There are washrooms, of course, in every luxury hotel (in every public place, today). Some stand out. The Park Inn Heathrow Hotel & Conference Centre set the tone by putting full-size black and white photographs, full-length, of such legends as James Dean in the women’s stalls. The men, apparently, had Marilyn Monroe and her ilk. There are, in many top hotels throughout Asia, ultra-elegant washrooms with equally elegant ladies in attendance to hand you a crisp starched hand-towel. In the USA the gal finds, far too often, undecorated, inelegant stalls with guillotined doors that allow people outside to see the lower legs and almost the heads of those within. At Mandarin Oriental Paris, however, both men and women, who share the facilities’ entrance, feel as if they are in a lipstick store.
This is the washroom of Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx, designed, like the adjacent restaurant, by Patrick Jouin. Some other areas of the 138-room hotel are less amazing. The savvy boss of the hotel, Philippe Leboeuf, has what can only be described as a cubby-hole of an office. Initially, when the hotel opened in 2011, he had plenty of space up on the fifth floor but it took him too long to rush down to greet, or farewell, the important and the great and the good and anyone else he wanted to talk to. Now he has purloined what was a store cupboard. He calls it his nerve-centre, and it is decorated simply with doormen’s hats from some of the other hotels he has run, including Claridge’s in London and, just a couple of blocks from his present hotel, Le Crillon. The only thing about the collection is that he is missing one FROM this hotel, Mandarin Oriental Paris.
It is always a joy when a hotel boss exclaims with delight over every detail on offer. At lunch at Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx, he shows me the wine list, or rather both wine lists. Two expensively leather-bound books are presented in a matching leather holder. One wine list is full of stories. That, explains Philippe Leboeuf, is for the one at the table who is not choosing the wine. He or she – notice the equality, from the gal – can learn about Ch Lafite-Rothschild 2006, and why it is so special. It might just be that he, or she, who is choosing the wine has looked at the first page of the itemised, priced wine list, and chosen the most expensive bottle in the entire list. And it is Ch Lafite-Rothschild 2006, and it will set them back euro 4,250
But it is lunchtime and we are not having wine. Come to think of it neither of us eats very much. We nibble on seaweed-studded flatbread and look at the food menu. This, by contrast to the wine list, is merely a rolled-up scroll, sitting to the side of each setting. It is basically table d’hôte, nine courses but you can choose fewer. Thierry Marx did not achieve two Michelin stars here by being boring. The starting plate has a turnip bite, and a bit of mango. Next comes a macadamia nut mousse ball in a white foam (I think this is what his printed menu calls a risotto under pressure). The French really do not do vegetarian in a big way but here they are very flexible in adapting what has been printed.
My main course, if you can call it that since every dish is about the same size in volume, though unique in taste – my main course is tempura of artichoke and other vegetables. I look around the restaurant, which is basically a white square, about 30 by 30 feet. The ceiling is about ten feet high and it, like the walls and tablecloths, is white. Bits of the wall are deliberately falling off, as if they are curtains coming down. Tables are set around the four peripheral sides so that half the diners face that outer wall, the others look in – to space. Like the centre of a doughnut, the centre is open, in this case to the sky far above. At a height of about eight feet, however, an eight-foot-diameter golden Swarovski circle is miraculously suspended, and this is reflected in a pool beneath.
I munch and crunch, and look at, and nibble, the desserts that appear simultaneously, one each in a white bowl that sits, like Mumbai dubbawallahs’ tiffin boxes, one above the other (the starters arrived like this too, but their containers were glass). There is a guacamole cream with panna cotta and an airy meringue, and a tiny bite of strawberry cheesecake, and three similarly miniscule bites of different choux pastries, and a crème brûlée with ‘black truffle’, or dark chocolate. Yes, this is fun. As I walk out, heading for Emporio Armani just across rue St Honoré from here, first I pass a giant hanging-woman metal sculpture, by Nathalie Decoster (just like the man in a hoop at The Grove). I nearly fall over a couple of Andy Warhols that are being hung in the outer lobby as the hotel’s latest temporary art show. Come to think of it, Andy Warhol would have been quite at home in the lipstick salon that is this luxury hotel’s double Michelin-starred unisex washroom.