Afternoon tea in lovely surroundings is one of my very favourite things to do. So when I was invited to take tea at the stupendously fancy hotel Le Meurice in Paris last year, excitement levels hit the roof.
Now I consider myself something of an afternoon tea expert. And before I go any further, I might as well say this was one of the best afternoon teas I have ever had. Yes, tea in France is very often an abomination, but Le Meurice have it down to a, well, tee. And the towers of sandwiches, cakes and pastries to go alongside are simply monumental – moist almond cake, strawberry tartlets, dense banana cake, chocolate swirl cake flecked with gold leaf, light madeleines, chocolate filled macarons, glazed pastries, tarte tatins. I don’t mind telling you that there was so much I couldn’t even finish, much as my stomach was willing me to.
Food (reluctantly) aside, what of the setting? Well this makes it even more fascinating. Le Meurice has a lengthy history, being one of the oldest (founded in 1815) and grandest hotels in France. It was originally set up to cater for wealth English travellers, which might explain their current expertise in tea-making. The hotel was renovated in 1905, and it was during this time that the hotel mascot came into being - while building work was happening, the workers took in a stray greyhound. The dog was adopted by staff at the hotel, and was so popular with everyone that it shortly after became the official mascot of Le Meurice. This is why the emblem of the hotel today contains two greyhounds.
Throughout the 20th century Le Meurice has had many famous guests, including Mata Hari, Giorgio de Chirico, Rudyard Kipling, Orson Welles, Franco Zeffirelli, Ginger Rogers, Yul Brynner, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton. They also hosted Coco Chanel’s glittering receptions in the 1930s (wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall). Their most famous guest, however, was Salvador Dali.
Dali spent a month of every year, for thirty continuous years, in the Royal Suite. When the hotel was again renovated in 2007, the designer Philippe Starck was inspired by Dali’s long association with the hotel to incorporate hidden surrealist touches throughout the public spaces. So if you look carefully at the photographs you can see that under the very traditional appearance of the decor, there are quirky touches lurking – like the three-legged chairs with high-heeled feet, painted eyes that can only be seen from certain angles in mirrors, plaster hands creeping over the top of ledges, and blown up sections of Dali paintings appearing on carpets and furniture. It feels like every room is full of hidden secrets for you to discover.
It isn’t often that I would give so high a rating, but the afternoon tea at Le Meurice was so perfect in terms of food, service, and setting, that it receives a 10/10 from me. Absolutely worth saving up for and treating yourself when you visit Paris.