When you have the alluring interior of a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG as your temporary office — with its gorgeous Designo Sand leather and carbon fibre ‘decor’ and an ‘atmosphere’ provided by the most aurally exhilarating 6.2-litre V8 powerhouse on the planet — it’s hard, very hard, to think of somewhere you’d rather be for your lunch break. Nice problem to have? Sure. And, as we thundered towards Paris a few weeks ago on the first day of the Prodigal Run, that’s exactly the dilemma we faced. We’d just filled the SLS’ fuel tank and it was high-time her drivers got a chance to fill their empty stomachs too. Not many restaurants can offer the sense of occasion, the glamour, the excitement and — crucially — the fun to match the SLS. We felt confident, however, that Hôtel Costes — with its reputation for combining all four and a rather salacious website to boot — would deliver.
We cruised up the rue Saint Honoré and pulled up outside what has, since it opened in 1991, fast become a Parisian institution: the fashionista and the chic’s favourite hotel, restaurant and nightclub in the French capital (and purveyor of rather trite, ‘wannabe’ lounge music to the rest of us.) There was no need even to open the car’s doors, not one but two smiling valets were on hand to do it for us. Greetings were lavished on us, some amusing repartee chucked around, then car keys and euro notes exchanged in equal measure.
“Would it be possible to park it nearby? We’re just here for lunch” I asked hopefully.
“Monsieur, we’ll park it right here!” was the convivial response as our smiling new friend pointed to the prime position right outside the hotel. His efficient colleague was already at the wheel gliding the SLS into pride of place.
The hotel’s front doors were then flung open for us and we were ushered unto the wood-paneled, opulent interior of the villa.
What a great start! As we walked down the corridor towards the restaurant’s reception point, we remarked on how charming the welcome had been, how great it was that the previously surly Parisians had moved on from their silly airs and graces and embraced a more international standard of customer service (something we’d noted a few years ago during our Prodigal Meetup in the City of Light.) In short, we were in a simply wonderful mood and looking forward to a great time.
Unfortunately, those few steps down that short corridor were the last truly enjoyable moments we were going to spend at Hôtel Costes.
We got to the front desk where a tall, elegant yet strangely severe looking girl (we’d call her a woman but she seemed too young to deserve the monicker) was standing, head down in her reservation book. Presumably someone had scribbled the secret to world peace or perhaps the cure for cancer in this book because she was too entranced by it to raise her head and acknowledge the two customers who had just parked a quarter of a million euros worth of supercar outside her place of work and were now waiting increasingly less patiently to make a contribution to her salary that month.
Finally, I coughed.
Severe Girl reluctantly looked up.
“Oui?” was her opening gambit.
“Hello, we’re a little early but we have a table booked for lunch at 12:00” offered Six in his very best French.
“But it is not 12:00; it is 11:30” was the curt reply.
Severe Girl seemed to take pleasure in stating the obvious in a way designed to antagonise us as much as she could.
“Oh, we know, we’re happy to have a coffee on your terrace while we wait” we said.
“But you have booked for lunch. We are not serving lunch yet.”
“That’s no problem. We don’t want lunch yet. We’d like to have a coffee on your terrace until you are serving lunch.”
“Un moment” shrugged Severe Girl and went off to discuss the hassle of dealing with us with two of her colleagues.
Another waiter appeared a minute or two later and showed us to a spot in the hotel’s charming terrace courtyard.
I’d love to tell you that things picked up once we were finally settled at a table but of course they didn’t. Severe Girl set the tone but her colleagues Charmless Waiter and ‘Look Anywhere But At Customers’ Waitress who seemed to be notionally in charge of serving us were equally inhospitable.
We asked Charmless Waiter for a packet of smokes to accompany our courtyard coffees. He said we’d have to produce 10 euros in coins. We asked him to simply add it to our bill. This, it seems, was far too much trouble. Lots of Gallic huffing and puffing ensued. Six finally gave up and handed over the cash. It all felt the very opposite of how a luxury hotel experience should be. We couldn’t help contrast it with the time we’d spent at the nearby George V. Nothing there is too much trouble, the customer is always king and your wants and needs are not only met and exceeded, they’re anticipated. Back at Hôtel Costes, we were fighting tooth and nail with Charmless Waiter to be allowed to spend money in his bar.
Things only got worse when midday rolled around and we were finally ‘allowed’ to begin lunch. We got up and asked to be seated inside for our meal.
“Mais…vous etes deja a table” protested Severe Girl.
“We sat on the terrace for our coffee but we’d like to dine inside in the restaurant please.”
“A une nouvelle table alors?” came the response with an incredulous look.
“Yep, fancy that, at a different table.” We were fast losing all patience with this place.
This pattern of surly, inattentive, charmless service sullied what would otherwise have been a pretty decent lunch. The brasserie-style food, while not exceptional, was pleasant enough; the Napoleon III-inspired decor designed by Jaques Garcia lived up to its reputation for sexy opulence (although we’d expect it feels even better at night) and there is definitely an atmosphere of insouciant chic about the place. But all of that counts for nothing when you are made to feel so unwelcome by the staff that you eschew ordering a second drink because avoiding another encounter with ‘Look Anywhere But At Customers’ Waitress is preferable to satiating your desire for one more glass of wine.
As lunch drew to a close, the staff had managed to sink Six into a mixture of rage and depression. It was clear that it was only a matter of time before he went postal on every member of the Hôtel Costes team, their families and friends. Not wanting to find one of our editorial team under arrest for murder so early in the trip, we thought it was best if we asked for the bill (a challenge in itself as it turned out.) You will not be surprised to hear that it was reassuringly expensive. Considering what a rotten time we’d had, the bill was simply adding financial insult to the injury that had been already done to our previously high opinion of Parisian hospitality. We felt like we had just been mugged by a small gang of sulking teenagers.
We hurried outside, jumped back into the ever-welcoming, ever-eager SLS and fired up the V8. As we hit the throttle and those 571 Affalterbach stallions turned the Hôtel Costes into little more than a blur in our rearview mirror, we tried as hard as we could to do the same with the memory of our lunch there.
Hôtel Costes, 239 rue Saint Honoré, 75001 Paris, Tel: +33 1 42 44 50 00, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published on January 7, 2013.