What do you think of when you hear the words “Hotel Ritz”? Do you think of Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole in How to Steal a Million (she drives him there in the middle of the night, dressed in a nightgown and rubber boots)? Do you remember it as the place where Princess Diana ate her last meal before the car crash that killed her in 1997? Do you think of Coco Chanel, who lived there for almost 30 years in a suite that she had had specially decorated? Do you think of Ernest Hemingway, who claimed to have “liberated” the hotel at the end of the Second World War? Or something else? (If so, send a comment to tell us your own associations.)
So many stories, so many associations. It looms larger than real life. The Ritz, of course, encourages all these stories and burnishes its reputation as much as possible on its website (the section “Legends of the Ritz” includes a soundtrack of Fred Astaire singing Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” – actually the song evokes New York, with references to Harlem and so forth, but let’s not split hairs).
César Ritz and Auguste Escoffier
The hotel was created in a former private house on the Place Vendôme in 1898. It gets its name from César Ritz, a Swiss hotelier. In 1897, he and the French chef Auguste Escoffier were fired from the Savoy Hotel in London (Ritz was implicated in the disappearance of a large quantity of wine, and Escoffier had apparently accepted inappropriate gifts from the hotel’s suppliers). They came to Paris to start over, and established a hotel intended to rival the Savoy.
Their start in London explains the rather un-French institution of “tea at the Ritz.” Escoffier always found this an appalling tradition and is said to have remarked, “How can one eat jam, cakes and pastries, and enjoy a dinner — the king of meals — an hour or two later? How can one appreciate the food, the cooking or the wines?”
We couldn’t agree more. One should not ruin one’s dinner in Paris. So let’s have breakfast here instead. You can see the breakfast menu from the Restaurant Espadon (two Michelin stars).
(An espadon is a swordfish, by the way. According to the hotel website, the restaurant was given this name because César Ritz, like Hemingway, and like Barbara, was a keen fly-fisherman.)
For breakfast, you can have a glass of champagne to wash down your omelette, which can be garnished with black truffles or caviar. The sheer luxury takes your breath away (also spending money for the rest of the week). But it’s the Ritz. There’s only one like it.
Some of the enticing offerings on the French-language menu include “Cocktail d’agrumes frais parfumé au gingembre” – citrus cocktail flavoured with ginger and “Corbeilles de viennoiseries,” or baskets of pastries. (It always seems odd to us that the French name their pastries for the Viennese.) If you are feeling particularly extravagant, you might try the “Homard breton,” or lobster from Brittany.
Vocabulary: French to English translations
Cocktail d’agrumes frais parfumé au gingembre: Citrus cocktail flavoured with ginger.
Corbeilles de viennoiseries: Baskets of pastires.
Homard breton: Lobster from Brittany.
Philippa Campsie teaches part-time in the urban planning program at the University of Toronto, and runs her own writing and research business, Hammersmith Communications. Before starting her own business, she was editor-in-chief at Macmillan Canada. Philippa lived in Paris as a student and regularly travels to Paris and Normandy.
She is interested in stories of famous Parisian women throughout the ages and how they influenced the Parisian style we have come to love and know.
You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, Ritz Paris: Makeover for “la grande dame” by American doctoral canditate and writer Kristin Wood who shares the incredible story of her stay at the Paris Ritz for several nights, when her college roommate “D” invited her on a European getaway. The petal-pink robes and slippers for a quick power nap, then to the piscine for a refreshing wake-up swim before embarking on their first adventure à Paris.
Chocolate Mousse — debonair, dark and irresistibly rich! by Barbara Redmond who tells of this crème de la crème of mousses: a supreme seducer. And uncovers the source of the original dish, first known as “Mayonnaise de Chocolat,” created in the 1900s by French post-impressionist artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Recipe included for Mousseline au Chocolat (Chocolate Mousse), by Julia Child from her book, The French Chef Cookbook.
French Cuisine: Cooking schools in Paris founded by women, by Barbara Redmond who writes about extraordinary women who cook: from Anne Willan, Marthe Distel and Elisabeth Brassart, to “Les trios gourmands” Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. Including a directory of cooking schools in Paris.
Foods of France: Infinite Flavours, by Canadian writer Philippa Campsie who delights in the unending variety of flavours available in Paris, from yogurt to jams to ice creams to spices. She shares her discovery of ginger mustard, violet-scented sugar, and saffron honey.
Text copyright ©2010 Philippa Campsie. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.