“ Address: Throgmorton Street / London / EC2N 2AD „
Le Relais de Venise was originally founded by Paul Gineste de Saurs in 1959 in Paris and remain family-run businesses with branches in New York, Marylebone, The City and the original in Paris. Other branches, run by the same family but under different names, are also open in Geneva, Bahrain and Barcelona.
My boyfriend and I visited The City branch, based near Bank tube station on Throgmorton Street. In the heart of the City, this restaurant is popular with Londoners seeking a scrumptious taste of France and traditional steak-frites.
~*~* The restaurant *~*~
The restaurant has a French brassiere-feel with wood panelling, warm colours, beautiful flower arrangements and cosy lighting. The whole restaurant has a relaxed, welcoming ambience and looks neat and clean. The spirit of Venetian playfulness and history is also celebrated - from the large Venetian carnival paintings to glass scones and bold harlequin-theme table clothes in red, yellow and green draped over each individual table.
The City restaurant only has one floor and as a result of this limited space (and our general love for a decent steak in the UK!), the restaurant can get quite crowded. There is a system of no reservations, so in the evenings (particularly around 7-8pm), you may be in for a wait before you are seated.
The staff are friendly and attentive. On entering the restaurant, we were greeted by a member of staff and led to our table immediately, with a waitress soon on hand to take our orders. The waitresses are all dressed beautifully - in smart black dresses with white pinnies (very French maid!) giving a neat, put together look. The same waitress served us throughout our visit, which was a nice touch.
The waitresses are incredibly attentive - you will never complain of slow service at this restaurant! With hawk-eyed attention and swooping in for orders, serving courses and clearing plates, it is easy to feel a little rushed but staff are always polite and not at all intrusive I have found which compensates.
The restaurant has a relaxed, friendly and intimate ambience - quite impressive for a busy and popular restaurant. I did not notice any music playing when I visited, but the low murmer of diners could be heard.
~*~* The menu *~*~
A word of warning - if you are the sort of person that loves variety and can never quite decide over what to have on a restaurant menu, you will either love or hate Le Relais de Venise. There is no concept of menu selections - there is only one option of starter (a salad with baguette) and two options for main (steak-frites or cheese). A simple concept with limited choices, but allows the restaurant to capitalise on what it does very well - it's signature steak dish.
~*~* Starter *~*~
There is only one choice of starter - a fresh green salad scattered with walnut pieces, accompanied with a mustard, piquant dressing. The salad is not dripping in dressing, the leaves being lightly coated, which makes for a really scrummy, nice and light starter that is just the right portion size.
The salad was served very promptly after our drinks orders were taken (the salad actually appearing before all our ordered drinks were served!). This seemed to be the general trend, with the waitress zoning in on our table as soon as we placed our cutlery down. This seems to happen on every visit to this restaurant, so I would advise you take your time and don't rush as the clearing away of plates is incredibly efficient.
~*~* Main meal *~*~
All the steaks are entrecote, a cut of rib-eye or rib steak taken from above the ribs. The steak can be cooked rare (I had this and this is incredibly rare!), medium-well or very well done. My boyfriend, quite unusually for a man really, likes his steak very, very well done. He ordered his steak to be cooked well done and it was, however to cook the steak to this level it is sliced into thinner strips(like thin goujons) to ensure it is cooked all the way through quite quickly. However, my boyfriend remarked that the steak was still very tender and not at all tough to eat, but cooked through to his liking.
My rare steak was utterly delicious - very rare and delicate. All the steaks are served with a luscious liquid sauce - a 'secret sauce' with a fiercely guarded recipe! This is a sage-green colour, speckled with herbs, with a glossy buttery cream texture. The sauce is very savoury in flavour - with hints of lemongrass, mustard and thyme in the delicious blend. This is the only sauce on offer, but French mustard is offered as a condiment on each table.
You cannot have French steak-frites without the fries, and those served at le Relais are perfectly done - crisp, thin morsels that are served piping hot and are heaped generously onto your plate.
The main meal - steak with sauce and fries - are served in two portions. When the server notes that you have finished your first portion, they will offer you the second, loading the remaining steak, sauce and frites onto your plate with neat silver service. The second serving is kept warm on a small burner and is served on a neat silver platter.
For vegetarians, Le Relais does not offer the same tempting equivalent (in my opinion), with only a cheese course replacing the steak. This, to me (a non-vegetarian but with many veggie best friends and relatives) seems a somewhat meagre offering but the concept of this restaurant is based on doing limited options (i.e. steak) very well.
~*~* Dessert *~*~
If you can fit in dessert after such a savoury main, there is a large selection on the dessert menu. Options include traditional cheese option, ice creams, gateux and accompanying coffees, as well as other favourites. I chose crème brulee - topped with a satisfyingly golden and caramelised topping which shattered beautifully, this had a thick, vanilla egg-custard filling which tasted delicious.
My boyfriend went for the profiteroles - one which is definitely not for those with sensitive teeth (as he unfortunately found out!). Good quality choux pastry buns, filled with speckled vanilla ice-cream and topped with a generous topping of pooled dark chocolate sauce with a smattering of sliced almonds. The profiteroles were lovely, the ice cream filling being slightly unexpected, but fantastically sweet and generous with a heaped portion of pastry buns.
Desserts range from £4.50 to £6.50 per serving, with dessert wines and after dinner coffees priced at around £2.50 each.
~*~* Wines and drinks ~*~*
The restaurant serves a select range of wines (with only five red wines, one white and one rose). Wine ranges from £15 - £50 in price. The house red (a Cotes de Bordeaux) is served by the glass (£4.25), half bottle or whole bottle (£14.95) and is of decent value for a very nice, easy to drink red. I was pleased to see the wine being served by the half bottle (for the house red only), perfect for sharing on a school night!
The restaurant also serves a small selection of soft drinks (coke, fanta and lemonade as well as juices for around £2.50) and spirits and liqueurs. Still and sparkling mineral water is also offered (for around £3 per bottle) however you can ask for tap water with no fuss.
Visitors to the restaurant receive, on their receipt, 20% off their next meal (to be used against either lunch at the Marylebone branch or dinner at the City branch) as a little incentive.
~*~* The verdict *~*~
I love this restaurant. If you're in the mood for uncomplicated but utterly delicious steak-frites and you're in the central London area, this should be a first port of call. It is reasonably priced (a starter, main and glass of wine coming to around £25 per head) and the restaurant has a relaxed, refined setting. If you are a vegetarian, this will probably not be a winner for you