From Too Many Chefs -

May 1, 2007
Hunger is the best sauce

AH_food.jpgOne week ago, I found myself having breakfast in bed. It was served on a tray with a white cloth napkin and included crispy croissants, reasonably hot coffee and milk and freshly squeezed orange juice, with a side of yogurt. I cannot remember a meal I enjoyed more. In the first place, it was the first meal I've had in months that I could enjoy down to the last crumb, without feeling like I'd used up the last cubic millimeter of space remaining in my diaphragm for essential actions such as, say, breathing. And in the second place, the new-found space was due to the fact that our second son, Brandon James, had finally decided to make his appearance on the world stage. So a combination of great self-satisfaction and ravenous hunger combined to make the meal memorable.

The American Hospital of Paris (which is, confusingly, in the suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine) has the reputation of being "the four-star hotel" of hospitals in the Paris area. I was told this repeatedly when I was preparing for the birth of number one son. In fact, it is NOT a four star hotel. But I'm willing to bet that compared with your standard public hospital it deserves those four stars. Every room in the maternity ward has an en suite bathroom. The towels are big and fluffy and you get three of them every day. Toiletries such as soap are provided and when you leave they load you down with essentials like baby wipes, eosine disinfectant and baby soap (if you are leaving with a newborn, that is). The food is copious and surprisingly good. What I find interesting about the food is the differences between what you expect (on seeing the menu), what you see (when it arrives) and how it tastes. You have two choices for each of the three courses of the meal and they all sound elegant: rabbit with tapenade or chicken breast with a forestière sauce, green beans or pasta, cheese or pear sorbet. They always tell you specifically which cheese to expect. And when it arrives, it looks, well...bland. The above photo is the rabbit selection. It wasn't until I actually cut into the meat that I remembered what I had ordered for dinner when they took my breakfast tray. Oh yeah, rabbit. There IS tapenade on that rabbit, though you wouldn't notice it if you weren't looking for it. But the third surprise comes when you start eating: it's all surprisingly good. Okay, yes, hunger and a re-inflated diaphragm make for a wonderful sauce. But the food is pretty good even allowing for those factors. So for a hospital, I'd give the place four stars out of four. For a restaurant, I'd have to deduct a star for the lack of presentation - but I'd still go back and eat there again if the price were right.

And as for the rest of the experience: I cannot recommend the place highly enough. The midwife who remained calm and supportive with a very panicky mother (the baby arrived 54 minutes after we walked into the hospital), the doctor who trusted her instincts and came immediately rather than waiting to be called to say it was time, the nurses who happily supplied me with gallons of water at every hour of the day or night (I drank 4 liters in the first 24 hours!) - they all deserved four stars. As does the new addition to our family. He also seemed supremely happy with he nosh on offer at the hospital, colostrum followed by breast milk.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at May 1, 2007 3:08 PM