Bentley's - CHAMPAGNE AND OYSTERS IN LONDON
A good champagne is to wine as a whisper is to conversation. It demands your attention. It is almost a vapor of wine flavor. When a Michelin star chef chooses the oysters AND the champagne, (and incidentally also bakes the bread and makes a seaweed spread) be prepared for a world class oyster experience.
Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill is the place to compare to any of the other London oyster bars. It has been a source of quality fresh shucked oysters on Swallow Street near Piccadilly Circus since 1916 - it claims to be "the oldest seafood restaurant in London." The Bentley family served their own proprietary oysters from England's West Mersea Coast, south of Colchester. Unlike other similar establishments, Bentley's has always shucked their oysters in full view.
Since 2005, Bentley's has benefited from the guidance of chef and new owner, Richard Corrigan. He has maintained the Bentley fresh shellfish traditions but has added some fresh ideas.
Corrigan has his own history of culinary excellence and also brings a strong media presence. Born in Ireland, he is the author of an autobiographical book (with recipes) entitled The Clatter of Forks and Spoons. He is a frequent TV guest/host in both the UK and US. He has been awarded a Michelin Star and has cooked for the Queen. Get the picture?
One part of Corrigan's contribution is holding "Master Classes" for patrons especially interested in oysters. Shucking classes, cooking classes, and contests are part of the new Bentley experience. Bentley's still serves "native" (C. Edulis) oysters from Britain and Ireland but only in the "R" months. The UK native oyster tradition has been documented as far back as Roman times. The Colchester heritage includes an oyster festival that began in the 13th Century. Like their competition, in the Summer, Bentley serves farmed "rock" oysters. They begin the Fall native season each year with their own oyster festival in the patio and narrow street out front. Bentley's hosts live music on Thursdays through Saturday nights year round. Corrigan also owns Bentley's Sea Grill, the oyster bar at Harrod's and Corrigan's Mayfair elsewhere in London.
Oysters and champagne at Bentley's includes the house champagne. It is a grand cuvée (sparkling wine) from the house of Paul Dethuné, Ambonnay, France. The family has been growing wine since 1610. The village of Ambonnay is a "grand cru" (great growth) village, one of only 17 so designated in France. I can't offer you the meal but you can "click" through the slide show (at right) and share the visual feast.
1. Swallow Street is an old London street too narrow for modern cars. You feel like you know a secret when you find Bentley's. 2. The sign is original from 1916. 3. The shuckers are always in full view at Bentley's - an unusual practice in London. 4. Full view shucking is always a treat. 5. The marble counter is narrow so serving stilts help to save space. 6. The champagne is from the house of Paul Dethuné, Ambonnay, France 7. Bentley's makes their own condiments and 8. fresh bread 9. complete with a seaweed spread. 10. We were treated to both Galway natives and "rocks." 11. and 12. A "rock" and its beautiful shell 13. and 14. A rock and native (rounder) shells. 15. Seating at the bar includes your very own private hand towel. 16. Bentley staff shuckers always employ this special wood shucking block. 17. It is not a big place. Make reservations if you want to be sure you get a seat.
NOTE: The "R" month taboo about eating native oysters originated in England and is still observed. The C. Edulis is different from our own C. virginica in that the eggs are fertilized in the shell. Therefore a native British oyster during spawning season can contain eggs. Natives are both revered and in short supply so the reproduction is protected by the restraint.