by Telegraph Luxury Travel Editor and John O'Ceallaigh, The Telegraph, May 2, 2019
Things have gone strangely skew-whiff in one of the signature suites at Le Bristol in Paris. Part of the classically minded Oetker Collection, the storied palace-category hotel is one of the city’s grandest. It’s also a property I’d always thought of as a touch too traditional and conservative, an impression that was upended when I became the first guest to stay in its newly unveiled Paris Suite.
Pitched on a corner of the sixth floor, the suite at first glance seems much like any other. The hallway carpet is an inconspicuous beige, the door to the right leads to a spacious bedroom decked out, like many of the other rooms, in Louis XVI style.
The conventional suite comforts are here too: a walk-in wardrobe by the bed, a miniature steam room within the marble-clad bathroom; when I arrived, a tray of crumbly madeleines and chocolates, all freshly made on site, were laid out on the coffee table.
But guests who instead open the door to the hallway’s left will discover something very different. The suite’s sprawling lounge is a riotous, outlandish clash of vibrant colours: the carpets are a vivid aubergine-purple, the walls alternate between sunburst yellow and bright green. The artworks on the walls show blobs and squiggles; amorphous sculptures stand here and there. As hotel rooms go, it all feels a bit nonsensical.
But there is some reason behind it all. A few years back, Le Bristol began a seasonal collaboration with Parisian gallerist Kamel Mennour, the kind of thing that might result in the unveiling of a colourful temporary installation by Daniel Buren in the hotel’s pretty courtyard garden.
This time round, pop artist Bertand Lavier was invited to display work on the property and given free rein to redesign its Paris Suite.
The artist long ago found an unlikely source of inspiration in a 1977 edition of the Le Journal de Mickey comic book, in which Mickey and Minnie Mouse explore Disney’s take on the modern art galleries of the day.
In 1984, Lavier began his Walt Disney Productions project, making real versions of the imaginary pictures and sculptures shown in the comic strip, each blown up to their presumed size (though this was admittedly hard to define given he was using mutant bipedal mice for scale).
When he was given carte blanche to design the suite he decided to go for broke with colour and created the latest, all-enveloping iteration of that WDP project, an immersive artwork that guests can inhabit.
Guests who book the suite, expected to be available in its current form until the end of this year, can avoid the stress and crowds of the city’s museums and tick a completely exclusive cultural activity off their check-list instead, perhaps ordering room service and enjoying a late dinner at the suite's six-person dining table as they look towards the sparkling Eiffel Tower. The view of the landmark from this room is especially beautiful at night.
During my stay, the sense that I was enveloped by an artistic endeavour, rather than a cynical marketing strategy, was convincing (of the other hotels that have attempted similar projects, the Antony Gormley-designed ROOM at The Beaumont hotel in London is one of the few successful examples).
I was told the team at Le Bristol had no idea what Lavier would produce (even if his long-standing commitment to Walt Disney Productions meant this approach was always a possibility).
After they check in, original copies of the 1977 comic, found on eBay and left on a counter, will allow occupants to reference the artist’s source material; for middle-aged occupants, the strip will no doubt reanimate a sense of nostalgia for the simpler days of childhood. With its bold colours, simple origins and lack of pretension, the space feels carefree, chipper and fun.
While the suite itself will only be accessible to those who book an overnight stay, three additional colourful sculptures, up to three metres in height, are on display in the garden. Other conventional rooms and suites have had a spruce-up too.
A refurbishment has gently updated the interiors and while much of the accommodation remains too reserved and traditional for my personal tastes, I found the rooms more inviting than my last stay four years prior.
In place of dark wood panelling, interiors are now finished with pastel shades of green, blue and grey. The Louis XVI-style beds are covered with fuss-free throws in taupe and jade. Furnishings come from the likes of Loro Piana and Pierre Frey.
And the amenities are an enticement to visit too. Designed to look like the deck of a ship, the rooftop pool - a rarity in Paris - provides views of the Sacre Coeur to one side and the Eiffel Tower to the other.
A chic kids’ club has been designed in collaboration with children’s clothing label Bonpoint and people-watching in the lobby was a constant source of entertainment - one that was enhanced even further when the hotel’s resident cat, an elegant and indifferent Burmese called Fa-Raon, deigned to grace us with his presence.
The hotel’s most lauded attraction, however, is its fine-dining restaurant Epicure. It is especially worth visiting in 2019, when Le Bristol celebrates its Year of Gastronomy to mark head chef Eric Frechon’s 20 years with the property and the 10 consecutive years this flagship restaurant has held on to its coveted three Michelin stars.
After receiving special dispensation to visit Frechon’s latest innovation in the basement - a working flour mill used to grind the rare grains that form the basis for his freshly baked breads - and aromatic chocolate-making atelier, I visited the restaurant to sample the quintessential Epicure menu.
Available until late December, the nine-course offering is a chronology of the chef’s most celebrated signature dishes and extends from rich gratinéed stuffed macaroni with black truffle and artichoke (served in 2001, when Frechon was awarded his second Michelin star) to poached Bresse Farm Hen, served with wine, crayfish and offal but most memorable for being presented to the table in the football-sized inflated bladder in which it would subsequently be poached.
Our waiter didn’t elaborate on why this cooking method was preferable, but the dish was delicious - it was first served in 2009, when Epicure finally received its third star.
My favourite dish, however, was a slick of caviar served atop a supremely creamy mash of potatoes and haddock. Decadent but homely, it is a shorthand of sorts for the entire Epicure experience, where these long, indulgent dinners are full of unexpected flourishes but somehow remain heartfelt and comfortable even in an environment that is so exceptionally extravagant.
The Bertrand Lavier-designed Paris Suite at Le Bristol Paris costs from €11,000 per night. The hotel is also offering an Art at Le Bristol package that includes two nights in the suite, dinner with Bertrand Lavier at Epicure and a private tour of the Kamel Mennour Gallery.
Sign up for the Telegraph Luxury newsletter for your weekly dose of exquisite taste and expert opinion.
This article was written by Telegraph Luxury Travel Editor and John O'Ceallaigh from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]