The future looks bright for award-winning chef Thibault Sombardier.
Last year, the owners of the Antoine restaurant on the Right Bank – where Mr Sombardier had won a Michelin star for his inventive seafood dishes – decided, under financial pressure from successive coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions on hospitality businesses, to sell the decade-old establishment, which everyone owned. gassed, from French politicians to tennis star Serena Williams.
But one April afternoon, Mr. Sombardier struck a remarkably positive note about current Parisian food culture and his latest project, a chic Left Bank bistro called Les Parisiens.
“People like to discover the newest places,” he said. “Paris is doing well. The crowds are out. I’m optimistic.”
“We are going to have a good year,” he said.
It is a sentiment that is often heard in Paris these days. Masks are no longer required (except in hospitals and retirement homes) and in restaurants, bars, museums, concert halls and public transport no proof of vaccination is required. (Updated information on coronavirus measures can be found on the website of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau.) Passing through the weekend crowds in the Marais or Saint Germain-des-Près neighborhoods would almost make you believe it was 2019 again.
New shopping temples and art à go-go
The most highly anticipated project in Paris was the rebirth of Samaritaine, a classic Belle Epoque department store along the Seine. Owned by the global luxury group LVMH (whose CEO, Bernard Arnault, is France’s richest man), the 19th-century landmark closed in 2005 to address structural issues and ended up sitting idle for 16 years.
Unveiled in June last year, the new multi-building, multi-storey version is a cathedral of consumption, swathed in Art Nouveau and Art Deco details. If the idea of exploring the building’s more than a dozen restaurants, a five-star hotel (Cheval Blanc; doubles in May from around Euro 1,450, or about $1,500), a spa, perfume workshop, VIP lounge, and plenty of shops which some 700 brands sounds too intimidating on your own, consider a 90 minute tour (15 euros).
Not to be outdone, France’s second richest man, François Pinault, opened his own magisterial establishment in a historic icon last year. Housed in the century-old circular building that once housed the Paris Stock Exchange, its new museum, known as the Bourse de Commerce-Collection Pinault (14 euros entry), was renovated by Japanese architect Tadao Ando and contains works from the vast collections of the Mr Pinault in contemporary art, including Sigmar Polke canvases, Dan Flavin lighting tubes, and Urs Fischer sculpture.
Fashion mogul Agnes B. chose a white, modern building in Paris’ mischievous 13th arrondissement to display her own extensive art collection, ranging from photographs by Man Ray to metro-style graffiti by Futura. Known as La Fab (entrance 7 euros), the space currently displays “L’Enfance dans La Collection Agnes B.” (until June 30), a look at childhood through paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures and installations.
Old favorites, real and virtual
Paris’ two major museums, the Musée du Louvre (17 euros entry) and the Musée d’Orsay (14 euros) are very open.
Among the special exhibitions are “Yves Saint Laurent at the Louvre”, where some of the French fashion designer’s most exquisite creations (until September 19) are displayed in the former royal palace, and “Pharaoh of the Two Lands”, dedicated to the 8th-century Nubian Egyptian Empire of King Piankhy (until July 25). Across the Seine at the Musée d’Orsay, “Gaudì” (through July 17) offers a broad overview of the Spanish architect through artwork, furniture, and more.
And while Notre Dame Cathedral remains closed for reconstruction after a fire in 2019, a virtual reality recreation in the La Defense district offers an alternative chance to visit the iconic medieval Gothic structure. Known as ‘Eternelle Notre-Dame’, the 45-minute ‘tour’ (from 20.99 euros per ticket) immerses visitors in fully digitized renderings of the cathedral from the Middle Ages to the present day.
Haute cuisine and gourmet street food
In terms of dining, perhaps the loftiest new experience is the Les Ombres restaurant atop the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, which combines the skills of France’s greatest name in architecture and the country’s most famous restorer. Designed by Jean Nouvel and now run by the Alain Ducasse team, the glass-roofed avant-garde dining room serves a 110 euro dinner menu of French classics (including white asparagus, foie gras and duck breast) amid the changing natural light and shadows which accentuates Nouvel’s design. But the main attraction is the view of the Eiffel Tower.
mr. Ducasse and other Parisian culinary stars have also been busy creating new places that aim to take street food, fast food and desserts to the next level. To put together an affordable Parisian meal, try the signature item (15 euros) at Yannick Alléno’s luxury grill (Burger Père et Fils par Alléno) and an ornate croque monsieur (8.50 euros) in one of the new Croq “Top Chef” Michel Sarran Michel shops. For dessert, in the Bastille district, you can enjoy sorbet and more (6.50 euros) from Mr. Ducasse’s first ice cream parlor (La Glace Alain Ducasse) and an oven-fresh choux. (2 euros) from the Tapisserie confectionery, the latest neighborhood offering from Septime chef Bertrand Grébaut.
Luxury accommodations and cinematic stays
Big things are afoot in the world of accommodation too, and not just the massive new 32-story, 957-room Pullman Montparnasse (doubles in June from around £280) or the 10,700-square-foot penthouse atop the 76-room Bulgari Hotel. Paris (1,700 euros) along the fashionable Avenue Georges V.
Owned by the MK2 cinema chain, Hotel Paradiso (from 170 euros) was designed with input from local creatives – including street performer JR, musician-director Woodkid and coffeehouse developer Marc Grossman. The property, near Place de la Nation, has 36 rooms equipped with video screens, high-tech projectors and a library of movies. Additional entertainment awaits at the rooftop bar and private karaoke room.
Petite Paris: Indie, Intimate and International
To find Paris’ smaller new gems, follow the scent of roasted vegetables and foreign culinary accents. In Bastille, you might sit at a candlelit table, full of African-influenced pescatarian delicacies, in Persil. Chef Kumpi Lo’s menu may include Mikaté (Congolese fried dough balls of shredded cod with violet puree; 22 euros) and a luscious sweet potato gratin with truffle butter, cheddar and tofu (19 euros).
Or maybe you’ll find yourself in the dark seclusion of wine bar Stéréo, near Pigalle. While not strictly vegetarian, the menu will win over carnivores with meatless bits – roasted carrots with coconut curry (10 euros); grilled pumpkin with honey, tahini, hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds (10 euros) — prepared by Bengali chef Swaran Joshi.
And if you can’t afford a plane ticket around the world, book one of 31 colorful, ethnic-chic rooms in Babel, whose lobby and restaurant in Belleville feels like a combination of a Rajasthan tented camp and a Moroccan tea room (night rates in June around 135 euros). After a meal of Middle Eastern hummus (6 euros), Aleppo terrine (lamb, dried apricots, spices; 12 euros) and Croatian wine, you might reasonably ask: do I get frequent flier miles for this?
“The Tower of Babel brought together all the nationalities of the world,” said manager Johan Diony recently one afternoon. “This is what we’re trying to do here at the hotel.”