The fanfare of trumpets that announced the opening of Bentley’s led many people to surmise that this restaurant was the one Dublin deserved, nay needed beyond all. A sort of gastro-oasis where sublime food would go hand-in-hand with fair pricing. Bentley’s is the brainchild of Richard Corrigan whom I first interviewed back in 1999. At the time I had no idea how influential he was going to become. I liked the guy. I had him figured for a hearty, unsophisticated mucker from the arse end of Co Meath with a massive passion for the wild and real. Maybe a bit of a push-over compared to the chefs of the moment. Ramsay, Burton-Race, Marco and Tom Aikens struck me as nasty buggers, strutting about doing Victorian mill owner impressions. Nevertheless there was a steel to Richard, an understated positivism – as I wrote, “If he says it’s Tuesday, it’s Tuesday.”
Since then things have moved on apace. Richard has become “a name”; if not quite the spokesperson for Irish food, certainly a voluble megaphone in its cause. I’ve got to know him better too; he’s a man who loves life, company and a few scoops. He has a marshmallow heart and many of the innumerable things he does for good causes you never hear about. Richard’s positivism occasionally gets him into trouble; diehard republicans vilify him for “selling out” by cooking for the Queen’s Birthday and redundant battery chicken killers accuse him of killing the industry single-handed, bollocks really.
Anyhow, that’s the man, what about the restaurant? Last Thursday night Sibella and I cold-footed it up Kildare Street from the DART station, passing en route several night-on empty restaurants. Bentley’s in contrast was heaving. We were half an hour early so we wandered upstairs to the Aviator Lounge where I lost the run of myself and ordered a Tanqueray 10 martini. I knew it would be expensive but, even so, wasn’t quite prepared for the €22 charged.
They called us down for dinner on the stroke of 9pm. The dining room is bright and nicely tricked out, with good linen and glassware and there were clear indications that the packed house was having A Good Time. When this venue was Browne’s it had the dullest and one of the most expensive wine lists in town. Now it’s much more interesting, in fact really interesting, but still well expensive – you could eat 3 courses for under €40 but even a modest bottle of wine would almost double the tally. The staff were young, personable, efficient and candid. I enquired as to the quality of the cheapest bottle on the list (around €27) and was told, in commendably truthful fashion “Well, I’m not mad about it.” In the end we took a bottle of Guy Alion’s Sauvignon de Touraine (humble appellation/great producer, a sure sign that the person compiling the list has done their homework) which complemented the food beautifully, if rather dear at €36.
Sibs loved her starter, tiger prawns with puréed chick peas and coriander. Mine was inspired – tiny squid, stuffed with chorizo and organic feta cheese, semi-submerged in lovely herb-flecked liquor that would have made a great soup on its own. I wellied in, mopping up the juices with the bread provided, plain white rolls, though I did notice the guests a course ahead of us seemed to have a fancy selection; clearly Bentley’s had run out of interesting bread by the time we arrived. The tables were quite close together so plenty of opportunities for craic with adjacent diners, which Sibs loves.
I was glad Sibella took the fish pie for I’d heard and read contrasting reports. Well, her ladyship, who makes a mean fish pie herself, declared it absolutely brilliant, with a varied selection of fishy bits under the potato topping. I really, really wanted the John Dory but that too had “gone” so I went a bit bananas and ordered a whole shellfish platter to myself. Even the sight of it made folk at adjacent tables feel stuffed. A whole crab and a half lobster in addition to native oysters, wild mussels, tiger prawns and langoustines, accompanied by shallot vinegar, Marie Rose and mayonnaise represented great value at €45, if a bit out of synch with credit crunch theology. The langoustines were over-cooked, toothpaste textured and and the lobster a tad too muscular (imagine munching Ricky Hatton’s biceps). The crab, in contrast, was simply sensational, an object lesson in how to cook and prepare this exquisite crustacean which should be more widely applauded as one of the great things that come from the sea. I would have liked some brown meat, though. Oysters were great too. Oops, nearly forgot Sibella’s side of spinach, fresh and gorgeous.
When it came to dessert there was no banoffi pie left so we shared a superb tangy lemon tart, which should maybe be served with something other than a raspberry sorbet, which it overwhelmed; good vanilla ice cream would do. The bill was a tad hefty but in truth we could have got away with much less had we skipped the pre-dinner drinks and had I a more mundane main, say €130 for 2.
Bentley’s, 22 St Stephens Green, Dublin Tel: 01 6383939
The damage: €171.60, ex-service for 1 posh martini, 1 G&T, bottle of wine, 2 starters, 2 mains, 1 dessert
Verdict: Overall a pretty good stab at being all things to all people. Well-sourced food, decently cooked and presented. Interesting wines but could do with more sub €30 ones. Enthusiastic service. Magic atmosphere – no background music, hurrah!