Monday, January 16, 2006

Bentley's - London

Aimlessly wandering around Piccadilly Circus in search of culinary inspiration, we spotted and decided to try Richard Corrigan's latest opening.

We sidled up to the bar, and soon felt that we were the only people there who weren't a) Irish; b) terribly, terribly posh; or c) just back from a week on the yacht in St. Bart's.

But grandfatherly Angelo behind the bar soon made us feel at home, with an enthusiastic recommendation for the red mullet ("taaaaaaaaaaasty" -- which, in fact, it was), and went on to impress us with his oyster shucking skill and endurance. This was a man who needed neither a glove nor cloth to protect himself whilst prising the little fellas open.

The squid stuffed with chorizo was succulent - far from the usual rubbery fair we see in London. The portion was perhaps a little small, though.

Halfway into our meal, Corrigan himself walked in sporting his Lindsay House chef whites and completely took over the room. We enjoyed seeing the chef orchestrate the dining room, but were just a bit too in the thick of it eating at the bar: At one particularly tense moment the chef, Angelo, and a waiter were trying to figure out which of the six plates of freshly-shucked oysters belonged to which table, and we felt compelled to try to help out.

We needed a drink elsewhere to unwind after such a stressful shift.

At one point the maitre-d shouted to Corrigan, "Hey, did you know one of London's most influential people is here tonight?" "Who?" asked Corrigan. "You!" teased the maitre-d, citing a magazine survey out earlier that day.

Corrigan was soon tempting customers to the off-the-menu langoustine that were fresh in that morning. "We get them, cook them, sell them; and when they're gone, they're gone." They looked delicious (if a little hard work with the little fork) but unfortunately we had already eaten.

We asked what he would drink with the Welsh rarebit for desert; after a long pause (so long, in fact, we considered repeating the question, but feared incurring the wrath we'd seen him unleash on the poor French waiter Mateo earlier), he recommended the Oyster Stout, which was indeed a great choice. You could actually taste the oysters, and that can't be bad.

There is a more extensive menu in the restaurant proper, but the friendliness and immediacy of the bar are definitely worth a look.


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