Dear Shaded Viewers,
September is my favorite month to travel in Europe and this year I decided to add Paris to my itinerary so I could visit Diane and other friends. (I hadn’t been to Paris in 4 years!) My trip started out on a sweet note when I was invited to stay two nights at the superb Hôtel de NELL, located in the heart of the 9th arrondissement, the center of Paris. And while this is a bustling area, the 5-star luxury hotel is tucked away on the peaceful corner of rue Sainte-Cécile and rue du Conservatoire. A relative newcomer on the Paris hotel scene, the NELL opened back in February.
The hotel, left, and the Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile Church, which was built between 1854 and 1856. Of note: On January 10, 1857, writer Jules Verne married Honorine Viane here. And since 1989, the mass is celebrated in the church both under the Paul VI ritual (that is, in French) and under the St Pius V ritual (in Latin, priest turning his back to the faithful).
I grew up reading Jules Verne novels and would have loved to see the inside of the church–but it was closed for the two days I was staying at the NELL.
Hôtel de NELL was designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte whose objective is not limited to “creating for the sake of creation, but reconciling man with his environment and culture.” Wilmotte likes clean lines and warm materials. I really loved the spare look of the room. Very serene and chic without feeling clinical or boring.
This is the bed in the Prestige room I stayed in. Sandy tones are dominant in the room and I found the blonde wood and textured beige floor to be very zen and relaxing.
Wilmotte is a big fan of the “recessed joint principle”, which is a vacuum soldering of two walls. The recessed joint connects two masses while reducing their volume and highlighting an architectural approach.
“Not a ceiling, not a desk, not a single line is without a recessed joint. Aesthetic rigor means not a single air conditioning or CMV grate will intrude upon those lines, and the recessed joints themselves become vents in all the rooms and bathrooms.”
Exclusive Artemide bedside lamps rise out of the panelled headboard. All the lights are 100% LED. I really like the industrial accent the lamps added to the otherwise clean, monochromatic design.
My room’s pièce de résistance: a Japanese bathtub carved out of a single block of raw marble, bathed in natural light. The tray, seat and footstool are made from the lightest Oregon myrtlewood. I thought the seat was a bit strange but then again, I’ve never taken a bath in Japan! The bath products were superb, especially the body scrub.
I loved the bath’s faucet.
There was a fabulous rain shower with stone-colored walls…
…a very design-y, anti-fog mirror…
…and two raw, white-marble basins.
I really liked the office chair with an articulated back.
One of the views from my room: the former Comptoir National d’Escompte with its clasically Parisian dome.
My other view was of this quiet pedestrian street.
I really loved the weathered 13th-century mockup facade of Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile Church which faces the front of the hotel.
I loved the bar lobby because they stocked the kinds of not-so-trendy spirits one might find chez Belverio: Byrrh, Dolin vermouth, Lillet, Chartreuse.
Behind the bar lobby is a lounge with a glass ceiling and Wimotte-designed sofas.
Family portrait time: My friend, the journalist Rebecca Voight (center), joined me in the lobby for a cocktail with her kids, Joe and Jan.
If you know me, you know all about my love for Negronis (mine are known as Belgronis™) so of course I had to try the NELL’s drier variation on this classic aperitif cocktail (although the bartender didn’t seem to appreciate me comparing it to a Negroni.) The Kina is made with Byrrh, Citadelle gin and Dolin Blanc and it was wonderful.
Rebecca opted for the Nell’s Vesper: Lillet blanc, Citadelle gin, Cîroc and zeste de citron. (She loved it.)
Above: Dinner began with some rustic chicken terrine (one of the chef’s signatures), bread and cornichons
After cockails, Rebecca’s kids left to go out and paint the town rouge, and Rebecca and I relocated to the NELL’s formidable restaurant, La Régalade Conservatoire. Unlike a lot of hotel restaurants where breakfast is routine but dinner is ignored in favor of the outside world, La Régalade Conservatoire has become one of Paris’s top gastronome destinations. We were seated at 8 and by 8:30 there wasn’t an empty seat in the joint. Reservations typically need to be made one week in advance.
The chef, Bruno Doucet, took the reins of the original La Régalade from Yves Camdeborde in 2004 after learning the ropes in the kitchens of Pierre Gagnaire, Charles Barrier and Jean-Pierre Vigato. At La Régalade Conservatoire, Doucet’s philosophy is “in-season ingredients that I enjoy waiting for and then rediscovering, and precise, learned, repeated techniques that transform them.” In short, haute cuisine at bistro prices.
A view of the restaurant a few hours before dinner time–as spare and chic as the hotel’s rooms.
As a starter, I had the royal foie gras and chicken wings in a creamy mushroom broth. Orgasmic!
Rebecca had the creamy cuttlefish risotto with chili-and-garlic-roasted prawns and “La vache qui rit” cheese emulsion. It was an explosion of flavors and textures and I couldn’t stop digging my spoon in “just to try it.”
As my main, I chose the scorpion fish fillet cooked in a bouillabaisse with snow peas and shaved fennel. The flesh of the fish was rich and full of favor–not like a mild white fish at all. The sauce was perfection.
Rebecca with her main: Catfish “stung” with chorizo, cooked beans from Paimpol Xeres and tomatoes. At this point we were past the champagne and well into our red wine–and gossipping up a storm, I’m sure–so I think I forgot to try this one. I’m sorry I didn’t because I adore the idea of fish stung with chorizo!
The dessert….the dessert! It was an absolute triumph! Soufflé Grand-Marnier served piping hot and boozy. Later that night in my comfy bed at the hotel, I had a dream about this soufflé–and when I woke up, my pillow was gone!
Rebecca had Kouign Aman served warm, caramelized apples with cardamom and homemade sorbet. A perfect early-fall dessert.
After dinner we wandered around looking for a nice bar to have a nightcap–we didn’t find anything that great (Paris sure is sleepy compared to NYC! Not that there’s anything wrong with that) but there are plenty of charming locales near the hotel.
This was some kind of financial institution at the end of the street from the hotel. Grand!
The NELL is near a lot of iconic venues, such as the Folies Bergère. I think the scaffolding is up because the gilded tuchas of the theater’s famous Deoc dancer was being polished!
Also nearby is the eternal Parisian favorite, the confectioner A la Mere de Famille (founded in 1761). The NELL serves complimentary bonbons from here at their front desk and of course I stopped by to pick up some (expensive) gifts for my co-workers at Tiffany’s in New York!
Another view of the NELL’s bar lobby.
Thanks for reading!