A customised menu and a mixed crowd greet an affable Paris Hilton at Dubai Festival City's flagship restaurant, but was it worth all that money?
Dining with Paris
A chorus of excited whispers hissed through the room. "She's here," said one young Emirati woman, as her friends at the table craned their necks to see. Paris Hilton had finally arrived at the dinner held in her honour, halfway through the second course. As I was gladly making short work of the heart of green tomato tigrée - honey, lemon, verbena and dominoes of confit melon with Sarawak pepper - others were ready to make a meal out of her grand entrance. But Miss Hilton wasn't ready to eat just yet. She had work to do.
We had assembled at the Intercontinental Dubai Festival City's flagship restaurant, Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire, for the pleasure and privilege of dining with the 28-year-old socialite, heiress and current talk of the town. It had been advertised that dinner would commence at 8pm. Then, we were optimistically advised that it would be delayed by just half an hour. Some time just before 10pm, the object of everybody's attention finally showed up in a tiny private dining room at the edge of the restaurant to pose for photographs and sign autographs, which she did elegantly and with good humour.
Hilton has been in Dubai to film the Middle East edition of her reality TV show, Paris Hilton's My New BFF, but there was something rather unreal about this Dh1,650-a-head dinner. As the table of Emirati women hurried to have their pictures taken with the star, I hurriedly finished off the last of my tartlet provençal of fresh goat's cheese with anise and brunoise of courgette. The starter was worth savouring, but now that she'd finally arrived, I didn't want to miss out on a photo opportunity with Paris - not at that price, anyway.
When I got my chance and stood there next to Hilton with a silly grin on my face, I wanted to ask her so many questions about her life, her appetite for fame, the trappings of wealth and privilege and her considered proposals for world peace. But all I could muster in the snatched 20 seconds was: "How's Cristiano?" She giggled at the mention of the Portuguese superstar footballer believed to be her latest squeeze, and replied: "He's good." But I already knew that. That's why Real Madrid paid over Dh480 million for him.
Hilton was apparently unwilling to discuss the potential link-up play between Ronaldo and Kaká at their new Spanish club, so I shuffled off back to my table to find some exquisite blue lobster with richly flavoured girolle mushrooms and fresh almonds. It took Hilton a while longer to take her place at her petal-strewn table at the centre of the restaurant, but when she finally did there was a mixed response from the guests. Many of the younger ones could barely take their eyes off the millionaire heiress and occasionally giggled in giddy disbelief at the proximity of their heroine. Others merely got on with their meals, eager to experience the latest creations at one of the world's best restaurants. It was all a little awkward.
Earlier, I'd spoken to Etienne Haro, Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire's restaurant director, about the mix of people at the event. "We have two different clienteles here tonight," he explained. "We have a clientele that's very attracted by a menu with the new creations of chef Gagnaire and then there's a clientele that comes specifically for Paris Hilton, plus a few youngsters who are already fans of her, but are yet to discover this restaurant. So there are a few tables tonight that we will have to seduce. It's quite interesting to have those two worlds together tonight and to see if there can be some kind of synergy between them."
I didn't see much synergy, and neither did Miss Hilton, who appeared to be far more interested in her mobile phone than the other guests, the food or anything else. Each time I looked, she seemed to be frantically texting someone - perhaps sending tweets to her followers on Twitter (the message "At dinner with my parents @ The Reflets Restaurant in The Hotel Intercontinental, the food is amazing!" later appeared on Twitter), or maybe messages to a certain Mr Ronaldo?
Either way, she seemed to pick at her food and left the table after little more than an hour. She didn't even wait for the "pink desserts" of redcurrant macaroons, ice creams, cherry purées and lemon grass ginger sorbet made in her honour. Although the food had been excellent, I noticed that it was lighter and slightly more restrained than the Pierre Gagnaire food I knew. I wondered if it had been tailored to Hilton's specific requirements.
"We do know the ingredients that she likes, because we have her rider," said Haro. "But the menu is a Pierre Gagnaire menu and we have not changed it for Miss Hilton." The mention of Paris Hilton's rider made me wonder if she had demanded anything outrageous or self-indulgent, like a daily supply of pink M&Ms. "If we could create our own Pierre Gagnaire M&Ms, we would certainly make them pink for her!" he joked. "But since she has arrived in the hotel she has been eating various things and she seems to be quite an open-minded person when it comes to food. She likes a lot of organic ingredients." Just not so many tonight, it would seem.
It had been a surreal experience, which could easily have been explained as a sign of these celebrity-obsessed times - after all, I'd just paid a lot of money to dine in the presence of a woman who is famous for being famous. But as I left Reflets, I reflected that celebrity patronage of high-end restaurants is nothing new. Le Grand Vefour restaurant in Paris, which dates back to the 1780s, proudly celebrates its famous customers, such as the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife, Josephine, the writers and philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir, the novelist and poet Victor Hugo and the artist, writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. Where would Paris Hilton rank among that lot?
Haro tried to explain. "Miss Hilton represents an idea of luxury; she's famous for her dresses, for her handbags, for her shoes and for her pink Bentley. She is an idea of luxury, and we at Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire are - in our own right - an idea of luxury as well. It's quite interesting to see how those two work and merge." Interesting is certainly the word. firstname.lastname@example.org