Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Gimme Shelter ... any day of the week
In what must surely qualify as the worst movie ever made, Kevin Costner’s baseball flick “Field of Dreams” is based on the premise “if you build it, they will come”.
In the case of Kevin, it had something to do with the ghosts of long-dead baseball greats gathering together in some stadium he built in the middle of a cornfield to play one last glorious game of ball. I don’t remember all the details of the film, I was too busy curled up in agony in the corner of the living room, tormented by the thought I was wasting a precious hour and a half of my life watching the damned thing.
And while the film annoyed me, it’s tag line stayed with me. “If you build it, they will come”. It’s a tag line that obviously spoke to the Club Med creative minds behind Paris’ newest hip hotel in Paris – Mama Shelter.
The place is so modern, so new, so oddly located, so shiny and so deeply design-daahling, it’s the antithesis of your prototypical Paris hotel.
Stuck out on the fringes of Paris, not far from the péripherique in the down-at-heel (but gradually gentrifying) 20th arrondissement, Mama Shelter is a neighbourhood anomaly. Interior designed by Philippe Starck, it has all the hallmarks you’d expect of the ubiquitous designer. Polished concrete walls, low lighting, oversized lamp shades and lots of black.
I recently treated the Missus and myself to an overnight getaway at the hotel. I know, it sounds odd to take a mini-break in the city in which you live, but when you have a 16-month-old otherwise taking up your every waking moment, five uninterrupted minutes with your spouse huddled under a freeway overpass would be a luxury.
We stayed in the suite (don’t look so shocked – the hotel distinguishes itself for offering modern, comfortable, designer rooms at very reasonable prices), and enjoyed a super comfy bed, a small but perfectly formed living area and a terrace. The view from the terrace across the high-rise, low-rent apartment blocks and Ibis Hotels lining the peripherique is hardly the most inspiring – and it should be said that if you are coming to Paris for the first time or want to look out your hotel window onto a typically Parisian vista, this ain’t the place for you.
Rather smartly, the folk behind the hotel have turned Mama Shelter into a self-contained destination. The downstairs bar and restaurant area is huge and open plan. By night, the u-shaped bar, the full-size ‘babyfoot’ table and the top notch DJs keep a sleek crowd suitably lubricated and entertained. By day, the restaurant does good modern French at reasonable prices. We tucked into a couple of faux filets and a bottle of Crozes Hermitages over lunch on the restaurant terrace – giving as it does over a disused railway line – and could not have been happier. The rhum baba and moelleux au carambar for dessert didn’t hurt, either.
But it is probably the Sunday brunch that deserves the biggest wrap. In a city where a thimble full of scrambled egg and mini-pancake with fruit salad is considered “un brunch” – and will set you back 25 euros – Mama Shelter’s 39 euro, all you can eat Sunday brunch is a revelation. The food was truly excellent. Inventive, fresh and plentiful. I can’t remember the last time I encountered such good service in Paris. The house policy in Mama Shelter seems to be “let them sit and linger” rather than “quickly turn the table”. And the ambience created as a result was just about the warmest and most welcoming I have encountered in a long while.
It’s not the most obvious place to stay if you are headed to Paris for a once-in-a-lifetime visit, but if you’re popping over for a mini-break, or like me, treating yourself to a little holiday in your home town (weird, I know, but that’s the way I roll), then you would go a long way to find a better destination than Mama Shelter.
Two thumbs up.