Saturday, 6 November 2010

Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill

11 – 15 Swallow Street


T: 020 7734 4756

Sandwiched in between Piccadilly and Regent Street, but somehow sheltered from all the madness, mayhem and shopping frenzied tourists of the West End, is a little haven of charm; Swallow Street, just tucked in nicely, with its own little vibe. And Bentley’s restaurant is pretty much the same. Salient and somewhat grand, (without being fussy and affected) it feels cool, comfortable and solid, so a reflection of its owner I suppose. In fact, I’m such a fan of Richard Corrigan that I’d love to write this whole piece on him; but I suppose I’ll be doing that anyway as the emphasis with Richard is always on his food, not his ego, of which he has little of when compared to many Michelin starred chefs. His personality is so apparent in the vibe of this place; not just in the food, but in the considered selection of a rather tight front of house team who genuinely looked pleased to be there. So, whilst it’s important to mention the integrity of the interior - rich, elegant and masculine fabrics and fixtures - and the food, as implied by the décor, also very accomplished, it was the solicitous service that left a lasting impression.

I think Corrigan has cracked it with this little lot – or as near as damn it – because this was such a slick, competent and sassy team of people who moved so effortlessly around each other that it just made you sink into your chair, in a secure fold, feeling like you were in large, cupped hands. From our charismatic Romanian waiter Octavian, (well informed by a passionate kitchen team and a sense of humour more Richard Corrigan than Ceausescu,) to the chirpy sommelier who, having decided on Riesling or Vertliner, had a change of heart when this 'lady', ‘moi’, mentioned ripe, lush fruit. Before we knew it, his double-act, a mature and self-assured bar steward stuck his comical two-penneth in and we landed up with a biggish, flavoursome Verdicchio from Marches, which pulled and tugged at our taste buds in a surprisingly unexpected way.

We barely got beyond the special’s board when ordering the food, everything was screaming out to be eaten. So we opted for an ‘amuse bouche’ in the form of an anchovy & olive tartlet; clean, zippy flavours but strewn with rocket which looked rather like an after-thought than an intended garnish. Starter of crab on toasted Irish soda bread with glistening samphire was all it was cracked up to be and by the time I stretched my fork across the table to try it, was all gone. Big, succulent, curvy pieces of crab are hard to share, I admit, so all I got was a measly mouthful of the soda bread. Hold on, “when did soda bread get to be this good?” I asked. Apparently, it’s all down to the black treacle, Octavian assured me, which gave it a pleasing colour and nutty sweetness; so good infact, it inspired me to buy Richard’s book, ‘The Rattle of Forks & Spoons’ with the recipe in it. My starter of squid had the pleasing acrid flavour of the char-grill with a fresh, bouncy texture (which has a tendency to 'go on a bit'; but hey, that’s squid for you) and a subtle chilli dressing which was slightly overpowered by the ‘fly me to the moon’ proportions of wild rocket it came with.

My DP moved on to steamed plaice (in its seasonal pomp) with wilted lettuce, artichokes and Chanterelle mushrooms, which was very good, if slightly virtuous. No doubt the chef had slipped a knob (or two) of butter to cook the mushrooms, but felt the plaice itself was almost too fresh, too plump and too pure to dress up! £24 for my half a lobster, (even a native) another veritable heap of rocket (!) and chips, seemed a bit rich, like the pungent garlic butter that accompanied it indulgently. But somehow this dish is indicative of what this place is about; it feels special and posh like lobster, but it’s just as down to earth as chips! And if you’re used to eating chips without cutlery, nobody looks at you like you’re a throwback. No time for dessert, I’m rather embarrassed to say but we managed to scoff a few hand-made chocs with our coffees; incredibly moorish and not a strand of rocket in sight.

Bentley’s is a great advert for London dining and almost an institution in the mould of Sheekey’s and Le Caprice. It has a corner for every occasion, from our cute little two-seater by the window, to a snug booth with friends, or the formal dining room for ‘important people’ (my words, not theirs) upstairs. I’m not so sure they’d want me up there though, because I do have a tendency to eat chips with my fingers.


  1. Bentley's is on my must-do list if ever I make it back to London. Of course, I would love the food, but I'd probably go there just to see that lovely bicycle! Isobel, I love your vibrant writing! Am adding you to my Blogs I Visit list.