The future looks bright for starred chef Thibault Sombardier.
Last year, under financial pressure from successive coronavirus closures and restrictions on hotel businesses, the owners of Antoine restaurant on the right bank – where Mr Sombardier won a Michelin star for his inventive seafood dishes – decided to sell the decade-old establishment, which had entertained everyone from French politicians to tennis star Serena Williams.
But one afternoon in April, Mr. Sombardier struck a remarkably positive tone about the current Parisian food scene and his latest project, a chic Left Bank bistro called Les Parisiens.
“People are eager to check out the latest spots,” he said. “Things are going well in Paris. The crowd is out. I’m optimistic.”
“We are looking at a great year,” he said.
It’s a sentiment you hear more often in Paris these days. Masks are removed (except in hospitals and nursing homes), and proof of vaccination is no longer required in restaurants, bars, museums, concert halls and public transport. (Updated information on measures against the coronavirus is available on the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau website.) Pressing between the weekend crowds in the Marais or Saint Germain-des- Close, you could almost believe that it was still 2019.
New temples of retail and art galore
The most anticipated Parisian project has been the revival of La Samaritaine, a classic Belle Epoque department store perched along the Seine. Owned by global luxury group LVMH (whose chief executive, Bernard Arnault, is France’s richest man), the 19th-century landmark closed in 2005 to address structural issues and lay dormant for nearly 16 years old.
Unveiled in June last year, the new multi-building, multi-level version is a consummate cathedral, encased in Art Nouveau and Art Deco detail. If the idea of exploring the building’s more than a dozen restaurants, a 5-star hotel (Cheval Blanc; doubles in May from around 1,450 euros, or around $1,500), a spa, a perfumery, a VIP lounge and dozens of shops selling around 700 brands sounds too daunting on your own, consider a 90-minute guided tour (15 euros).
Not to be outdone, France’s second-richest man, Francois Pinault, opened his own masterful establishment in a historic icon last year. Housed in the century-old circular building that was once the Paris Stock Exchange, its new museum, known as the Bourse de Commerce-Pinault Collection (entrance €14) has been renovated by Japanese architect Tadao Ando and contains works by the vast collection of Mr. Pinault. in contemporary art, including canvases by Sigmar Polke, lighting tubes by Dan Flavin and sculpture by Urs Fischer.
Fashion mogul Agnès B. took a different approach, choosing a modern, white building in Paris’ 13th arrondissement to display her own collection of art, which ranges from photographs by Man Ray to metro-style graffiti by Futura. Baptized La Fab (entrance 7 euros), the space currently presents “Childhood in the Agnès B Collection”. (until June 30), a look at childhood through paintings, drawings, photos, sculptures and installations.
Old favourites, real and virtual
The two flagship museums of Paris, the Louvre Museum (entrance at 17 euros) and the Musée d’Orsay (14 euros) are very open.
Among the special exhibitions are “Yves Saint Laurent at the Louvre”, showcasing some of the French fashion designer’s most exquisite creations (until September 19) in the former royal palace, and “Pharoah of the Two Lands”, dedicated to 8th century Nubia century BC. Egyptian Empire of King Piankhy (until July 25). On the other side of the Seine, at the Musée d’Orsay, “Gaudì” (until July 17) offers a vast retrospective of the Spanish architect through works of art, furniture, etc.
And while Notre Dame Cathedral remains closed for reconstruction following a fire in 2019, a virtual reality recreation in the La Défense district offers another chance to visit the iconic medieval Gothic structure. Called “Eternal Notre-Dame”, the 45-minute “visit” (from 20.99 euros per ticket) immerses visitors in fully digitized representations of the cathedral from the Middle Ages to the present day.
Haute cuisine and gourmet street food
Dining-wise, the noblest new experience might be Les Ombres restaurant atop the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, which combines the skills of France’s biggest name in architecture and the country’s most famous restaurateur. Designed by Jean Nouvel and now run by Alain Ducasse’s team, the avant-garde glass-roofed dining room serves a 110-euro menu of French classics (including white asparagus, foie gras and duck breast duck) amidst the changing natural light. and shadows that Nouvel’s design accentuates. 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 try to elevate street food, fast food and desserts. To compose an inexpensive Parisian meal, try the signature item (15 euros) at Yannick Alléno’s top-of-the-range grill (Burger Père et Fils by Alléno) and a boosted croque monsieur (8.50 euros) in one of the new Croq’Michel points of sale from “Top Chef” judges Michel Sarran. For dessert, head to the Bastille district for a sorbet and more (6.50 euros) from Mr. Ducasse’s first ice cream parlor (La Glace Alain Ducasse) and a freshly baked cabbage (2 euros) from the Tapisserie pastry shop, the latest novelty in the area. proposed by chef Septime Bertrand Grébaut.
Luxury accommodation and cinema breaks
Big things are afoot in the accommodation world too, and not just the gargantuan new 32-storey, 957-room Pullman Montparnasse (doubles in June from around 280 euros) or the 10,700-square-foot penthouse at the top. of the 76-room Bulgari hotel. Paris (1,700 euros) along the fashionable avenue Georges V.
Hotel Paradiso (from €170), owned by cinema chain MK2, was designed with input from local creatives, including street artist JR, musician-director Woodkid and cafe promoter Mark Grossman. The establishment, near the Place de la Nation, has 36 rooms equipped with video screens, high-tech projectors and a film library. Additional entertainment awaits at the rooftop bar and private karaoke room.
Petite Paris: indie, intimate and international
To find the little new gems of Paris, follow the scent of roasted vegetables and foreign culinary accents. In Bastille, you might find yourself at a candlelit table laden with African-influenced pescatarian delicacies at Persil. Chef Kumpi Lo’s menu can offer Mikaté (Congolese balls of shredded cod fried with mashed violets; 22 euros) and a gratin of sweet potatoes with truffle butter, Cheddar and tofu (19 euros).
Or you could find yourself in the dark confines of Stéréo wine bar near Pigalle. Without being strictly vegetarian, the menu will appeal to carnivores with meatless bites — roasted carrots with coconut curry (10 euros); grilled pumpkin with honey, tahini, hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds (10 euros) — concocted by Bangladeshi chef Swaran Joshi.
And if you can’t afford a round-the-world plane ticket, book one of Babel’s 31 colorful, ethno-chic rooms, whose Belleville lobby and restaurant look like a combination of Rajasthan tent camp and Moroccan tea house. (rates per night in June around 135 euros). After a meal consisting of Middle Eastern hummus (6 euros), Aleppo terrine (lamb, dried apricots, spices; 12 euros) and Croatian wine, one can reasonably ask oneself: do I earn loyalty miles for that?
“The Tower of Babel brought together all the nationalities of the world,” manager Johan Diony said on a recent afternoon. “That’s what we try to do here at the hotel.”