The latest National Rust expedition was to Paris, ostensibly to see the Pierre Bonnard at the Musee D’Orsay but also to enjoy lunch at the uber cool Hotel Costes. My cousin in New York who works for a French bank is the man in the know on what the French call “branche”, literally switched on but actually “in”.
First we planned to go to the Musee D’Orsay to see the Pierre Bonnard exhibition.
Alice Mansfield, Nancy Bright Thompson, Bob Tickler and myself assembled at Brighton station at the ungodly hour of 7-30 and took a train largely peopled by school kids to Ashford Internatonal to hook up with the Eurostar. Alice is planning no expense spared art trips to Paris so we thought we should sample Business Premier. Bob, to his irritation, found a posh French woman occupying his reserved seat who showed no inclination to move. Bob is at his hilarious best in such situations, summoning the hostess to eject the woman and then demanded the seat be cleaned. I could see the hostess was terrified by him so when she removed his breakfast she nervously knocked his coffee all over him. I expected another explosion as his beige linen suit resembled a Jackson Pollock abstract but he took it in good heart which may have something to do with the hostess being an ebony beauty. Bob was disappointed no Champagne was proffered and was dictating his letter of complaint to the ever-patient Polly.
At the Gare du Nord he was met by an old flame Nicole and we set off to the Musee D’Orsay. Bob did not like the look of some rogue taxi drivers and got us all into regular taxis. Alice explained to us that Bonnard was a post-impressionist and not constrained by any school or medium. He painted indoors, outdoors, portraits, seductive nudes and Renoiresque middle class family scenes. He was even a competent photographer and much influenced by Japanese art. I was most impressed by the luminosity of his colour and light. Mercifully the exhibition was neither too long or crowded.
There was no taxi to be found so Bob commandeered rickshaws. Negotiating the Place de la Concorde is one of those experiences I would not care to repeat. We had some difficulty in locating Hotel Costes which displayed no sign outside as it’s so cool it does not need one. Eventually we found it and much to Bob’s pleasure every waitress in its Avenue terrace restaurant was absolutely stunning. Pleated dresses seemed to the fashion item of 2015. The other thing I noted, which over the years I have often seen in Parisien restaurants, is the diner who brings their little dog as a fashion accessory. There was a terrier brought by some incredibly dishy Frenchman that yapped away. Everyone looked terribly important, showy and on their mobile. Some besuited businesman hailed Bob who said he was sitting next to us on the Eurostar.
I had a carpaccio of smoked salmon sashimi and veal chop. The first was most tasty. The second took an hour to arrive, confirming my impression that the waitresses whilst long on beauty did not have much idea how to serve. It reminded me of the joke Paris guide book of useful phrases:
” Our waiter appears to have abandoned us “
The chop was delicious but not quite to the standard of the one I last tasted at the Colony Grill Room of the Beaumont Hotel. We were not unduly worried by the slow service – the sun was out, the restaurant was teeming (despite being gone 3pm) with beautiful people and we were in Paris. At 180 euro per head I would say the cost was comparable to a stylish 4/5 star boutique hotel in London. I did not stay in the hotel but the lounges and bar seemed dark but atmospheric. I did find the service offhand. There was some discussion on the amount of tip but as our waitress sashayed towards Bob in her braided shorts and legs to die for with a French girl’s intuitive skill of identifying the biggest wallet, fluttering her large eyes, I knew she would do well!!!
Bob told the waitress he needed a taxi and was told to hail one in the street. The angry Bob is a dangerous animal as he immediately claimed one ahead of the doorman in a daring counter move.
The train back was full of business types working earnestly at their computers except for one woman who got her child on What’s App and spoke to him or her in such a loud voice that the whole carriage could hear her “goo-going” in the rather eerie silence. Eurostar made much of Raymond Blanc of Manoir des Quartre Saisons fame giving his name to the cuisine. I wondered what his input actually was. We were served an artichoke salad, pollack, a chocolate torte and sliced of cheese. It was all rather bland and Bob complained the white Gascon wine was “ordinaire”. I said to Alice that she should offer an upgrade as an option but it’s only advantage over the next layer of class was the use of the lounge in the rather disorganised, overcrowded Gare du Nord.
We got back to Brighton at 11-30 some 14 hours after we arrived. It was a long, old day but one which we will look back on positively.