Saturday, 14 January 2012

Le Relais de Venise 'L'Entrecôte'

Living, as we are privileged to do, in a democracy, choice is held to be totemic of everything that is good in our society. Who we vote for, where we live, what we do for a living, who we have sex with - or not - are all inviolably our choices; their protection is enshrined in law and if we should ever feel that our freedoms are being restricted we have the choice to take to the streets, airwaves or ballot box to make our dissatisfaction known.

Trying to get through to my broadband provider just after Christmas however, to berate them for the fact that, yet again, I had no service, I came to think that choice was perhaps not such a great thing. "OK, " the recorded woman said in a nasal drone that made me want to kill someone and then myself, "you now have five choices..." I listened and pressed the appropriate button. "OK, you now have five choices" she repeated; "No!" screamed I, "I have just made my choice, were you not listening?" But it transpired that these were in fact five more choices; I made mine and waited to be connected to a human being. 

 "OK, you now have five choices..." "WHAT?!" I blustered, "but madame you have already given me five choices, and then another five; what could I possibly want with five more? What could anyone want with fully fifteen choices, when all I want is to speak to one customer 'service' operative and get my broadband fixed pronto?" My blustering was for naught; I had to make a choice - had to - or I would never be afforded the privilege of speaking to one of their highly-skilled 'people' - so highly-skilled that for me to be put through to precisely the right one necessitated the navigation of fifteen choices. I made my choice and waited, all the while eyeing up my living room window and wondering whether throwing myself from it would bring a swift and merciful death or merely cripple me.

With this trauma still indelibly fresh in my mind, I approached lunch at Le Relais de Venise 'L'Entrecote' with an enthusiasm that might be surprising to anyone who has read the to-say-the-least mixed reviews that have preceded this one. The reason you see is that, at L'Entrecôte, there is absolutely no choice at all.

Although a menu displayed by the door cheerfully announces that 'Today' one can have steak 'with its famous sauce, French fries and green salad with walnuts', that is in fact all you can have, any day of the year, and it's this formula that is strictly adhered to at Le Relais de Venise's handful of sites around the world. Black and white-uniformed waitresses ask how you would like your steak cooked (and then scribble this on the paper tablecloth) and take drinks orders from an ultra-concise six bin wine list, but that's where your choices end.

Even how I'd ended up somewhere about which everything shrieks 'Tourist Trap! Avoid!', comes back to choice, or rather lack of it; my lunch date Scott had wanted to take me somewhere else in his Marylebone neighbourhood for a post-Christmas, pre-New Year catch-up, but like in so many other villages, pretty much everywhere was shut. So L'Entrecôte and its entrecôte were our only choices.

And do you know what? It was fine. Not the best steak I've ever had, nor the best chips and definitely not the best (or most exciting) salad, but very far from the worst and, at £21 for the whole lot including a same-quantity-again second serving of steak-frites, indisputably good value. The 'famous sauce', the exact composition of which excites nerds the world over as much as the exact make-up of The Colonel's eleven herbs and spices or the recipe for Coca-Cola, was really rather tasty, creamy and heavy on herbs like a slightly tart pesto.

A half-bottle of house Bordeaux was perfectly drinkable, and 
at eight quid brought a very pleasant, filling two course lunch for two, with seconds, to just £50 pre-tip. While I wouldn't race back to L'Entrecôte I certainly wouldn't avoid it, and nor it would seem would the moneyed Russian/Arab clientele who, Scott tells me, pack the place out even on days when other choices are available.

To finish off my broadband saga: eventually - after a quarter of an hour on hold during which I was invited to choose which of four genres of tinny piped music I would most like to endure, which struck me as being akin to asking an extraordinarily rendered innocent whether he'd prefer water-boarding or sleep deprivation - I got through to a real-live person who, unable to fix things remotely, booked an engineer's visit.

When she said "Would you like to choose a time-slot?" all I could think was that if only the clever people behind Le Relais de Venise ran call centres, the world would be an altogether happier place.

Le Relais de Venise '
L'Entrecôte', 120 Marylebone Lane, London W1U 2QG Tel: 020 7486 0878 

Le Relais de Venise on Urbanspoon

Square Meal


  1. I had a similar reaction to the steak, and also loved the lack of choice - Feel for you on the automated voices, since switching to Orange, I have to listen to a girl I went to drama school with, which means I can't even shout at her without feeling guilty!


    1. Rich you do know she can't actually hear you, right? Or at least I *hope* they can't hear you, else the people at my provider will have learnt some particularly choice expletives...

  2. I often find that so many menus offer you way too much choice too, and then that feeling of panic rises. "WHAT IF SOMETHING ELSE IS BETTER???" so places like this are a god-send. That said, much like you I thought it merely ok. If I really want steak I think I'd save up for Hawksmoor or Goodman.

    1. Exactly - menu-choice anxiety cured in one fell swoop! Funnily I wouldn't go here for steak - even though that's all they do, obvs - but I might go back if ever I just wanted a quick/reasonable/decent lunch without the hassle of making, well, a choice!

  3. I went to their branch in New York. It was just right for what I wanted when eating dinner alone.

    1. That's a good point actually, I think it's an ideal restaurant for solo diners - none of the awkward waiting while looking at the menu, after ordering etc.


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