Monsieur Le Gris is so good to Melinda Hughes – and so bad too: torturing her with the most delicious French food, little mouthfuls of ecstasy, until she can take no more. Melinda takes us between the sheets… of Monsieur Le Gris’ very thick menu
I BEGRUDGINGLY SPED-READ Fifty Shades of Grey on my Kindle; well, of course I had to see what all the hype was about. Now I cannot comment on the subject matter for I am certainly no expert when it comes to S&M (I’m more of a M&S girl myself, preferring a walnut whip to a good whipping) but really, if Miss James is going to comment on the attributes and habits of a wealthy high-flying entrepreneur she could have steered away from some of the terrible clichés that made me howl with laughter.
These include the private jet, the fact that he orders wine by the grape and not the producer (quelle faux pas!) the preference for Hendricks or ‘Bombay Sapphire if you have it’, the observation of how smartly dressed Mr Grey is in ‘his customary white linen shirt, black jeans, black tie and black jacket.’ Now if there are any multimillionaire debonair entrepreneurs walking around in such dreadful attire then they really do deserve a good flogging. I’m only sorry he wasn’t wearing a Du Pont Tie clip to complete his ensemble.
Meanwhile, my ‘Inner Goddess’ is being aroused by a plethora of delights provided by the real thing who has more of a penchant for Haut Brion than Hendricks and thankfully wouldn’t even know where to purchase black jeans let alone wear them. Yes, the French boyfriend (aka the Frog Prince or Monsieur Le Gris) has taken me to Paris for the weekend and I am submitting to a host of strange gastronomic encounters following an already gluttonous week in Burgundy.
We arrive at Hotel Esprit Saint Germain, a luxury five-star boutique hotel on Rue St Sulpice. It’s an understated and rather hip hotel in the most charming area of Paris. It has a complimentary bar and nice size rooms but what I cannot understand is the penchant for separating the loo from the bathroom, which fills me with self-conscious dread. The Inner Goddess did not approve of this Parisian feature, which I was appalled to learn the French find terribly chic. It reminds me of an equally torturous overnight stay at La Maison Blanc in St Tropez where the bathroom was actually part of the bedroom. Ah, les Francais… I obviously still have so much to learn.
We take a walk down boulevard St Germain, where an unaccompanied Carla Bruni passes us pushing a pram, her latest accessory. I turn to watch as she passes but the Frog Prince, suitably unimpressed, instead indicates to a smart restaurant on the Rue Recamier. ‘Le Cigale is a great spot for lunch and particularly famous for its soufflés. Look over there. See that man? He is the mayor of Paris.’
‘But he’s dining alone.’
‘He must take his food very seriously,’ I mused.
‘Well we are in France.’
‘Oh Monsieur Le Gris, I don’t think I’m quite ready for soufflés at lunchtime. It seems so… serious,’ I bleat, wondering if it is politically symbolic to favour a dish that takes a long time to cook but which is ultimately full of hot air.
INSTEAD WE HEAD for the courtyard of Hotel Costes on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. The food there has slipped a little since my previous visit but the place is as hip as ever and I missed the penultimate step down to the loos as usual. Hotel Costes is great for a late night drink, where the resident DJ plays until the early hours and ten years on it still has a great late night club appeal popular with the Parisian smart set. The dark recesses make it a perfect clandestine late meeting destination for lovers and clubbers alike. It also has a new neighbour in the form of the grandiose and sleek Mandarin Or Hotel.
I ordered the spicy lobster pasta, which really wasn’t spicy at all, but my entrée of tuna carpaccio was delicious. The Frog Prince had a rather bland vegetarian Thai green curry and knowing how he likes things a little spicy, I could tell he was unimpressed.
‘We should have dined at the Mandarin.’
‘I didn’t think I was dressed appropriately,’ I reply feeling slightly touristy in my jeans and trainers. The Frog Prince gives me the once-over.
‘Well let’s start with some perfume. Come, I’m taking you to Frederic Malle.’
‘Oh Monsieur Le Gris, you are too much,’ I coo.
THE AFTERNOON PROMENADE around Paris shopping for bespoke perfume was indeed most welcome as dinner at L’Atelier Saint Germain de Joel Robuchon was next on my menu. Part of the Hotel Pont Royal, this dark sexy red and black den of degustation is simply too cool. The entrance is guarded by an over-zealous camp maitre d’ with impossible hair who seemed to think he was holding back a line at Studio 54.
Once we had passed the entrance test of looking both nonchalant yet glamorous, we were shown to our bar seats where our far more engaging waitress tended to our every whim. The service is excellent and the clientele, appropriately glamorous.
