Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill keeps good company on Swallow Street, with Veeraswamy occupying this quiet stretch too, just off the main drag. Bentley’s is a quintessentially English affair with charm oozing out at every angle from its plush pinstripe seating, and starched white tablecloths.
There is seating outside at Bentley’s, but the English weather was standing firm with its “no sunshine here” policy, forcing us indoors for warmth and comfort. You can dine at the bar at Bentley’s which wins on atmosphere and showiness, or at one of the tiny seated tables, which means you bypass having to balance on a bar stool, but loose out on leg room. If you have any top secret talks to carry out, or sweet nothings to whisper privately into your loved one’s ear, take a seat at the bar, where you have a few more inches of space to play with between you and your neighbouring diners. If the bar staff should pick out the odd word – don’t worry- they’ve probably heard it all before.
Once we’d settled into our seats, we looked through the menu, and deliberated over the specials board which was packed with the likes of steamed monkfish with scallop and prawn dumplings, butter crab with giroles and samphire, and whole roast black bream with cardomom, raisins, pinenuts and basmati. Everything on Bentley’s Oyster Bar menu looks tempting, but the fact that everything was listed together, made for confusing reading. Starters and main courses vie for attention in the same list and when we asked how to make sense of the menu, the waiter replied, “It’s obvious from the price”. So obviously the Jabugo ham, priced at £17.50 was a main course then, despite the fact that it was at the top of the menu, with no accompaniments mentioned, where you’d be forgiven for thinking starters lived.
Our taste buds led us through the confusing menu, and we decided on six Dorset oysters to begin with (it seemed rude not to at an oyster bar), and the fish soup to keep out the cold. The oysters slipped down far too easily and came beautifully stacked on a bed of crushed ice, looking every bit as plump and juicy as they tasted, whilst the fish soup was everything it should have been: rich, velvety and restorative – perfect for the downturn of the seasons.
Our main dishes came in the form of pollack (which was recommended by the waiter and tasted delicious), and the steamed monkfish, which could have done with a little more seasoning, but came with gorgeously succulent scallop and prawn dumplings. Our puddings of Bentley’s trifle and raspberry jelly with lavender and white chocolate put a moreishly sweet-toothed seal on the meal.
If you’re after a little more in the way of leg room, you could always head upstairs to the grill, where the menu serves up a medley of fish, meat and game in elegant surroundings. If you’re after something a little more casual, but with great food very much on the agenda, then stick to the oyster bar where you may feel slightly short changed on space, but will forget about it soon enough because of the uplifting buzz and clamour of the place.
The lovely thing about Bentley’s is that it’s big on atmosphere, and brilliant for quality. Richard Corrigan’s menu turns out classic favourites and intriguing specials with an experienced and accomplished consistency. Team that with a good amount of clatter and chatter, and you’ve found yourself a great restaurant where you’re spoilt for choice with the ocean’s offerings.
Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill: 11-15 Swallow Street, London, W1B 4DG.
Tel: 020 7734 4756.
Reviewer: Helenka Bednar