Le Relais de Venise is a French restaurant that only serves one dish: steak frites with a green salad. Yep, no menu (except for desserts). There are two branches in London, one in New York, and a couple in Europe (see Paris review). I visited the Marylebone London restaurant.
About Relais de Venise L'Entrecote
The reason there is an Italian name for a French restaurant is that the man who started the company, Paul Gineste de Saurs, bought an Italian restaurant near Paris in 1959 and kept the name. He made the decision to serve only the one dish - steak frites - but to create a secret sauce to make his restaurant stand out. Each branch now has a cult following.
The key to the many return customers is the quality ingredients: the steaks are from Donald Russell (supplier to HM The Queen) and the desserts are all home-made (apart from the ice cream).
It is strangely refreshing to go to a restaurant knowing what you are going to have. There is no menu here as they only serve the one dish.
There is a strict no bookings policy so you may well have to queue outside. This never seems to deter diners and once inside you'll find tightly packed tables with upholstered bench seating around the edge of the room. The close tables are actually to encourage friendly chat with those next to you which is a surprisingly pleasant idea. The restaurant describes itself as casual but it still feels a bit fancy to me so I reckon 'French casual' is a bit nicer than I'm used to. There was no music when I visited but the volume does rise when the place is busy due to all that chatting.
Once you are seated, a waitress - dressed with a classic 'French maid' - takes your drinks order and checks how you would like your steak cooked. This is scribbled on the paper tablecloth and green salads appear at your table within minutes.
The green salad starter is lettuce topped with walnuts and mustard vinaigrette. Fresh, tasty and not wet. (Click on 'more images' above to see a photo.)
The frites (French fries) are hand-chipped on the premises using Bintje potatoes from France to retain consistency with the Parisian venue, although I wouldn't have thought this was necessary for fried potatoes.
When your main meal arrives you may think the steak is a little small but this is because half is held back to be kept warm. (They won't tell you this so just remember you're having two main meals, making this even better value.) The steak is covered in the secret sauce, almost drowning, so do say if you don't want too much. I did ask what was in the sauce but was told, "It's a secret" which explains the name. I can tell you it's buttery but has pepper, herbs, and spices.
I'm vegetarian. Yep, I went to review a steak restaurant as a vegetarian. But I did take a carnivorous friend who was happy to help me out with that part of the review. Vegetarians are offered a cheese selection with no crackers but bread is available. I did have the French fries and tried the secret sauce so I almost had the full experience.
Things were going well but went a whole lot better when we saw the dessert menu. Oh my word, that list is good! There are profiteroles, meringues, creme brulee, sorbets, and more. I chose 'Le Vacherin du Relais' which is layers of meringue with vanilla ice-cream and hazelnut ice-cream sandwiched between, topped with cream, and smothered in a sea of molten chocolate. Crikey, that was good. Very good. (Click on 'more images' above to see this yummy dessert.)
When I visited in 2010, a starter and main course were priced at £19 per person. I feel this offers exceptional value for money for such high-quality food. I would strongly recommend choosing something - anything! - from the dessert menu as the choices were very well-priced. (My enormous dessert was only £4.50.)
The idea of no menu may seem odd before your visit but once you've been to Le Relais de Venise it will make perfect sense. Ask them not to overdo the secret sauce and you'll have a wonderful meal in a grand setting. What they do they do well so why would you want anything else? And make sure you have a dessert!
Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecote
120 Marylebone Lane (opposite the Golden Hind fish and chips restaurant)
London W1U 2QG
Tel: 020 7486 0878 for inquiries (no reservations available)
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary meal for the purpose of reviewing those services. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.