At the Ritz, as is the case with most upmarket hotels, it is perfectly possible to wander in off the street and explore the interior. On this occasion I was invited, but as someone points out to me, I can come back whenever I like to use the toilet. The restaurants and bars may be much rarer experiences, but it is always free to come here and dream.
That said, is this universe something I would dream about? As an original Paris palace and a Hemmingway haunt, it should be worthy of fantasy, but there is something a little Disney-baroque about the establishment. Almost all available space is filled with glass boxes promoting goods for sale, although very few items actually have prices attached. The long glittering corridors of commerce remind you that many visitors here have more money than taste, but occasional sights – magnificent floral displays, sweeping staircases, chandeliers - still take the breath away.
We are lead upwards to the Suite Imperiale, one of the world’s most famous hotel rooms. Glasses of champagne, gold fittings, a view across the Place Vendome, imagining who has been here before us. But the dream dies again. We can stay this evening, but only if we keep our feet on the ground.
Our destination is in another direction. “This elevator only takes one down” sang Deus in their song ‘Hotellounge’, and this is where we’re going. –3 the cellars, -2 the storerooms, -1, our stop, the kitchens. We come out into the service corridors, devoid of decoration, devoid of commerce, but a magical world.
Here is the beating, throbbing heart of the hotel. This is the realm of the men and women who keep the place clean, and those who prepare breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The kitchens are magnificent, sizzling and steaming, but all is calm. They are timeless and functional, handsome and reassuring. Tiled mosaics date back to the kitchen’s origins, polished HR-branded copper sits on shelves, and silver cutlery and pristine porcelaine waits to be whisked away.
We are here as the lucky guests of the Escoffier cooking school, but also here to work – in theory at least! We put on aprons, we cut, we prepare, we even cook a little bit, but above all we eat, drink and get spoiled.
It is a tantalising taster of this world. We are regalled by stories of rich six-hour sauces, the base of all good cooking, and glimpse the mysterious corridors leading towards the century-old secrets of the house. We are given the list of classes that offer the keys to this information, and if the prices are ritzy, but then so is the quality of the school's staff, equipment and ingredients.
And I’m tempted. I may never come back to the Ritz, but if I do, it won't be to go upstairs. I’ll take the service lift down to the basement. Not to sleep, but to cook, perchance to dream…
Lessons at the Escoffier Cooking School range from the 1 hour 'Ritzy break' to a full Masters course. For more information, see http://www.ritzparis.com/section/inscription/index.asp?id_lang=2