Industrialist Henry Ford must have felt pretty chuffed with himself knowing his Assembly Line production method would lead to the consumerist revolution and propel the States into the stratosphere. The concept of Fordist assembly line production is simple enough: The motion of workers is minimized to the greatest extent possible. Each worker typically performs one simple operation. In the case of Le Relais de Venise, that simple operation appears to consist of drowning a perfectly innocent steak in a tidal wave of pigeon poo-coloured “special sauce”.
I was reunited once again with my favourite blog-dining partner A. who suggested I might be amused by a trip to the Marylebone branch of the original Paris-based “Entrecote” bistro festooned with scarily invasive “frescoes” of a perspectivally-challenged Venice. And clowns.
If you haven’t been to Le Relais before, here’s the deal: They don’t have a menu. They only do a simple walnut salad, steak, and chips. Oh, and the aforementioned “special sauce” which, along with denture-glue ads and late 15th century brain surgery methods should be relegated to Room 101. Admittedly, if you’re one of those people who gets their knickers in a twist when faced with a choice of 25 entrées – this should be your address of choice. The most challenging part of the evening is choosing “bleu” or “well-done”.
Contrary however to some of the hideous reviews I read (take note, Oliver Thring), the female-only staff, like air-hostesses from that great steak-airline in the sky, were extremely charming. We were dealt with promptly, efficiently – there was even a smile. The waitresses were so charming in fact, I had several times to prevent A’s jaw dropping and his tongue from rolling onto my plate and being mistaken for steak; under all that sauce its hard to know where the steak ends and neverland begins.
The place was packed to the gills with merry Marylebone munchers, revelling in
the snot-green ooze slathered atop their entrecotes and which, according to my well-trained palate and the ever trustworthy Wikipedia contains “chicken livers, fresh thyme and thyme flowers, full cream, Dijon mustard, butter, and water, plus salt and pepper.” I could have sworn there was tarragon in there, but mostly I could have just sworn. There was a perfectly decent piece of meat waving a surrender flag at me, lost in a maelstrom of kitsch restaurant formula and something more like baby formula.
BUt it was not an altogether unpleasant experience. The place was jolly. The steak tender. The chips crispy and nicely salted, if not extraordinary. The plonk was a perfectly decent house claret. We were far away enough from the fresco of the wobbling clown that I kept childhood fears at bay.
The only thing one can really say about it all is this: If you’re going to be the assembly line of one single dish, then make it the best darn dish in the world. For £35 a head, this was a little less Model T and a little more Ford Fiesta. But still better that the most tragic Foxtrot Oscar.