There once was a tale of two sisters and a brother who each owned a restaurant in Paris. They fought and they fought until their businesses were highly successful with multiple locations throughout Paris and the world. All their successes hinged on a secret sauce and a very simple concept.
No real menu, no choice at all – you would think it was doomed to fail, how could a restaurant that provides no choice to a paying customer really be successful – well you would be incredibly wrong to discount these siblings – they absolutely rake in the profits!
L’Entrecôte is the contre-filet cut of sirloin, a cut I was completely unfamiliar with in Australia, given like everything else in France they do things slightly differently and have unique trade-marked uninfringeable names for the way that only they can produce them. Besides it’s particular naming rights, we know it better as the basis of the classical bistro meal of steak-frites which is quite literally butchered by most cafés in Paris.
I have tried desperately to keep up my red-meet intake in Paris and yet at almost every turn it has been trying very hard to disappoint me.
The meat here is nothing compared to a juicy melt in your mouth huge cut of grass fed beef from Argentina, or a wagyu beef cheek from Japan that has been massaged on a daily basis and fed beer, or a perfectly aged piece of Australian Beef fillet. More often than not it is tough, chewy, full of gristle and overly rare for even those of us that like their meat rare.
Yet there are a few hidden gems, these one’s being overtly famous and well known, which try their best to provide a real piece of meat to the cheers of the public.
Getting back to the siblings, who have each tried to stand out on their own two feet and create enviable empires, well they have done themselves very proud, been extremely successful along the way, but I can assure you they have not strayed far from their father’s footsteps. In fact, until I found out the true history of their family and the businesses I was entirely confused as to why their menus looked as if they came out of the same printer.
The formula is strict, FIRST, WAIT IN LINE FOR A VERY LONG TIME, this place is popular people and with a no-reservations policy you will usually have to wait half-an-hour to an hour on the pavement outside, but do not fear this place is a factory and moves through the tables at a rapid rate as the cash register rings in the profits.
SECOND, the waitress, always female, wearing a black uniform with a white apron, with or without a smile and friendly face, this is optional of course, will come and take your order – Bleu, Saignant, À point, Cuit, Bien Cuit. Just remember in case you don’t want your steak to have questionable origins and treatment do not at all costs order bien cuit, or well cooked, it is cardboard. In France rare, medium-rare and medium have no common meaning to what you are used to in countries other than France. Remember Bleu or blue, is quite literally blue, and cool in the centre, uncooked except for a seared crust; Saignant is what we would consider quite rare, À point is slightly more cooked than medium-rare, and the rest shall go unmentioned for they are an unmentionable curse in the kitchen. She will scrawl your order on the white paper which covers your table.
THIRD, after expediently taking your simplified food and drink orders she will masterfully bring plates of a moreish lettuce and walnut salad with a spicy Dijon vinaigrette served with baguette, and from experience I can tell you that inevitably you cannot control your bread intake as you salivate waiting for the meat.
FOURTH, your metal tray passes the table carrying the salacious secret sauce, and the meat, and the other tray literally piled high with gloriously crispy French fries, or pomme frites. It is served onto your plates with silver service spoon and fork just like the good-old-days and placed into reaching distance of your already raised cutlery.
FIFTH, you eat your steak served with that perfect, luscious, rich sauce and mounds of the most unimaginably perfect crisp potatoes and when you feel like you just cannot go on any longer, yet crave even more, both your worst nightmare and your unrequited fantasies, do in fact come true as an entire second helping is heaped in front of your greedy mouth and eyes.
SIXTH, sadly your now completely empty and wiped clean plate, yes you not so surreptitiously soaked up the last skerrick of sauce with the left over bread, is removed from the table by your waitress as you ponder if there is any room left in your engorged stomach for dessert.
SEVENTH, your dessert, if you were game enough to order one, arrives and sadly usually disappoints after your sublime meal but you finish it off anyway.
EIGHTH, you pay the bill, which although not unreasonable given the servings, you would have had no idea up until then just how much your meal would cost. Although, most of us would have eaten there way to many times not to have a vague recollection of the last bill.
NINTH, you walk away from this institution completely satisfied and having a heated discussion about which one of the competing outlets has the best pomme frites or the juiciest steak, or most importantly the most authentic sauce.
TENTH, this is of course optional, for us cuisine aficionados, otherwise known as food nerds/snobs, argue into the night about how exactly you imagine they make that miraculous sauce!
There are many theories and much conjecture behind this institutional sauce – after way too many dinners at a few incarnations of the L’Entrecôte restaurants, with a variety of friends and family, we have together come up with a pretty good idea – chicken livers, fresh thyme, cream, butter, Dijon mustard, butter and salt and pepper.
On a Sunday night when you just can’t decide where to go for dinner and you’re really hungry, you’ll know where to find me, and a large proportion of Parisian’s.
Le Relais de Venise – Porte-Maillot
271 Boulevard Pereire, Porte-Maillot
+33 1 45 74 27 97
Le Relais de L’Entrecôte – Saint Germain
20, rue Saint-Benoît
+33 1 45 49 16 00
4 Cours 30 Juillet, 33000 Bordeaux, France
+33 5 56 81 76 10