Bentley’s: Still shucking good

For any restaurant to have endured in London for more than 100 years, it must be doing something right. Bentley’s track record dates to 1916. A recent visit served as a reminder that the venue is still going strong, having arguably been reinvigorated since Richard Corrigan has been at the helm. Consider a visit here an experience, as much for the people-watching as for the food. Word to the wise: fight your way past the tourists sitting on the heated outdoor patio and avoid the upstairs grill room which can either be populated by rowdy groups or might equally be half-empty and hence curiously lacking in atmosphere. Instead, it is best to stick to what has worked for decades and sit at the oyster bar just to the left of the entrance. Here, the vibe is consistently lively with the clientele comprising everything from seafood connoisseurs to rich sugar-daddies with notably younger other halves – and everything in between. Enthusiastic staff with an air of old school professionalism keep things ticking along nicely. My comrade and I sat at the counter top bar and took it all in, while enjoying some superlative food. What Bentley’s does best is oysters, and the venue claims to shuck over 1,000 on a daily basis. We began with a half dozen of the native variety, spanning West Mersea and Loch Ryan. They were deeply intense, both earthy and salty. We then moved on to seafood starters: octopus for me and eel for my comrade. The dishes were presented beautifully although I did feel that my dish was a slight anti-climax after the previous oyster-high. Somehow it didn’t matter though, since the wine (a lovely Gavi) continued to flow. Onto the mains and while my comrade opted for a sublime piece of Dover Sole, I veered off-piste an went for the grouse. This was not to be perverse (why eat game in a restaurant specialising in seafood?), but more since I adore the bird and it is only available for a brief window each year. That Bentley’s was able to serve it almost to perfection was testament to the skills of the kitchen. The accompanying elements of peach, broccoli and jalapeno were superb foils. None of this comes cheap: oysters are at least £30 for a half dozen, starters could set you back £25 and mains more than £50. Nonetheless, it is definitely worth it. Get someone else to pay and luxuriate in a decadent London experience that has stood the test of time.