Thursday, 29 October 2009

En France, on peut demander encore.

In Paris, what’s for dinner? Steak-frites obviously. Shortly after booking my bargainous Eurostar tickets I began frantically researching the best steak dinner in Paris. Obviously, some of the high-end options were a bit beyond my pocket power, but I was excited to discover La Relais de l’Entrecote, a charming restaurant in Montparnasse which only serves meat and fried carbs. Perfect.
We were in a bit of a rush to find La Relais, as fresh off a cross-city metro and a stint in a charming Montmartre pub (jugs of beer: €10 yes please) we were pretty keen to find a toilet. Luckily for us the restaurant is right outside the metro station, and the waitresses; charmingly decked out in black uniforms with frilly white aprons were only too happy to point three breathless English girls in the direction of the facilities.
We were ushered to a window seat in front of an old French guy who had clearly been availing himself a little too freely of the carte des vins and fell off his chair. He later fell out of the restaurant in spectacular fashion, but was thankfully helped by a friendly waitress. Phew. Keen not to make the same spectacle of ourselves, we tentatively ordered a bottle of house red and a carafe of water to mitigate the effects. The water never materialised, but we found this to be a common feature of dining a Paris. No matter, we prefer wine anyway, and holidays are not the time for sensible alcohol consumption.
There is no menu at La Relais; why would there be when they only serve one thing? Our waitress simply asked us how we would like our steaks cooked, and then brought us three salads garnished with walnuts and drizzled with a vinegary dressing. Upon inspection of the bill, these salads were free. Bonus.
Next up was the main event. My two friends had ordered their steaks well-done, aware of the French penchant for brutally under-cooking steaks. I ordered mine medium, reasoning that if it came medium I’d be happy, but if it came rare, I’d still be happy. One friend had had a nasty experience with a steak tartare on the previous night, and so was erring very much on the side of caution and sick-avoidance.
The steaks arrived exactly as we had ordered them, mine blushing in the middle, theirs cooked all the way through, but still tender. The meat was sliced from a central station in the restaurant and arranged onto plates along with a shovelful of frites and the most amazing sauce, possibly ever. Sadly, it’s a secret recipe and our waitress was loathe to divulge the tricks of her trade. It looked awful, sort of like the greenish brown contents of a newborn (desperate to go there yet?!) but it was garlicky, mustardy, salty and perfect all over buttery meat and brittle chips. We spent a while trying to work out what was in it. Cumin? Coriander seed? Ground ginger possibly? In the end, we gave up, because it was just too hard to stop ourselves from wolfing it down like frenzied savages (our Parisian chic totally abandoned us in the face of this carnivorous feast) to try and work out the nuances of this wonder sauce. If I could recreate it at home though, I’d be very happy, and very very fat.
Now, we had read online that you could ask for seconds in this restaurant. So, rather shamefully, we did. Yes, we demanded ‘a little bit more s’il vous plait?’ in a restaurant. We were not in a school canteen or our grandmother’s kitchen, no, this was an actual restaurant, and we were asking for more. The waitress looked a little bemused as she asked what exactly we would like more of. Steak? Chips? All? ‘All’ we replied, red-faced.
Sure enough, she returned with the same again. Yes, we ate two full meals. All for €86.75 for three greedy girls. Lesson learned, if you’d like more, ask for it. We’re certainly glad we did.
If the fact that they have a secret sauce that you would sell your grandmother for the recipe for, the nonplussed waitresses in turn of the century outfits, the free salads and the fact that you can get SECONDS doesn’t convince you to buy a ticket to Paris right now, then you’re dead inside. It’s as simple as that.

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