There are two quite unique features about the bustling French eaterie, Le Relais de Venise, which is a replica of the Parisian original that has been open for over 50 years. Firstly, you can’t reserve a table – even if you are the owner, so they say. Instead, you stand huddled in line in a rather cramped doorway and await your turn – usually licking your lips as you see tasty dishes wafting past. The other unique aspect is that you won’t get a menu until dessert. Your choice, therefore, is limited to whether you want your green salad starter with or without dressing, and whether you want your steak rare, medium… or well done (if you dare risk the disdain of the waitress). The accompanying frites are also naturally French.
On a sunny bank holiday Monday, the restaurant was busy with a very much family orientated clientele: suited grandfathers and well-heeled grandmothers were dining en famille with their children and grandchildren, all no doubt elegantly attired from the chic local boutiques like Bonpoint and Papillon, a few doors away.
The children in our party were amused by the waitress using the paper tablecloth rather than a notepad to sketch out a noughts-and-crosses drawing of our order.
After our salad starters, our steak-frites arrived: thin slices of delicious tender steak and a huge tray of skinny chips that were generously dished out among us, along with the butter-based secret-recipe sauce containing herbs, spices and condiments. So secret, in fact, is the recipe that when we asked about the ingredients, we were greeted with a polite but point-blank refusal to divulge any family secrets.
We all tucked in happily and, just as we were wondering whether we were actually full, the waitress returned with a second serving of steak-frites. We always try to save space for dessert, the only part of the menu that offers any choice. And a very tasty one it was with ice creams, crème brûlée and various cream and meringue confections.
So is it worth the queuing? You may have to stand in line for up to 30 minutes, but that is all part of the charm. What’s more, with the likes of Keira Knightley, Gillian Anderson and Kelly Brook reputed to be fans, you just never know who you might be queuing with…
Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte, 120 Marylebone Lane, London W1U 2QG. Tel: 020 7486 0878 Starter and main course, £20 per person (cheese vegetarian option also £20); no children’s menu but frites come free. Desserts from £4.50 each. Open for lunch and dinner.
Nearest tube: Bond Street/Baker Street