I let the Frog Prince order for me; this is an old-fashioned gesture I could really get used to. I watch and learn. Soon an array of beautifully presented tapas dishes arrive: Jamon iberica de bellota, aubergine confit with mozzarella and basil, anchovies with grilled red peppers. I am told off for not eating the anchovies with the peppers.
‘You must understand this is a taste experience, a fusion of flavours. You can’t just pick at one part of it.’
‘Oh so many rules,’ I mumble petulantly and so obediently I eat the anchovies with the sweet red peppers and truly understand the explosive contrast of flavours and consistencies.
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Paris
More dishes arrive: Norwegian smoked salmon which the Frog Prince drenches in lemon, squid with artichokes in the Spanish style drizzled in olive oil and pink lamb cutlets with flowers of thyme. He cuts a piece of lamb with his knife and fork and brings the fork to my mouth. I obey and swallow the lamb which melts away in my mouth.
‘Here you must try this as well.’ He gestures to the the ultimate dish of decadence, La puree de Monsieur Robuchon, the creamiest mash potatoes with a side order of Fench fries for dipping. He takes a French fry and plunges it in to the smooth potato fondant and eats it unashamedly, watching me as if to hint. I normally would shun such gluttony but part of me wants to eat it so badly. I give in and grasp the French fry firmly, dipping it into the creamy mash, such an untold indulgence of food that it would have made even Marie Antoinette blush.
Each dish seemed more exquisite than the last and my senses were overloaded. Of course our sommelier suggested some superb accompanying wines: Condrieu, Chassagne Montrachet and Bourgogne haute cote de nuits. I feel that the only way I am going to manage this feast is if I drink more wine.
‘Shall we have some cheese or dessert?’
‘Oh I simply couldn’t,’ I reply, resisting quoting Monsieur Creosote. I’m finding it difficult stay perched on my stool at the bar. Undeterred, the Frog Prince orders a cheese plate and an assortment of tartes traditionelles. Despite my protestations, I am to try each cheese in turn and drink my wine. Thankfully he lets me off trying all the deserts as I am defeated after such exquisite torturous pleasure.
‘Perhaps then that’s enough for now,’ he concedes.
L’Atelier St Germain is the ultimate dining experience for those who want opulent yet intimate surroundings which at the same time is quite relaxed. I loved this restaurant and hope that if I behave myself and eat all my vegetables like a good girl I am allowed back.
AH! TO BE woken by the bells of Saint-Germain-des-Pres on a Sunday morning. What a treat. ‘Oh how you spoil me Monsieur Le Gris,’ I purr.
‘The weekend isn’t over yet. I still have a nice spot for lunch to try out.’
Ah so much food… I can’t eat anymore. I plead with him to stop but secretly, yes, I want to indulge again, yes!
‘It is important that you eat well. How are you going to sing Mozart on boiled English food and sandwiches? Besides, I’m sure I can help you build up an appetite.’
I blush. Actually I pretend to blush for one must play the game especially if one is with a Frenchman. Thankfully I didn’t have a food contract to adhere to but I could tell that my usual Pret-a-Manger sandwich eaten during a break in rehearsals would never again suffice as a lunchtime repast. I wonder which gym I should join as soon as I’m back in Kensington.
Lunch was indeed a treat: La Société, a former public building transformed by Christian Liaigre for the Hotel Costes group in 2009 is a hip haven within Place Saint-Germain. The restaurant is a sophisticated space in muted tones of beige and brown, serving fresh contemporary organic food with a slight Asian twist. We chose to eat on the cream canvas-enclosed terrace, slightly reminiscent of Nikki Beach only the diners are fully clothed. I had a superb tuna Niçoise with perfectly cooked fresh tuna which I couldn’t finish as the portions were refreshingly large. The Frog Prince had Vietnamese vegetarian spring rolls which were light, spicy and fragrant. It was a perfect lunchtime spot and judging by the extravagent cocktail list, it’s a great evening destination too.
La Société certainly has an edge over Hotel Costes for both food and service and being only a bread roll’s throw away from Les Deux Magots, it makes it perfect for people-spotting. The waitresses look like models and the service only borders on the edge of Parisian disdain so in my book, La Société is a gastronomic success.
I bid adieu to Monsieur Le Gris, Paris and roll on to the Eurostar London bound, eagerly awaiting the next time we meet and where and what we will eat.
Hotel Esprit Saint Germain
22 Rue St Sulpice
239 Rue Saint-Honoré
L’Atelier Saint Germain de Joel Robuchon
5 Rue de Montalembert
4 Place Saint-Germain