On the ground floor is a bar; you walk through this and walk upstairs to the dining room, split into two sections. The décor has a slight sense of a gentleman’s club, but I mean this in a positive way: it is truly welcoming. The blue leather chairs with metal studs are both attractive and very comfortable, and there is no music. The walls are painted cream up to the dado level, and above this is a blue floral patterned fabric in place of wallpaper. The curtains are of matching fabric, which my wife (who understands these things) dismissed as “very 1980s”. There is a window at one end of the room, but this just looks out onto a building site next door. The floor is plain wood, as is usual these days, while tables have crisp white linen tablecloth and napkins. There are no flowers at all in the dining room, which perhaps contributes to the slightly masculine feel of the décor. On the walls are a series of prints of fish, plus one large painting of what presumably is a fishing boat. The ceiling is white and has directed spots, supplemented by a few side lamps on the walls, which have yellow lamp-covers. The lighting is excellent, carefully directed and making the menu easy to read. Why this basic concept seems to elude so many interior designers escapes me, so no peering into the gloom with a torch tonight. Tables have just salt and pepper set out, nothing else.
There is a lot to like about Bentley’s, with its attractive dining room and appealing menu. Ingredients are of good quality and the food is not fussy. Cold dressed crab mayonnaise was excellent, a generous portion of very fresh crab with a good mayonnaise (5/10). Belvelley smoked eel was rather a let-down, the eel oddly lacking in taste for something that usually has such a distinct flavour; potato pancakes with the eel were pleasant, though crème fraiche was perhaps not the most imaginative accompaniment (2/10). Much better were nicely grilled tiger prawns with a chickpea puree laced with olive oil and well-judged chilli (5/10). My main course (£17.50) was smoked haddock with crushed potatoes, a poached egg and a few greens as a base. I’m very fond of haddock, and this was a nice example, the potatoes also well prepared (4/10). Fish is costly these days, and a grilled Dover sole would have set us back £40 this evening. For dessert, a lemon posset (£7.70) was pleasant but was a little overwhelmed by the thick layer of rhubarb and ginger on crumble top (3/10). A good posset should have enough of its own lemony acidity to not need the further bite of the rhubarb. Better was a chocolate and hazelnut meringue with nice texture (5/10) with pleasant buttermilk sorbet.
Service was a little odd this evening. The dining room turned out to be quite warm, so I took my jacket off and put it on the back of my chair. I was immediately told this was not allowed since “Mr Corrigan thinks it looks untidy”. Coffees were brought part way through dessert and the waiter seemed bemused when I asked for them to be brought back later. Otherwise service was reasonable, the dishes arriving at a steady pace and no problems with topping up, though a couple of dishes were.placed incorrectly inf front of the wrong diners if I am to be picky.
Here are notes from a better meal in August 2006.
The menu majors on seafood; Bentley’s has been around 90 years no less, and its new owners (Richard Corrigan, etc) have kept the focus on the fruits of the sea. The waiting staff are formally dressed, and to my amazement included two English waitresses, something I thought was an extinct breed in London. Service was friendly and capable, the dishes arriving at a pleasant pace, and dishes were correctly delivered (no “who ordered the ….” here). Wine service featured a sommelier who seemed to know what he was talking about, and indeed the wine list is a lengthy affair, with 13 pages of closely typed choices. There are plenty in the £25-£40 range e.g. Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc at £28.50 and Domhoff Riesling 2004 at £27.75. There are plenty of choices by the glass, including seven sweet wines. I am pleased to report there are no stingy half-glasses poured for dessert wine e.g. the Pedro Ximenez measure was very generous indeed.
Breads are, unusually, baked on the premises, and while commendable this may not after all be that wise. A dark Irish soda bread was not my thing but was nonetheless well made (6/10) but although slices of white bread were reasonable if a little light in salt (4/10), the sourdough was sliced ultra-thin and was frankly dried out (0/10). There were no amuse-bouches. I began with macaroni with Dublin bay prawns, and this featured high quality home-made pasta with excellent texture and fresh, tender langoustines mixed in with the pasta, all with a little shellfish sauce to add moisture. This was very well executed, the langoustines clearly of good quality and having pleasing taste and silky texture (6/10). My wife had crab brulee, served with good pickled cucumber with sesame seeds and an excellent finger sandwich of prawn toast with a thick layer of prawns at the centre, toasted and topped with sesame seeds. The brulee itself worked well, tasting properly of the crab and having smooth texture (6/10).
My wife had Dover sole, simply grilled and served with a half of lemon and some home-made tartare sauce. Nico Ladenis used to make the definitive version of this and so everything else seems a pale imitation, but the one tonight was very good, the fish fresh and cooked through just the right amount, having excellent flavour. The tartare sauce had a pleasing tartness and was a good accompaniment (6/10). I had roast duck from Goosnargh, served in two pieces on the bone with a little meat jus, and a blob of celeriac puree, plus a single caramelised apple in a torpedo shape. Although the duck was cooked pink it was just a little harder to cut through than I would have expected, though the flavour itself was good. The celeriac puree was superb, with very light, creamy texture and great intensity of flavour, while the jus could have perhaps been reduced a little; there was a little sauerkraut on the side, but this was rather tasteless (5/10 overall). Vegetables arrived with the main courses: new potatoes were cooked with a little mint, and had lovely texture; so often potatoes turn up either under or over cooked, but these were just about ideal. A mix of mange tout, sugar snap peas and spinach was also very capably cooked with a little butter (7/10 for the vegetables).
A caramelised apple tart had good pastry but in fact the apples were not properly caramelised; this was disguised by the addition of a caramel sauce and some excellent (7/10 standard) vanilla ice cream, but the dish was less good than it would otherwise have been due to the incorrect treatment of the apple (4/10). Sherry trifle was a delightfully old-fashioned dish to see on a menu. In this case the sponge base had good texture and was generously laced with sherry, there was a layer of fruit jelly above this and then a layer of strawberry, a little grapefruit and even the odd blueberry, topped with cream. The fruit was of good quality, seasonal and the sponge a success (6/10). Cappuccino and filter coffee were both good quality coffee, the filter coffee served in a silver coffee pot and left on the table for refills; accompanying the coffee were four small but very well made chocolate truffles, with rich centres and a light coating (6/10 for filter, 7/10 for the cappuccino).
This was a very pleasant dining experience all round. The room is relaxing and the chairs comfortable, there is no music to distract you, and the service was extremely friendly. The menu is very appealing and an exercise in simplicity, with every dish appealing. There is no coconut herring or Earl Grey tea wasabe froth appearing on your fish, as so often seems the case in London restaurants these days. Above all, the ingredient quality of the fish was excellent and the technical execution consistent. Prices are also fair for cooking at this level.