If we are all obsessed with choice and finding the next cool thing, how come the busiest restaurant I’ve been to in ages was the antithesis of modern culture? No bookings, no menu choice and it’s apparently no flash-in-the-pan fad either – the first Relais de Venise launched in Paris in 1959 and has successfully travelled to a number of venues across the world ever since.
With their no-bookings policy, we decided to visit their Marylebone venue on a Monday night to avoid the queues. It turns out that this was in vain, however, because apparently there are always queues. We arrived at around 8pm on a miserable Monday evening, waited around 15 minutes for a table and when we left around an hour later, there was still a 15-20 minute queue! And it’s not as if the restaurant is small either, with around 100 diners crammed into every little inch of the buzzing Parisian brasserie style restaurant.
So onto the food then and menu provides just one choice. For the modest sum of £19 diners are treated to a fresh Walnut salad and crusty baguette to start and steak & chips for mains. Somewhat humorously, their website does claim that they “welcome vegetarians”, although a plate of cheese in lieu of the meat is perhaps what they deserve for their difficult choice of diet!
The entrecote steaks come from Donald Russell (beef supplier to The Queen) and are of top quality. Just tell your waitress how you want it cooked and 10 minutes later you will be presented with a plate full of French fries and a tasty steak smothered in their thick ‘secret sauce’; whilst hardly the last word in refined cooking, you can’t deny that the buttery, herby and garlicky sauce is seriously addictive. If you’re still hungry, waitresses also kindly come round with second helpings.
Onto desserts and somewhat ironically, there are more choices than most restaurants have main course options! Profiteroles were light and came in rich chocolate sauce, crème brulee was as it should be and the Grand Marnier semifreddo packed a seriously boozy punch.
Whilst the concept may have sounded a bit quirky, there is no denying that Relais manages to provide a thoroughly satisfying dining experience and priced at £19, there is serious value to be had too.
Cuisine type: Steak-frites
Dinner for two (excluding drinks): £48 (£19/head for starter and main)
Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecote
120 Marylebone Lane
Tel: 020 7486 0878
5 Throgmorton Street
Tel: 020 7638 6325