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Thursday, 8 May 2014

French Glamour & Sticky Rice – A Weekend in Paris

Words & Photography by Greg Klerkx and Luiz Hara

Paris is a city of many charms. The food, the views, the history, the culture: all sublime and justly famous. Paris is also a city with manifold ways to part you from your hard-earned cash, and when it comes to lodging, the City of Light is equally famous for hotels that are cramped, overheated, noisy of infrastructure and thin of wall, and often blindingly overpriced…a summary experience that can leave the gentle traveller feeling as if he or she had been expertly mugged, albeit with Parisian panache.

This can be true even for higher-end Paris hotels, in the €300+ per night range, and in which one might reasonably expect clean sheets, hot water, and walls that don’t resound with the dissonant symphony of creaking pipes. Top-end luxury hotels can invariably cure such malaise, of course, and in Paris one can easily spend €1,000 or more per night. But if you haven’t the resources of minor royalty or a globetrotting celebrity, yet demand more than a shoebox to sleep in and stale croissants for petit dejeuner, there is Hotel La Tremoille.

Situated on a quiet street in the 8th arrondissement, Hotel La Tremoille radiates charm, luxury and elegance. Its location is classic Paris: a credit-card’s throw from mega-bling shopping on Avenue George V, close to the Champs Elysses and Avenue Montaigne, and within eyeshot of the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower. A dreamy walk along the Seine starts a mere five minutes’ stroll from the hotel’s front door.

Hotel La Tremoille was built in 1883 as a private residence and converted to a hotel in 1923. Architecture buffs will immediately note the hotel’s distinctive Haussmann façade: wrought iron balconies, elaborate cornice work, and almost hypnotic lines of symmetry. Both the hotel and the street are named for Louis II de La Tremoille, a Chevalier in the French army during the Renaissance. In the 1960s, Hotel La Tremoille was a semi-famous jazz hangout, documented in Paris Match as a meeting place for Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

The hotel re-opened in June 2002 following a €24 million investment and 18 month’s renovation, during which its interior was modernised so that it retains a regal elegance yet feels pleasantly chic, in which sweeping palatial staircases meld gracefully with original Art Deco quirks. The result is a ‘palace’ style hotel where a jacket is very much optional, and where service is efficient yet relaxed.

We stayed in a rather beautiful corner room on the fourth floor that was remarkably spacious, having not one, or even two, but three floor to ceiling French windows along its street-facing wall. Even with the windows open at night the room was luxuriously quiet, the darkness rich and lulling behind ultra-thick curtains. We didn’t hear a peep from any other guests or service staff, and slept the sort of refreshing deep sleep that’s hard to find in a city centre.

Every box on our luxury checklist got a resounding tick: the muted colour scheme of plums and browns; the delectably comfortable king-size bed; the plush armchairs; the marble bathroom with rainforest shower; the frequently changed linens and towels; and the delicious box of fresh macaroons left on our coffee table alongside a note of welcome.

We enjoyed a drink in the bar on our first night, sinking into deep leather sofas in front of a crackling wood fire and sipping pink champagne and a rather potent house cocktail. By night the bar is velvety as a nightclub, but by day it offers privacy and comfort for business meetings.

Breakfast at La Tremoille is served in the ground-floor restaurant, which extends seamlessly from the bar in the shape of an ‘L’. A fulsome buffet included fresh pastries and breads, sliced and stewed fruits, pressed juices, and yogurts displayed in an ice-bowl. For those with healthy morning appetites there were cold meats and cheeses and a selection of hot foods: eggs, bacon and flavourful mushrooms. Fresh coffee and tea were made to order.

Hotel La Tremoille is a terrific example of understated Parisian luxury: no comfort was neglected, and no request was too much for the friendly staff. The hotel is also close to many top restaurants and bistrots catering to every taste and price range.

The hotel’s rack rate for a standard double room including continental breakfast starts at €596, including taxes and service charge. However, the hotel participates in numerous Web-based promotions and we have found promotional rates for Hotel La Tremoille as low as €330, so do check online for the best rates.

For more information, visit Hotel La Tremoille's website here.

Hotel La Tremoille
14 rue de la Trémoille
75008 Paris
Tel. : +33 (0)1 56 52 14 00

Lao Lane Xang Restaurant
102 Avenue d'Ivry, Paris

The Lao Lane Xang restaurant in the far southeast of Paris, just inside the Peripherique in the 13th Arrondissement's Asian quarter, offers a range of cooking from Laos, as well as Vietnam and Thailand. The owners are Laotian, and the restaurant is, to the best of my knowledge, the only one of its kind in Europe.

The cuisine of Laos is often confused with that of the northeastern Thailand, known as Isaan. That part of Thailand was once Laotian, and to this day there are some dishes common to both countries such as laap, made from raw fish or meat and chopped herbs. Laos’ cuisine has also been influenced by the French colonists, with baguettes and coffee featured on most menus. These and many other factors make Laotian food really interesting and varied.

One translation of the word Laos is 'sticky rice eaters', and this wonderfully pure product is at the heart of any Laotian meal.

Having spent a wonderful time in Laos (see my posts on Luang Prabang here and here), whenever we are in Paris we head to the Lao Lane Xang restaurant for our fix of Laotian dishes. We started with some delicious Laotian prawn rice pancakes (£5), with an aromatic crispy rice salad which we wrapped up in lettuce and mint leaves (£6.50).

Our main course was crispy duck with red curry, basil and tamarind sauce (£9). The duck was richly tender, and enhanced by the deeply fragrant sauce, complemented by a refreshing green papaya salad (£6.50), and the obligatory Laotian sticky rice (£2.30).

We enjoyed a bottle of spicy, perfumed Hans Schaeffer Gewurztraminer Reserve 2009 from Alsace, which was a real steal at only £15.

Few would think of going Laotian when in Paris, but if you have been lucky enough to visit Laos and try the cuisine, a trip to Lao Lane Xang in Paris will undoubtedly bring back some very fond memories. Highly recommended.

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