There are some restaurants that are classic London. This is one of them.
You catch sight of the green neon sign for Bentley‘s from Piccadilly, up a narrow stone paved street that looks like nothing much has changed since the restaurant opened in 1916; being the middle of the First World War clearly didn’t stop well heeled Londoners wanting to quaff champagne and slurp oysters back then, and the new world order is certainly not going to stop us now.
There’s a very romantic feel to the place – almost illicit, the kind of place you might slip into if you were having an affair. I hasten to say I am not doing any such thing and went there to rendezvous with my husband, but it felt like a treat of the kind we would have had before parent’s evenings, work commitments and the lack of credible pension plans preoccupied us for most of our waking hours.
The restaurant, which is owned by star chef Richard Corrigan, is celebrating its centenary and was buzzing on Friday night with a mixture of European and American visitors to the capital and more local clientele. We sat downstairs in the oyster bar, definitely the fun option – the restaurant upstairs looks much more formal. It’s a wood panelled room with art deco windows looking onto the charming street and a marble topped bar where you can sit on stools and watch the bar staff shucking oysters and mixing cocktails; we chose to sit at a table – very close indeed to the couple sitting next to us to the point where I almost joined in their conversation at one point, much to the horror of my husband.
We felt we really should start with oysters and the highly knowledgeable waitress talked us through the options and arrived with a selection of cultivated and natives from England, Ireland and Scotland which slid down beautifully with Tabasco and shallots for the cultivated and lemon and pepper for the natives. A divinely comforting venison pie with mash and red cabbage from the specials board followed – though it was an agonizing choice as Corrigan’s menu features a myriad crowd pleasers from fish and chips to confit duck. The bread and butter pudding pretty much tipped me over the edge.
Bentley’s has the kind of atmosphere and cuisine that features in the books of PG Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh, where people had cooks and nannies, and I left feeling duly cosseted and on a pleasing high of protein and fine wine. I hope nothing changes for the next 101 years.
11-15 Swallow St, Mayfair W1B 4DG