Before burgers, lobsters and chickens made single dish restaurants the talk of the town, there was Le Relais de Venise. For over fifty years the original Parisian restaurant has been offering its customers salad, steak, pommes frites, and not much else. There is now an outpost in Manhattan and three in London: Marylebone, the City and Canary Wharf, and it was this last one that I was invited to along with a host of other bloggers on Thursday evening. To say I’m not a massive fan of the area is well, an understatement. It’s all just so shiny and uniformly new looking. But arriving half an hour early for dinner I walked down to the river side. With the smell of salt, the squawk of gulls and the relative peace, I could have been beside the seaside. Until I turned around to face the cold gleaming-glass and sharp-edged towers of the Wharf. But for the first time I could see some sort of beauty in it.
Crossing the doorway into L’Entrecôte is rather like hopping on a much shorter Eurostar. With just a couple of steps you leave behind London’s financial centre and enter gay Paree. From the burgundy leather banquette seating to the colourful Venetian paintings on the wall, from the yellow and white paper tablecloths to the waitresses dressed in cute black and white dresses and a slick of scarlet lipstick, many of the original features have been faithfully replicated. It could feel twee, and indeed the thought did cross my mind, but within a few minutes I was completely charmed by it. Paris is, after all, hardly known for its modern and adventurous restaurants, it’s these smart but relaxed places it trades in, and this is the exact atmosphere L’Entrecôte recreates.
We were offered glasses of the house wines; the white was a bit too high in acidity, but I was impressed by the red, a relaxed Bordeaux with a soft finish.
The only question you are asked at L’Entrecôte is how you would like your steak: blue, rare (red), medium (pink) and well done (brown). I opted for medium, aware that when the French say ‘red’ they mean ‘still bleeding’. Once ordered (it didn’t take long) we were given our salad; crisp leaves with a handful of chopped walnuts on top, and coated in a sharp, peppery, mustard dressing. There was also a plate of sliced white baguette, although when we asked for butter to go with it, we were politely but firmly told they don’t serve butter. When they say this is what you get, they mean it.
The steak and pomme frites are cleverly served in two helpings so you continue to eat crisp chips and hot steak throughout your meal. Our sirloins were a perfect blushing pink, beautifully tender, and the chips thin, crisp and salty. The current trend for thick fat ones means I had forgotten how good French fries could be, I like the higher ratio of crisp skin to fluffy insides. It came with a generous helping of their ‘special sauce’, a secret recipe their chefs are sworn to protect (or just told to keep their mouths shut). From what our table of expert (?) eaters could gather included tarragon, anchovies and lots of butter. Delicious!
It felt odd to be faced with having to make a decision over dessert, so we decided to share a selection at our table. The profiteroles, filled with ice cream rather than cream, and swimming in a hot, slightly bitter, chocolate sauce were the highlight. The tart cassis sorbert was also very good.
It was a simple meal, but no less tasty for being so. The salad, steak and pomme frites are £23 which I thought was fair; the meat was excellent quality and very well cooked. It would make a great place for lunch (they say they can turn people around in 45 minutes), or if you need a quick dinner. It’s a shame there aren’t any near theatre land as it would be a perfect pre-show feeding spot. Yet while the food was great, it was the atmosphere, and above all the service, which I loved. Our waitresses were gorgeous and exceptionally charming. And charm is something Canary Wharf is desperately short of. So it’s a good job this place has it in spades.
To celebrate Bastille Day, L’Entrecôte Canary Wharf is offering 25% off your food bill for the next two weeks. Oh la la.
Find out more on the Le Relais de Venise website, or follow them on Twitter, @entrecotecw.
I was invited to this event by Sarah Anne Lewis Trading PR. Many thanks to the restaurant for their generosity.