Le Relais de Venise Ã¢â‚¬Å“L’EntrecÃƒÂ´teÃ¢â‚¬Â 18-20 Mackenzie Walk, Canary Wharf E14 4PH www.relaisdevenise.com
While there might be a few joints in London focusing on one-dish specialties – yes, it’s mostly burger joints and gourmet hot dogs a la Honest Burger and Bubble Dogs that spring to mind – it’s quite rare to find somewhere where the menu consists of one, singular dish day in, day out.
That’s exactly what’s on offer at L’EntrecÃƒÂ´te in Canary Wharf, which has gone out of its way to faithfully replicate the original Paris restaurant that has been serving only steak, frites and salad for over fifty years. So, just ahead of that very French of holidays, Bastille Day, J and I travelled East to see just how good a steak this one-plate place could cook up.
We arrived on World Cup final night, which would explain the empty tables, but I can imagine that this no reservations allowed branch of the small Le Relais de Venise chain (there are venues in Marylebone, The City and New York) with it’s tres Parisian banquette seating, trumpet vases overflowing with yellow lilies and a riot of differently-coloured table cloths gets full to bursting come business lunchtimes and post work peak dinner hours.
I’d half expected to be seated with the mournful sounds of Edith Piaf or Charles Aznavour wafting oh-so-Frenchily around but the whole venue was musically bereft. The lack of traditional, chocolate box Parisien tunes was immediately forgotten as a huge plate of mustard and walnut dressed salad was planted in front of each of us with a plate of sliced baguette (I never thought I’d have to ask oÃƒÂ¹ est le beurre in a french restaurant, but the bread here comes butter-free).
Peppery and salty, the leaves softly wilted by the sheer power of the vibrantly-flavoured dressing and studded with shards of walnut, this simple salad might just have become my new favourite thing to eat. A shame, as at £23 a pop for a meal here it doesn’t look like it’s going to become my daily lunch spot.
Of course, I could attempt to make the same salad at home, but I have the lingering and depressing feeling that I’d never be able to reproduce this particular salad. It might sound crazy – as seriously, who couldn’t make a walnut salad? However, while it may have been just a salad, it’s a well known fact that those crafty chefs across the channel with all their cordon bleu wizardry produce some of the best and most difficult to replicate sauces and dressings in the world.
Salivating, it was onto the steak. Our waitress smiled and suggested that we order our aged beef rare to my medium-loving dining partner with an expression that hinted that the chef might just cry/beat her or, indeed us for ruining his meat with a few extra minutes of cooking. And how right she was. This steak, lightly charred, perfectly rested and sliced into fine slivers of bloodless, unctuous, butter-soft gorgeousness, was a revelation to anyone who wouldn’t dream of ordering their steak rare.
The wafers of meat arrived with a cloud of freshly-fried, piping hot fries and came drenched in L’EntrecÃƒÂ´te‘s most famous of sauces – a greenish, brownish slick that smelled indefinably good. And it was good, so good infact that alongside a half-bottle of the house Bordeaux it managed to conjure up images of sun-soaked Provence, of rustic farmhouses and mustachioed men called Jean-Claude who sweep you into a muscled, garlic-hued embrace.
Too much? Probably, but this isn’t any sauce. This sauce is made to a top secret recipe originally created by Mme. Godillot, the daughter of M. de Saurs who was the founder of Le Relais de Venise “L’EntrecÃƒÂ´te” in Paris and hasn’t changed since the original restaurant opened in 1959. The recipe is so closely guarded that it’s rumoured that even the chef doesn’t know what goes into it as it arrives part made straight from France. All our waitress would reveal is that it had butter in it. Lots of butter, which is probably why the bread arrived naked – adding more butter to something so already clearly butter heavy would probably cause some sort of mass diner’s heart attack.
Just when I was nearing the final slice of my rather small serving of steak I turned to see the waitress approaching with another platter of perfectly-cooked beef followed by what can only be described as an Everest of golden fries. They have a neat trick here of ordering your second portion of steak to be ready when you’re about three slices in, meaning that it arrives just at the moment you’re running low – a beautiful concept that can only really be implemented in a one-plate speciality restaurant.
For a place with a that prides itself on perfecting a single plate of food, the dessert menu is pleasingly expansive, with every French fancy your heart could desire from Tartelettes au Citron and Vacherin du Relais to Mont Blancs. J couldn’t resist the CrÃƒÂ¨me BrÃƒÂ»lÃƒÂ©e – she’s somewhat of an expert on them, if only because her sampling count must have surely reached triple figures by now – while I opted for the exotic sounding Tulipe au Framboises: a delicate, flower shaped tuile cup filled with fresh raspberries and vanilla pod ice cream and topped with Chantilly cream and shards of toasted almonds.
If any reassurances were needed on the quality of the CrÃƒÂ¨me BrÃƒÂ»lÃƒÂ©e here, the only words i heard J utter came as she contemplated the last scrapings in the ramekin as she whispered forlornly: Ã¢â‚¬Å“I don’t want it to end.Ã¢â‚¬Â
L’EntrecÃƒÂ´te is a simple concept, simply and well done. There are touches of real Parisian authenticity here, from the size of the wine glasses and the heavy silver cutlery to the smart little black and white aproned outfits that the waitresses sport. Yes, it might feel a touch onions and breton-striped stereotyped in places, but what keeps it more Amelie and less’Allo’Allo is the sheer quality of the food. One thats certainly tempting enough to travel out east for this Bastille Day.