“The eye has to travel”, said Diana Vreeland.* And mine likes to roam through property catalogues. A few years ago, the excuse of needing some workspace in Paris had me searching the property sites for a ‘studio with good light.’ A few months later, giddy with excitement from the two or three photos I had seen of the place, I was the agency’s first visit to a 6th floor walk-up in a crumbling building on rue des Pyrenees, high in Paris’ 20th arrondissement. It was where Joseph Dirand , then an upcoming architect, had lived for the past 10 years and was his first real chantier. As the agent pulled open the heavy black door, making salesmanlike excuses for the formidable cracks all the way up the stairwell – which I chose not to see – my heart quickened as I walked into 50m2 of white peace. Gorgeous, soft, indirect light came from an overhead skylight and traversed the open “rooms” from windows on both sides. The views from floor-length, iron-framed panes spanned a perfect curve in the rue des Pyrenees to the west, above the lime trees and a lively little square, across grey rooftops and ended with a distant, cut-out Eiffel tower creating a ridiculously perfect Parisian panorama. I was smitten.
It became a place to work (a lot) and play (more) My hideout, my lair, my retreat. It was like living in an ever-shifting cloud above Paris. From time to time the stairs would be covered in bits of plaster and a new, bolted beam would appear in the stairwell, propping up the floor above. Every so often, a 10 page letter from the Syndic would summon me to a meeting involving the other owners in the building, architects, the Mairie and, ominously, lawyers. Of course I went to none of them and of course such precarious arrangements in such precarious times couldn’t last. I was sad to leave the place, but not the years I’d spent there.
I don’t know about you, but my favourite restaurants, the ones I go back to again and again, are always the ones which fit my life, not shake it up in jolting gastro experiences. And now, as things settle and that clear horizon Hitchcock defines as happiness starts to appear, here comes Monsieur Bleu! Housed in the Palais de Tokyo, designed by Joseph Dirand (now an international star) it’s in the sedate 16th, only 25 minutes’ drive from my little country town, (where you have to beware of roe deer crossing the road as you drive out) to the safe hands of the voiturier operating beside the chickens at the Palais de Tokyo allotment gardens.
The immense space, opening with a lovely bar and low, quickie tables, looks a little like a pared-back Wolseley, only lighter, higher (!), softer, and without the echoey clatter. Enormous, rounded-rectangular lantern lamps reflect gently in murky mirrors. Green marble and velvet banquettes cut the space to human height and create intimacy. The pristine white cotton and black steel framed terrasse cuddles up to the imposing façade of the Palais, overlooking the Seine and, in parts, the Eiffel Tower. Not since Costes’ La Societe (on la place St Germain des Pres) has there been such a beautiful, dramatic room in such a location in Paris and, like the Corbin and King and McNally addresses in London, le tout Paris will flock here.
And the food? It’s expensive, of course (75€ for 3 courses with wine and coffee at lunch) but, thank God, it’s fine. The dishes are unchallengingly regressive/comforting like so many of Paris’ restos mondains, yet generous and keen to please. The chlorophll green gazpacho will be perfect when it’s warmer outside & I come back for a table on la terrasse. The Wagyu Bacon Cheeseburger at 23€ is a destination all by itself, and the ‘pavlova’ (more of a Tidied Eton Mess) was gooey and creamy with a sticky strawberry coulis, impeccable fresh fruit & raspberry sorbet hidden within. (Full marks for a proper dessert menu, with a towering mille feuille, apparently inspired by the room, I didn’t dare try) Service still had a touch of opening night nerves and was a little slow, but the waiters are jovial and willing – in contrast to Costes’ often haughty, wannabe models. Long may it last. For this is my new local in a part of Paris bereft of restaurants doing justice to its grandiose beauty.
*”Never start an article with a quote.” Nora Ephron.