The steak-frites-only restaurant. It’s become a Hong Kong trend. Over the past year, we’ve seen a decent handful of such eateries spring up across town, each offering a menu of little choice but much quality when it comes to premium cuts of beef and superb chips. But now the real deal has arrived. Le Relais de L’Entrecôte has just opened up its doors in Wan Chai. The brand that started it all has come to our city.
Step back in time for a moment. It’s 1959 and Paul Gineste de Saurs, a descendant of a winemaking dynasty in the south of France, has just bought Le Relais de Venise – The Venice Inn – in Paris and he decides to make entrecôtes – premium cuts of beef – the stars of his menu. So he creates a fabulous ‘secret’ steak sauce and makes the monumental decision to serve salad and steak frites only. It’s a hit. Then, in 1962, son Henri Gineste de Saurs opens a similar restaurant in Toulouse, named simply L’Entrecôte. Paul Gineste de Saurs dies in 1966, his daughter Helene Godillot takes over the original restaurant and, basically, the process is repeated many times right up to today – members of the de Saurs family stick with the simple formula and take the L’Entrecôte brand across the globe. And so it’s now here in Hong Kong, the first Asian outpost for the arm of the business owned by Paul’s other daughter, Marie-Paule Burrus. So we’re expecting simplicity and tradition when we step inside.
Though the various L’Entrecôte branches boast the same ‘secret sauce’, the décor is starkly different at each, drawing the distinction between the arms of the family who own each brand. The Relais de Venise has murals that depict images of Venice and lampshades that draw inspiration from gondoliers, whereas L’Entrecôte has a colour scheme of yellow-and-black stripes and plaids. And Le Relais de L’Entrecôte group features early 20th century posters advertising liquor and wood panelling that exudes the warmth of French bistros at the turn of the century. This theme is exactly replicated in Wan Chai. Even the Asian staff are eerily clad in black-and-white French maid outfits.
Rarely do we get to discern a few items in such scrutiny in our food reviews so, as we’re greeted by a server, told there’s only the two-course ($288) dinner available and dutifully asked how we want our steaks cooked, we relish the chance to describe the dishes in detail. We order medium rare and our salads arrive. The butter lettuce is fresh, crisp and comes with a zesty dressing that’s mellowed by the walnuts scattered around the plate. It’s simple but whets our appetite for the meat and fries to come.
The steak arrives on a metal plate heated on tea lights. Two-thirds of the meat is served drenched in the ‘secret sauce’ on our plate, with the other third resting on the heated surface for a second helping. Even at first glance, you can tell this beef is juicy, tender and extremely tasty. And, bien sur, it is. We take our first bite and melt into the seat as the flesh melts into our mouths. It’s so tender and rich, with the butter base of the sauce and the fat in the meat juices playing off each other like they’re a duet who know each other intimately. The herbs in the sauce also bring out a fragrancy in the fat while rounding off the slightly bitter flavour from the charred meat. And we haven’t even mentioned the French fries yet. This amazing symphony of flavours continues when they’re added to the mix. Despite being unseasoned and fried unevenly, with varying amounts of crispness, the sauce soaks in as the grease cuts through the butter, enhancing the classic pepper taste. The sauce is magical – where it brings out the flavours of the steak with only a hint of pepper, on the fries it brings the pepper right out and tastes like a different, yet no less effective, concoction. A truly wonderful main course.
Finally, desserts. The only part of the evening where we have a choice. We choose (because we can) a ‘relais’ tulipe ($88), which is a short-crust pastry bowl holding a scoop of ice cream with loads of raspberries within. The pastry is perfectly sweet and complements both the ice cream and the tart raspberry flavours. Like the salad, it’s good. But it’s your post-gig lounge act. The headliner has already played.
Le Relais de L’Entrecôte brings a French tradition to Hong Kong. It’s evident in the surrounds and in the simple menu – but, most of all, you can actually taste it in that main course. And you immediately understand why a restaurant brand can get away with serving just one main for so many years and still be expanding across the globe. We are extremely close to giving this review five stars, but we have nothing else on the menu to compare it to. But that ‘secret sauce’ is just so magnetically versatile, it’s going to pull us back again and again, just like it’s been doing to thousands of gastronomes for more than half a century.
|Venue name:||Le Relais de L'Entrecote|
222 Queen's Rd East