Alex James: Posh hotels are a waste of money in Paris

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The Independent Online

I've wanted to live in France since I was about 15. I was halfway through a French degree, in fact, when Blur signed to EMI in 1989. I'd still like to live there one day.

I've wanted to live in France since I was about 15. I was halfway through a French degree, in fact, when Blur signed to EMI in 1989. I'd still like to live there one day.

Claire and I had never been to Paris together, so I leapt at the offer of a DJ spot at the Rex club in Montmartre. Claire came too and we stayed on for the weekend. We thought we'd spend the DJ money on the most lavish, sumptuous, luxurious over-the-top, snobby, snotty dinner we could find. Paris is the place to do that. Posh hotels are a waste of money in Paris, as it's all quite posh, but it's worth splashing out on dinner. I consulted the Michelin guide. Top of the list was Ledoyen. As we were leaving our little hotel at lunchtime, I showed the chic receptionist the guidebook and asked him to book a table, if possible. "Orrr law law," he said, which brought the other receptionist into it. She said, "Orr law law" as well, and gave us a round of applause.

Amazingly, there was a table available, so we spent the whole afternoon walking around trying to build our appetites. The restaurant is in the Champs-Elysées, right in the park. We were welcomed and ushered through a vast lobby, up a sweeping staircase and into the dining room, which was quite small, but it was breathtaking. Nothing short of palatial: all original cornicings and gilded pannelling, vast displays of cut cherry-blossom, it was as neat as a perfect circle. The sun was setting in the park through the windows. It was so peaceful it was exhilarating. There were some lip-smacking bite-size savouries, followed by about three shellfish and fish courses, meat, cheese, three dessert courses and petits fours, coffee and nougat. It was so good we both had a cigar with our coffee. It was, easily, the best meal I've ever had, and I've put quite a lot of time and effort into eating well. It was the best because there were a few things in it that I really don't like, and they were delicious. Sea urchin, for example: no thanks normally, but it was very subtle.

There was a different wine for each course, and the glass was kept topped up. For the cheese, there was a different wine for each cheese, which made Claire very happy.

Of the desserts, the stand-out turned out to be the passion fruit soufflé, which was served on the half shell, with a tiny striplet of marshmallow decorated with a row of seeds for just a little crunch.

Of course, it wasn't the coolest restaurant in the world. There were some dudes there, but also a lot of fat red faces and stupid big hair. How much? Four hundred quid for two, including wine and cigars. It's a good investment. It gives you a yardstick to measure everywhere else by.

Go on. Treat yourself.

alexjames@independent.co.uk

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