The French may call the British "les rosbifs" in an unflattering reference to our unimaginative cooking but, for the first time, a British-owned restaurant in the heart of Paris has been awarded the highest accolade in the culinary world – a Michelin star.
The honour was bestowed upon Le Restaurant at L'Hôtel, the famous Left Bank hotel where Oscar Wilde spent his last days. The venue was bought in 2005 by the Curious Group of Hotels company, run by Peter Frankopan and his wife Jessica – a member of the Sainsbury family – together with hoteliers Tim and Lucy House, the team behind Cowley Manor, a country house hotel and spa near Cheltenham in the Cotswolds.
"It took considerable persuasion to get the previous French owner to sell-up but he eventually acquiesced," said Mr House. "He thought it would be amusing if the English took it off his hands."
The group went about restoring the historic hotel – which, over the years, has been frequented by Ava Gardner, Salvador Dali, Jim Morrison, Robert de Niro, Mick Jagger and Quentin Tarantino – to its former glory. "It was an icon in Paris but it was a bit tired and slightly sad," Mr House added. While guests can expect a luxurious Parisian experience, little touches indicate that the hotel and restaurant are British-owned, including British-tailored uniforms, English-speaking staff, Wedgwood crockery and Marmite served at breakfast.
The chef, Philippe Bélissent, is not British but a 30-year-old from Burgundy. He came to Le Restaurant from the three Michelin-starred Ledoyen in Paris, where he was sous-chef.
His trademark is simple, delicate, modern dishes and his menu features lobster with macaroni, broad beans and bisque, foie gras poached in a sangria sauce, boned pigeon in a cocotte with chards and reduced jus and a home-made pastry tart with chocolate and hazelnuts. The six-course "dégustation" menu starts at €95 (£73) per head. Even the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, was delighted by the success of the British-owned establishment, sending a message of support with a typical Gallic flourish: "I congratulate L'Hôtel for this award that honours the city of Paris and Parisian tourism. Well done to the success of your hotel. It is our city that wins a new victory."
L'Hôtel attracts an international clientele but Le Restaurant is particularly popular with those working in the art galleries of nearby St-Germain-des-Près. Mr House said: "It has been two years of very hard work and a lot of dedication, keeping the same team together and giving them the support they need. Visitors can expect a warm and friendly greeting, a voluptuous, cosy environment and great service. The hotel has an immense feeling of history – there are references to Oscar Wilde throughout the hotel but, at the same time, it is in tune with today's society."
Wilde travelled to Paris in 1899, two years after his release from Reading jail. He spent his final days in L'Hôtel, which at that time was called L'Hôtel d'Alsace, where he contracted an ear infection. Medicating himself with morphine, and later opium and champagne, Wilde retained his sense of humour to the end, at one point remarking of the hotel: "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has to go."
A framed copy of Wilde's final bill, which he left unpaid as he was "dying beyond his means", is mounted in the hall, and a photograph of the writer on his deathbed hangs in the hotel bar.