Who stole my croissant

Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg

Where the beautiful people dine in Paris

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A rare moment of peace: the normally jam-packed Entrecôte restaurant in Saint-Germain

Is it the fabled Tour d’Argent where langoustines are served with kumquat purée? Is it Alain Senderens’s famous restaurant on Place de la Madeleine where roast duck comes with black figs and liquorice powder? Or is it perhaps that snazzy place up the Eiffel Tower?

Judging by my recent visit to Paris it’s none of the above. Fine dining, with all the pomp that implies, isn’t à la mode in the French capital. The beautiful people seem to prefer a place that’s about as basic as it gets – all it does is steak, the décor is rudimentary and even a bit tatty, and no bookings are taken. It’s called Le Relais de l’Entrecôte and it’s in Saint-Germain a hop and a skip from a boutique hotel where French men take their mistresses (see earlier blog entry).

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Not a free table in sight: a typical evening at L’Entrecôte in Paris where the absence of choice (and friendly prices) have proved to be a winning formula

The restaurant’s a cousin of the London outpost Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte (widely known as L’Entrecôte) and is so similar foodwise it’s almost spooky. I’ve blogged about the delightful London one already (see previous entry) but here’s what I didn’t know – in Paris the restaurant isn’t just popular, it’s positively glamorous.

When I went there for dinner on a Friday night the queue was peppered with exotic characters, including ageing femme fatales, unfeasibly tall men in hats and fading rock star types. Further ahead of us was the Russian model Nadia Vodianova, her handsome French partner, Antoine Arnault (son of LVMH billionaire Bernard Arnault) and her three (very blonde) children by her husband Justin Portman. They were standing in line along with everybody else.

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Vogue pin-up: Russian model Natalia Vodianova who loves a good steak frites

There were no paparazzi in sight but several people were secretly snapping la belle Natalia, who’s on the cover of this month’s French Vogue, from across the road.

Natalia’s little girl, Neva, was wearing a white crochet frock not at all dissimilar to ones I’ve seen at M&S. Natalia, who is the brand ambassador for the French lingerie label Etam, was wearing a red jumper and a pair of very ordinary trousers.

I wish I could tell you how many chips Natalia ate – but I couldn’t really see and judging by her skinny physique I’d say five – tops – and definitely not dipped in the restaurant’s delicious secret sauce.

Here are 5 key facts about Le Relais:

  1. As far as I know there is always a queue
  2. You don’t need to speak French to go there – you just need to be a meat eater with a bit of spare cash
  3. Whatever you do: refuse to take a newly empty table anywhere near the queue – stand your ground
  4. The desserts are truly magnificent in a retro sort of way
  5. Nobody knows what goes into the restaurant’s secret sauce but I have my suspicions (see previous entry)

Le Relais de l’Entrecôte is at 20 rue Saint-Benoît, Paris, 01 45 49 16 00.

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