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Entrecôte Café de Paris

Entrecôte Café de Paris, 3a Baker Street, London W1

There's no pleasing restaurant critics - last week I was moaning about a delightful looking Spanish restaurant in Surrey that was like stepping into Andalusia, but the menu was so long and detailed that nearly all the tapas was either deep-fried or microwaved or both. The food was so ordinary I didn't waste time writing about it. This week I lunched at the Entrecôte Café de Paris, the new-ish London manifestation of its famous forbears in Geneva and Paris. Here we have the opposite extreme, as there is no choice at all, or barely, since you are allowed to specify how you'd like your entrecote steak cooked. Of the two extremes I preferred the minimalist, though I wondered how a vegetarian member of a group of friends would fare. I was reassured that there is always a pasta dish available, so veggies can get their just desserts (where there is a choice, as you will find out).

The restaurant itself is pretty and very French retro, a little too grand for a bistrot, not quite lavish enough for a pukka brasserie. The menu concept is what the French call a formule: a single starter, steak frites, and a dessert.  After specifying the cooking of your steak, a simple green salad is brought to the table (mostly iceberg lettuce) then after a short pause out comes the steak on a metal chafing dish in its sauce, the dish is then placed on a small spirit burner. Thus you can watch as it goes from rare, to medium to well done, before your very eyes. A generous portion of exceedingly good matchstick fries is already on your plate, and the staff come by every two minutes with anxious cries of is everything alright? and, would you like more fries?

The steak is from Charolais beef cattle, and it was cooked perfectly, exactly as each of us had requested, not an impossibly hard task since there was only one other table occupied. The sauce is the thing, and I quote: "It is the special butter and herb sauce that marks out the Entrecôte Café de Paris from its modern day rivals, having been made from a secret family recipe passed down the generations since the 1930s". It's a bit of fun for everyone to guess the secret ingredients, and at least it makes people pause and taste, rather as you listen to music as opposed to merely hearing it. I thought I could detect some Roquefort, others suggest anchovies, but one ingredient was obvious, the butter which had separated from its undercover secret agents. When I asked the waitress if the sauce was supposed to have split like this, she confirmed that this was how it was; I was not convinced of its correct passage down the generations.

For dessert, there is a profligacy of traditional offerings with no fewer than nine to choose from! My friend opted for the fruit salad which was satisfactory. I tried the tarte tatin. The apples tasted good, but the pastry was as soggy as a wet sponge. I like my tatin crisp, and since it's cooked upside down, there's really no excuse. I wondered what the profiteroles were like, or the crème brûlée, neither of which are good the next day.

The wine list is also brief, in both length and description. Before parting with £55, I'd like to know more about the Chateauneuf-du-Pape than it comes from the Rhone Valley. Perhaps they think the English neither know nor care? However, the basic formule is sound, and apparently the Parisians queue around the block for it. So, I  was wondering if Baker Street was the right place for a French restaurant, then remembered how brilliantly Galvin is doing. Attention to detail is the name of the game, and with so few details to address, it shouldn't be hard to get it right.

Green salad, entrecote steak and unlimited frites £16.95, desserts £5.50, wines from £12.50

Clifford Mould April 2006

Entrecôte Café de Paris, 3a/3b Baker Street, London W1U 8EE
T: 020 7935 3030 email:

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