I had been in danger of taking Paris for granted.
I tend to visit the city frequently in the course of my work and I love it, but I seldom get the chance to appreciate its beauty. It is the most gorgeous capital on earth and, as I had not seen it as a leisure traveller since the time of my marriage towards the end of the Thatcher years, it was high time that I took a look at it. So my 25th wedding anniversary seemed to present the perfect opportunity to visit the city as a tourist. Tourist is a dirty word these days; it implies sightseeing, souvenirs and other things that sound decidedly unsophisticated. Nevertheless, for two and a half days that is what my wife and I were.
We went to see the tourists thronging the Place du Tertre in Montmartre, where even the locals got into the spirit of things, donning berets and paint-stained trousers, dashing off sketches of visitors from Shenzhen to Chicago and everywhere in between. Short of men actually dressing up in top hats and shuffling around on their knees in imitation of Toulouse Lautrec, or women in voluminous skirts doing the cancan while baking croissants, it would be harder to conform more to tourist stereotype… and I loved every minute of it.
We ate dinner up the Eiffel Tower at the Jules Verne restaurant, and what might have been a kitsch experience was really rather magical: the views over the city are as one would expect and the food considerably better. It came as no surprise to learn, then, that this was an Alain Ducasse restaurant.
Alas, I did not get to try M Ducasse’s latest restaurant at the Plaza Athénée, Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, but peering through the door one evening, it looked lovely. The light from the chandeliers was refracted through an extended Milky Way of glass crystals hanging from the ceilings on invisible wires, and reflected off the large silvered mounds (not unlike Pierre Cardin-style space-age grouse butts) that encircled some of the tables.
However, I did manage to eat at his Le Relais Plaza, also at the hotel. I am a creature of habit and adhere to the timeworn maxim that all change is bad, even change for the better. I was therefore thrilled to see that when it reopened for business, the Plaza Athénée had been careful to leave the art-deco dining room pretty much as I left it last time.
The Avenue Montaigne had simply not been the same without this art-deco brasserie, so it was good to see it back in place, with the staff, the surroundings and the dishes as I remember them. It seemed that mine was not a minority opinion; I went on a Monday night and the place was packed. It could be that in austerity Paris, the traditional values of classic food in classic surroundings are reasserting themselves.