SCORE: 59.5/100 / CCC Rating: * / Cost Rating: £
Ambience: 8/10 / Wine: Cotes du Rhone 2012, £21.00, 6/10 / Toilets: 6/10 / Service: 4/10 : Food (excl. steak): 10/20 / Steak: 13/20 / Menu/table quality: 5.5/10 / Value for money: 7/10 / +1 Wifi bonus
Tonight's steak excursion is to a veritable institution in the City of London. L'Entrecôte (aka Le Relais de Venise), a chain of pared-back, fast-steak restaurants has been open in the square mile for a couple of years now, and has long since established itself as the default option for rushed city types power-lunching with clients. The formula is fixed and familiar: a Waldorf salad to start, steak and chips for the main, then a dessert of your selection. Time honoured and successful, this should be a recipe for swift and cleanly-executed success every time. But it isn't...
From the outset, its clear that you don't come here to take a bite out of Mayfair's elite eateries. This is a focussed set-up, serving a pure purpose; shiny quilted-paper tablecloths (which double up as the waitress' ordering pad), seemingly 1/2-scale diminutive dinner tables, and miniature steak knives that are way too small for the clumsy and overbearing fork, & almost feel more like a butter knife. The menu, which resembles a primary school project, offers far too little by way of flexibility; Waldorf salad (soggy, cheap, smothered with a sharp dressing) whether you fancy it or not, steak and chips (thankfully) is all for mains, but you CANNOT request your meat to be cooked medium rare (the only options are 'rare', 'medium' or 'well done') - a huge disappointment to any discerning steak aficionado. Likewise, the bread is merely a semi-stale French loaf thrusted at you on a well-used plate, upon which you CANNOT request butter, by virtue of some paranoia of the owner. Throw in utterly underwhelming, almost clueless service (although surely the Council's experience on this occasion was an anomaly and the service wouldn't normally be SO poor), and you're left feeling puzzled about why you came in the first place.
The steak arrives, and visually, it's a neat affair consisting of orderly, rectangular slices of beef (and a side of delectably crisp fries) but is wholly obliterated by a dousing of dominant, creamy sauce which totally extinguishes the flavour of the meat. Texture, miraculously, stays relatively intact, BUT because of the mass-market business model (a case of "pile 'em high, ship 'em fast") your medium-cooked steak is challengingly granular & disconcertingly chewy. He who opts for the 'rare' is likely to be less disappointed, as it could pass for a weak medium-rare, and boasts a more favourable texture in the mouth. L'Entrecôte is then, the Ryanair of steak; no frills, no smiles, and you feel like you aren't worth it. You pour your own wine. You want your own butter. And when its all over, you practically have to fetch your own bill!
Nonetheless they're obviously doing something right, because for a Tuesday night, it's unreasonably busy, with comfortably 3 seatings
passing on some tables before our somewhat lengthier meal concludes.
The Council can however confirm, that what they are NOT doing right, is dessert. For a restaurant with no choice on the steak menu, they offer a mind-boggling 19 dessert options, with which the waitresses are debilitatingly unfamiliar (alongside the native language). After ordering something considered comprehensible to all parties, the Profiteroles prove lightweight and the creme brûlée is inexcusably, not brûléed enough.
The one perk that they ARE getting right? 'Seconds'. Your small plate empties itself too quickly, but thankfully, in a Pavlovian, well practiced routine, the staff robotically bring you another helping of steak and chips, to begin your fun all over again. It's a nice touch, and feels like a minor victory at the poker table every time it happens, but it alone cannot compensate for all of the other weaknesses. Perhaps then, this feature leaves L'Entrecôte looking more like the Easyjet of steak rather than Ryanair.
Value for money is always going to be a redeeming feature here, but as ever, one must remember the 'quality' numerator and not just focus on the seductive 'price' denominator. The bill IS cheap, but compared to Flatiron it's actually more expensive, not as cool, with inferior meat and shambolic service. The Only thing inL'Entrecôte's favour is their less-bad dessert, and that's a relative 'win', not an absolute one. You get a three course steak meal for near enough £35, with wine, and whilst the Council have eaten cuts of meat which would on their own cost that much, value is strong, but quality is not, which holds back the overall score on this category.
When passing judgement upon L'Entrecôte, it is all too easy to be harsh and heavy-handed... And that is exactly what The Cow Club Council must be on this occasion. Sadly it ticked no boxes on the night, and for that reason, it weighs in with a score of sub-60%. Our journey continues...