierre Ferchaud who ran Le Bristol for many years. Since 1993 the hotel has undergone many wonderful makeovers and refurbishments in the capable hands of the Oetker Collection, a German conglomerate that brings a sense of German humility and efficiency to each of their hotels. Le Bristol remains the flagship of the rapidly expanding group and most impressively they manage to bring together a combination of the classic and the contemporary across the entire property.

In the heart of Paris on Rue Faubourg St Honore and a stones throw from the Elysee Palace – home to the President of France – security in the area is naturally evident and suitably tight, especially when there is a visiting head of state. However, walk through the doors of Le Bristol and all that is forgotten with the reassuring welcome of the long serving staff. It must be such a great job wondering who is going to walk through the lobby next and not to over react. We arrived early and had a wonderful refreshing drink in the courtyard garden that is the heart of the hotel. One can happily sit here and people watch for hours in the warm July sunshine; it really is a perfect Parisian scene. We also had a backstage tour of the hotel to look forward to as well as viewing the signature Paris suite. We started backstage [or back of house as its traditionally called in the hotel world] and headed straight for the patisserie and the bakery. With Bastille Day just around the corner the chocolatiers were hard at work preparing chocolate Eiffel Towers that didn’t look like they were going to last into July 15th. Patisseries in hotels are like laboratories where everything is scientifically and methodically prepared according to set formulas so it really is a scientific art. A little later in the day I had the good fortune to meet the head patissier who also hales from the area where we live – Bergerac. It’s a tough, arduous, stressful job. Imagine having to make sure that all those wonderful pastries are perfection – and with a 1 star and 3 star Michelin restaurant in the hotel this needs everyone on the team to be on their A game all the time.

Next up was the bakery. No ordinary bakery this as Le Bristol must be one of the few hotels in the world to actually make their own flour. They have their own mill [made in Carcassonne] and they select from various grains around the world that go into making a dedicated bread from that precise grain. It’s remarkable and I think if the mill were on display in the lobby or one of the restaurants everyone visiting the hotel would just eat bread. It’s rare to see the entire process from the grain of wheat to the breakfast table. I’m not sure all the diners in the hotel actually know that the flour is made in the basement but I think they should. I can still smell it now, a week later!

Then to the Paris Suite by Bertrand Lavier. The suite is based on the adventures of the Walt Disney characters Mickey and Minnie Mouse from a 1970’s comic that is on show in the Suite. A glance at this original edition will make everything clearer as the pop art work from the comic is wonderfully recreated in the suite so it’s akin to being in an exhibition whilst you enjoy rooftop views of Paris all around you. OK its going to cost you from €11,000 to enjoy this unique suite but by Paris standards that is pretty good and you won’t find another suite like this in Paris. The artist himself will also come and visit you and explain how he put everything together for this super chic project. This is just another example of the way the hotel has combined the very traditional with the very contemporary. Click here to see the video of the creation of the suite.

After a delightful early evening champagne reception outside their pop up shop [for Eden Being] in the lobby we headed to Faubourg 114 for dinner. More of that in a minute but firstly it was lovely to meet a few fellow guests over copious glasses of the hotels house champagne to compare travel stories and favourite hotels globally. One couple pretty much lived in Le Bristol when not in California and another couple from Australia were about to board the Orient Express for Venice. As we were heading back to the Dordogne this was all giving us itchy luxury travel toes so where better to continue the evening than in the 1 star Michelin restaurant that was a more recent addition to the hotel and a less formal option than 3 star Epicure.

I have been lucky enough to eat in Faubourg 114 a few times and its always a pleasure. The menu seems to be contemporary, relevant, light and traditional all at the same time as I started with an artichoke and foie gras soup that was delicious without being overfilling. Roasted pigeon and more foie gras in a cereal crust with green peas and smoked bacon continued the culinary tour whilst Kate had a decisiously meaty white sole with spinach. Having started with a glass [or was it two] of Condrieu we then moved onto a lighter Burgundy with the main course. Having met the head patissier earlier in the day that was of course my only reason for having a dessert of iced and crunchy peanut with caramel and ginger foam whilst Kate had strawberries and we were treated to a glass of Sauternes before heading round the block a couple of times to recover from this wonderful gastronomic experience. It’s not just the food, its the restaurant director, the sommelier, the partially open kitchen and the sheer buzz of the place as you can almost hear diners enjoying every mouthful.

The next morning, not feeling vaguely hungry sadly, and finding it difficult to emerge from a lovely suite, we headed to Epicure for breakfast. I think only in Paris is there such a refined way to start a day albeit in a country that doesn’t do breakfast in the same way as the Brits or the Americans. It’s also a wonderful way to experience the precision of a 3 star Michelin restaurant if you prefer your dining experience in the evening to be less formal. For us it was a wonderful way to end an action packed visit to one of the world’s great hotels and one that enabled us to see some of the behind the scenes activity that goes into making such a perfect place work so smoothly and so originally.

Before we left we made sure to take a dip in the hotel’s amazing rooftop swimming pool. Designed like an ocean going vessel from a different era and with a number of sun loungers outside on the roof means that you really feel you are on board a luxurious ship and not hidden away in the basement. It’s a remarkable hotel pool and summa up much of what Le Bristol is all about. Originality. The last time I used the pool I got chatting to the legendary singer Tony Bennett. This time I think I just left my heart in Le Bristol.

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