I’d heard from two different steak-loving friends that Le Relais de Venise was worth a visit, but with so many places to eat in London, and the fact that Le Relais is a bit of a chain (starting in Paris, it now has two locations in London and one in New York), I never got around to eating there. Last Saturday, though, I was meeting a friend who craved steak, and as Hawksmoor was closed for refurbishment and Goodman was disappointing when I ate there, I figured it was time to try out Le Relais. The New York Times‘s Sam Sifton, after all, had taken the time to give the New York location a full review, so the place had to be more than an imported tourist trap.
Having not read up on Le Relais’s Marylebone location before getting there, I failed to realize that (1) the queues are enormous (thanks to the restaurant’s no-booking policy); and (2) the place operates much like a fast-food joint. Don’t be fooled by the vaguely-Gallic interior and think you’re there to linger over your meal. So we queued outside in the cold for about an hour, and once inside, the only choice we made was from the eight-bottle wine list.
The minute we sat down, salads arrived which were tangy and spicy from a classic mustard-and-lemon-juice vinaigrette. Pretty good but would’ve been better if a few walnuts hadn’t tasted stale.
Then the raison d’etre arrived: steaks served ultra-thin and served French style (i.e., table side). The meat wasn’t bad, but honestly, it was hard to tell because of “the sauce.” Apparently much has been written about this sauce, which is unbelievably rich and as meaty as the steak itself. The sauce’s green-going-on-gray colour is entirely unappetizing, and it’s clearly comprised of at least 50% butter (the other half is probably offal of some sort), so your doctor’s not going to be pleased. But it’s pretty delish.
You get two servings of steak and as many servings of frites as you like. The portions of steak are rather paltry, but I suppose I’m a big eater. If you’re a frites lover, this is the place for you. Le Relais should re-market itself as a frites-and-super-sauce restaurant.
£19 included the salad and steak frites. For a little extra, you could order desserts and cheese. The cheeses were pretty wimpy, which was disappointing for a French resto. And the profiteroles looked a lot better than they tasted. The pastry was flavorless and stale, but luckily chocolate sauce and ice cream saved the day (as ever).
With two bottles of wine, a cheese course and dessert, our tab came to £41 a person. We were in and out in under an hour, and as we left at around 9:30, we saw that the queue outside was as long as ever.
Overall, the steak frites are pretty good, but don’t go to Le Relais if you’re looking for a giant slab of meat or if you want to linger at a table. In fact, the place seemed perfectly designed for families.
Relais de Venise, 120 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2QG; 0207 486 0878; closest tube stations: Bond Street or Baker Street