We arrived at the restaurant just before seven and it looked real promising - all French bistro charm, including the tables on the sidewalk. So far so good. Considering that the French typically don’t eat before 21:30 in the evening, to arrive at 6:45pm (we had been warned!) with the sun still blazing and to find a long queue already forming outside the restaurant was quite unusual. None of the restaurants around had any customers yet.
At seven the doors opened and the restaurant immediately filled up. We had been seated for – maybe – a minute when the waitress came to our table and said: “Bonsoir, how would you like your meat?” And THAT is what makes this Paris institution so different. There is only one item on the menu!!! An entrecote (rib-eye steak) served with chips and a secret green sauce. That’s all. No long list of entrees, no chef’s special of the day, in fact no menu. Just: so, how would you like your meat?
The service started with a salad with walnuts and horseradish vinaigrette (also no choice here), and by the time you have finished it, the meat is served from a communal platter that is set to rest above votive candles on stations near each group of tables. It is served with frites (lots of it!) and a green looking secret herb-butter sauce. Many newspapers and food critics have speculated about the ingredients in this sauce, but what even I can tell you, is that it has butter, butter and more butter!!
The dessert list is a bit more extensive (an actual menu!) and it seems that the most popular option is a meringue and hazelnut ice cream tower!
Now, this is not the best steak I’ve ever had. And the service is fast, maybe a bit too fast. But, the typical French brasserie look of the restaurant, the waitresses in their black uniforms with white aprons, the noise and aromas around you, the mob outside waiting for their turn, it all adds up to make your evening at Le Relais de Venise fantastic, if admittedly a bit surreal!