Sometimes, the best ideas are the simplest. Le Relais de Venise embodies that spirit by taking a formula that has worked in Paris for more than 50 years, where customers come to enjoy one meal: a green salad with walnuts dressed with mustard vinaigrette followed by steak frites, served with a secret sauce.
In other words, there is no menu; you simply choose how you like your steak.
Simple? Yes. Genius? Well, it depends on the execution. To try out the City version of this restaurant, I was joined by the Author, her partner the Wine Merchant, and the Connoisseur – all of which seem to have eaten their way around some of London’s finest establishments.
After the salad starter with baguette (apparently and intriguingly shipped in from France – why would you do that?) - which was good, albeit just a salad - we went on to the mains. We went for blue and rare for the bloodthirsty Wine Merchant and Connoisseur, and mediums for the Author and me.
At first glance, the portions struck me as a tad small. The healthy lashings of French fries not withstanding. But there was no questioning the quality. My medium was, of course, what countries outside of France would classify as medium rare, while the gents choices looked like they had barely touched the grill. But this is a good thing, as the contented silence at our table attested to. The secret sauce (which I guessed was a concoction of beef stock and cream, but who knows) was delicious. However, I could have done with a little more. Silly me. I had not heard the waitress state that there were two servings. So another stroke of genius saw the waitress come back with the rest of our respective cuts of steak and more frites. Glorious.
We washed it down with a bottle and a bit of Grand Caprice, as supplied by the Wine Merchant, that was as delicious as the first time I tried it. And it is no coincidence that I was with the Wine Merchant and Author on that occasion.
For desserts they do give you a menu, and I went for the chocolate profiteroles. They were richly chocolate, and despite being filled with ice cream (I prefer cream) were delicious.
The staff were very French, in that they were incredibly efficient and polite, but never to the point of over-familiar, as seems to be the style nowadays. The punters were very City and the ambience was warm, and very chatty. Relais de Venise is also very nicely priced – the £26 a head we spent seemed very modest compared to what you might expect to pay in that locale.
Apparently there are plans for this incredibly popular little chain (Marylebone and Bank) to open more restaurants in Canary Wharf and Manchester. With its beautiful simplicity, I’m sure it will be a success.