With Richard Corrigan at the pass since the Nineties - and at the helm as owner since 2005 - Bentley’s could be considered something of a labour of love for the Irishman. Which is handy, as that’s exactly what it feels like inside.
With a history stretching back to 1916 as well as an enviable Mayfair postcode, Bentley’s certainly has grandeur. The surprising thing, though, is that it’s a world a way from the stuffiness you might expect from somewhere with such prestige; Swallow Street looks a little like Soho and the first floor oyster bar feels like something straight out of New York. Upstairs, the (still relaxed) Grill Room is a little more formal but the plum seats are those downstairs anyway, where a grand central bar separates two small rooms replete with red leather booths, cosy tables and a gorgeous little bay window seat offering views of a covered – and heated - alfresco dining area on the street.
Part of Bentley’s appeal is the fact that it’s surprisingly flexible. Seats up at the bar see well-to-do couple enjoying champagne and oysters; the booth seats play host to diners going a la carte; and the Grill Room upstairs welcomes those looking for something just a little more proper. It works, too, and although the staff aren’t always perfect (you might have to chase them) they’ve got that relaxed, friendly efficiency down to a T. In keeping with somewhere so malleable, fellow diners are a mixed bunch, with mature couples, attractive young daters, theatre fans and, for some reason, quite a few American lawyers who seem to be much better behaved than their counterparts from across the pond. It’s all so very relaxed – this is somewhere in which to sit back and take your time.
A recently introduced breakfast menu is – annoyingly - only available during the week but if you get the chance head down for what’s possibly London’s best eggs Benedict (beautifully poached eggs, applewood smoked ham and a rich and buttery hollandaise cut through with just the right amount of acidity - £9.50). A Full Irish (£16.50), Maldon kippers with lemon butter (£13.50) and coddled duck eggs (£6) are the other stand outs on a simple but superb menu.
If you’re heading down for dinner then the Grill Room (as you might expect) keeps things a little meatier, but the real draw is Bentley’s seafood, so stay downstairs and keep an eye on the specials board. Excellent oysters are a good way to start, with Maldon rocks (£3 each) and Loch Ryan No 1s (£4) boasting that bouncy freshness that comes from only the best bivalves. Grilled sardines also showcase an admirable emphasis on provenance, with simple cooking letting the fish do some very eloquent talking.
A huge bit of perfectly cooked turbot (£18) is certainly worth looking out for; it’s joined by a good Béarnaise that’s rich and buttery enough to work well with the meaty fish. Similarly, a seriously good salsa verde works superbly with a huge bit of skate (£22), thanks to it being slightly less acidic, and a little more rounded than what you might expect. Sides continue the theme, with some very good buttered spinach with garlic (£4.90) and autumn leaves (£4) being very fine bedfellows for what are some deliciously uncomplicated main players.
Perpetuating the feeling that this is somewhere equally suited to popping in for a drink and nibbles as it is for a full blown three courser, there’s an admirable selection of both bubbly and wines available by the glass, as well as a fair few bins coming by the carafe too.
Obviously there’s quite a bit of scope for extravagance with Dom Pérignon, Bollinger and Krug well represented on the vintage champagne list, but if you’re keeping those purse strings a little tighter then you’ll be very well catered for too. Whites understandably dominate downstairs, with a particularly good value Gavi ‘La Fornace’ at £33 working really well with shellfish.
The Last Word
Superbly simple seafood should keep this place busy, but throw in one of London's best dining rooms and another hundred years of success should be an absolute doddle. Mr Corrigan, over to you.