Sunday 5 August 2012

Le Relais de Venise, Manchester

The story goes that in 1959 a French fellow called Paul Gineste de Saurs bought an Italian restaurant called Le Relais de Venise (the Venice Inn for those non French speakers amongst us). 

This restaurant was in Paris’ 17th arrondissement, near Porte Maillot. For reasons perhaps only known to him, in place of the previous Italian menu, he decided that the restaurant would offer its diners just one main dish, the French bistro classic of steak-frites.

To stand out from the crowd, where most restaurants at the time served steak-frites with a ‘Café de Paris’ herbed butter sauce, Paul Gineste de Saurs developed a complex ‘secret’ sauce – the recipe for which, his decedents still guard to this day. 

As with any ‘secret recipe’, there has been much speculation to the sauce’s ingredients and method of production. The Paris newspaper ‘Le Monde’ reported that it’s made from chicken livers, fresh thyme, thyme flowers, full cream, white Dijon mustard, butter, water, salt and pepper - although, Hélène Godillot, Paul Gineste de Saurs’ daughter, has dismissed this as incorrect (more conjecture can be read on my Le Relais de l’Entrecôte, Paris post – see here).

To go with the steak, it was deemed that a simple salad of lettuce topped with walnuts and mustard vinaigrette would be the perfect starter for all. Apart from a simple wine and drinks list, and a preference to how their steak was cooked, diners would not get a choice until the end of the meal when presented with the dessert list.

With its simple approach, good quality steaks and special sauce, the restaurant went from strength to strength. Quickly establishing itself as a Paris institution.

The steak was so popular that customers began to forego the official name of the restaurant and typically referred to it as "L'Entrecôte”

Eventually, the original and subsequent restaurants officially became as Le Relais de Venise – L'Entrecôte.

As Paul Gineste de Saurs’ three children opened and operated their own interpretations of their father’s original all over the world, they adopted slightly different names and decorative touches but all stuck to the successful menu formula.

Hélène Godillot’s ‘Relais de Venise – L'Entrecôte’ (including the one in Manchester) feature mural paintings of Venice and lampshades depicting Venetian gondoliers.

The ‘Relais de l'Entrecôte’ branches (that I visited in Paris - see here) features early-twentieth-century posters advertising spirits. Whereas the ‘L'Entrecôte’ version has a yellow and black stripes and plaid colour scheme.

In all three of its guises, every restaurant has the typical look of a French brassiere with wood panelling, large mirrors, closely spaced tables and banquettes in red upholstery. The all female serving staff are dressed in black uniforms with white (or yellow) aprons.

None of the restaurants take advance bookings; at most of the European locations, this typically means that customers can queue on the pavement outside for half an hour or more before they can be seated (as we did in Paris – in Manchester however, during our lunchtime visit, only three other tables were occupied).

Walnut Salad Starter – I noted that this came as a larger portion than the one served in Paris; it was also coated more liberally in the piquant mustard dressing but sadly lacked radishes.

Steak-Frites – subtle differences noted in comparison to the Paris branch included the steak being cut a little thinner in Manchester; thankfully it was certainly as tender and tasty and the ‘secret sauce’ was just as surreptitiously delicious.

For dessert, for reasons of comparison, just as in Paris, I chose the towering, ‘Le Vacherin Du ‘Relais’ – it was just as impressive looking and no less delectable.

My wife selected ‘Le Plateau de Fromages’ avec ‘Port Wine’ – the cheese was served fridge cold, a crime, I rightly believe, still punishable by guillotine in Paris.

I finished my Paris post saying, ‘Thoughts naturally cast to how well the Le Relais de l’Entrecôte concept will work in Manchester – it will certainly be interesting to see and great to be able to compare with its Parisienne doyenne.’

It may be to early to state how well the concept is doing in Manchester but people I have spoken to that have been generally appear to have enjoyed the food and whole experience. The question remains, once you have been how quickly are you likely to return? I guess its one of those places you’ll suddenly get a hankering for… “You know what… I fancy one of those  l’Entrecôte steaks.”

Le Relais de Venise on Urbanspoon

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