LE RELAIS DE VENISE: SET MEAL IN THE CITY
There is a lot to be said for keeping things simple when dining out, particularly after a trip to the USA where menus can stretch to novel like proportions and the list of choices is impressive if bewildering.
So, despite my jet lag and the pounds piled on during my time in L.A, when HP suggested that we visit the second branch of Le Relais de Venise, newly opened on Old Broad St, I thought the set meal simplicity of their menu would provide some welcome respite.
A Parisian stalwart, which also has a branch in Barcelona as well as in Marylebone, Le Relais is famous for the lack of choice it offers with the only decisions to be made coming at the beginning of the meal when you choose your wine and at the end of the meal if you can force down a little dessert. Otherwise, all the work is done for you as the set meal sees the Gallic waitresses, only ever waitresses, serve you with a green salad and then entrecote steak “Porte Maillot” doused in their “famous” sauce for the set price of £19 a head.
The green salad, with its decent mustard dressing, is not a bad way to occupy your self for a few minutes while waiting for the steak and almost immediately HP had finished mopping his plate with a torn piece of baguette, our plates were cleared and the beef arrived. There’s more tradition here of course, as a handful of slices of the steak are retained for second helpings and the meal is plated for you before you are presented with a classic steak-frites.
Given that the Parisian original has been doing the same things since 1949, you would expect them to do it well. The entrecote was cooked perfectly rare as requested, although the fact that it is smothered in sauce helps hide the kitchen’s skill very well. The exact recipe of the sauce is a guarded secret although it apparently includes cream, chicken livers, thyme flowers and huge amounts of butter. It is a secret I could well live without knowing and would almost certainly be better served on the side giving the beef the opportunity to shine. As it was, the meat becomes nothing but texture swimming in a pool of murky liquid.
The frites, however, are the real deal, piping hot, crisp and well salted. The arrival of a fresh plate of the little beauties to accompany our second portion of meat is one part of the schtick that would never see DH complain and our waitress was instructed in no uncertain terms to share them out equally or suffer the inevitable consequences.
Enjoying the novelty of choice for dessert, HP set his sights on “Le Vacherin Du Relai” a slightly ludicrous mound of meringue, chocolate sauce and ice cream that was better than it had any right to be and at £4.50, did not make too much of an addition to our set meal pricing.
A bottle of unremarkable Bordeaux at £16.95 and an added service charge of 10% brought the bill to £66 enough to belie the budget aspect of its Parisian heritage and enough to make DH wonder, over a post supper Manhattan at The East Room, if the lines of willing would-be diners who queue for hours at the original, could be replicated in London's depressed financial district.
I have my doubts