Le Relais de Venise 'L'Entrecôte', The City
Last night we found ourselves stuck in the City at rush hour with a pram, and with the thought of battling the crowds at liftless Bank station too much to bear decided to cut our losses and try to find somewhere for dinner. Our usual faves (the One Lombard brasserie / Coq d'Argent) were out of the question due to the baby and buggy situation, so we had almost resigned ourselves to finding a decent chain (Jamie's Italian / Byron) when we thought it worth a punt to ring up L'Entrecôte and see if we could bring the small one. They're always busy and noisy and it's not too formal there, so we thought it would be ok and indeed they turned out to be very baby friendly. Phew.
Le Relais de Venise 'L'Entrecôte' is so called after the original Parisian branch retained the name of the Italian restaurant they took over, but it is resolutely French. They have three branches in London (Canary Wharf, City and Marylebone) in addition to the Paris original and a new Manhatten outpost, and if you've never been you're in for a treat. There is no menu at L'Entrecôte; you're simply asked how you would like your steak - rare, every time, which your server will scrawl on the table - then presented with a simple green salad with a walnut and mustard vinagrette dressing and some very good baguette whilst you wait for your steak to appear.
When L'Entrecote first opened in London there were two things of note: 1) that there was an irritating no-bookings policy (ugh) and back in the day this meant there were queues out the door, like we now see with MeatLiquor, Bubbledogs, Spuntino and all the rest of it, and 2) the secret sauce. Thankfully the queues have abated and you can near enough always get a table these days, but the secret sauce remains a fiercely guarded mysterious combination of what they call 'various herbs, spices and condiments'. Each steak comes ready dressed with the secret sauce, and every time I eat here I try to guess, Masterchef palate test style, exactly what is in it. I'm not the only one.
For my money, I reckon its an adaptation of bearnaise - the principal flavour is tarragon, and the vinegar and butter combination is unmistakable. I think there is also something like thyme in there for earthiness and the very green colour and freshness is probably thanks to a good helping of parsely. There is also some heat which I attribute to white pepper. In any case, it is sublime and a very delicious accompaniment to steak frites.
If you're thinking the portion above looks on the small side, then fear not as you are initially only given 2/3 of your meal. The latter third is held back and brought to you later on with a freshly cooked helping of frites to ensure that the steak stays warm for your enjoyment. You should really refuse the extra helping, considering that the sauce is probably 95% butter, but it is hard because look how lovely the steak is:
And if you haven't been enough of a piglet already, I urge you to order the cheeseboard. For the very unprincely sum of £7.95 you get five generous slices of some of the best French cheeses I've had outside of Galvin La Chapelle (and that one was NOT £7.95). The brie was remarkable and the comte was enough for us to demand that the waitress reveal her cheese sources (apparently Mme. Godillot sends it directly from France). Galvin's are from Androuet in Spitalfields, so you could try there for a similar effect.
The bill was £80 and included a bottle of house red. Go go go... and let me know what you think the sauce is made from!