Seafood Dominated by Regulars in London

Photo: Jack Bradford.

Travelers to London may be intimidated by the number of choices available to put an English spin on the typical daily routine of taking a stroll, buying a paper, and sitting down to a distinctive menu in a distinct environment.

When staying in the Piccadilly area, a great Saturday morning might start with a leisurely stroll in St. James’s Park – just before it becomes mobbed with tourists – continuing back up along Jermyn Street to window shop the tailors, and then down to the far side of the Ritz to the news shop that carries much of the out-of-town periodicals that a traveler would want, such as Barron’s, El País, or the International Herald Tribune.

The good news is that as the clock tower of St. James’s Church strikes twelve, Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill opens for business. Beat the rush.

Bentley’s is a quick walk back from the Ritz toward Piccadilly on Swallow Street, and provides among the best oyster bar and seafood to be found in London in an environment dominated by REGULARS.  After a few sits at the bar to eat from the menu, no matter whether over the course of days, weeks or years, you will become recognized by the staff. They’ll wonder where you’ve been, and will share tips on the goings-on of London and where you might consider your next vacation or trip in Europe. After that, the head barman will review not only the regular menu with you as if you’ve never seen it before, but will also spend about 10 minutes going over the chalkboard specials, which change daily depending on the chef’s inventiveness and the market availabilities of ingredients.

On a recent summer Saturday this correspondent opted for a chalkboard special of pan roasted hake with pancetta and peas on top of white garlic puree. Delicious and perfectly cooked.  The side order of rocket and shaved parmesan hit the right accompanying note of a peppery and savory mix.  Bentley’s also has an accessible wine menu for every taste point and price point of its customers and which the head barman will tour with the customer if needed to arrive at the right answer.

Your correspondent sat at a corner of the bar to better see the other patrons’ food to provide you with further insights. The chalkboard special stuffed sardines and the regular menu item of linguine vongole both seemed to be particularly well prepared.

Now, back to the regulars…. A German couple sat next to this correspondent at the perpendicular corner.  He ordered the spiced crab and mussel soup followed by fish and chips; she the dressed crab.  It was clear they enjoyed each bite as they often split the dishes up between them.  They asked for extra Irish soda bread. He ordered a few Peronis to enchance the fish and chips. She stuck with sparkling water.  The dish presentation was striking with the crab meat served in the upside-down shell of the crab dressed for service.

When asked what brought the couple to Bentley’s, the wife said she had first eaten there in 1975 when her mother brought her and she’s gone back ever since; she introduced her husband to it in 1995. They go to London once a year, and Bentley’s is always on the list of must-dos. It’s easy to see why… distinctive food in a space that has retained its casual elegance for over 90 years. If the marble top bar were zinc, you wouldn’t have blinked if Hemingway’s ghost popped in for a dozen of the finest oysters with a nice sauvignon blanc or albarino to wash them down.

Bentley’s will check your possessions behind the host stand to ensure maximum space and comfort for you in the restaurant.

Bentleys Oyster Bar & Grill
11-15 Swallow Street
London W1B 4DG, United Kingdom
020 7734 4756
http://www.bentleys.org/home/

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Correspondent:Jack Bradford

Originally from the East Coast, Jack travels extensively for his personal and professional projects. No matter which city, town or village, whether on business or vacation, Jack looks for establishments which are the ones he’d revisit with his best friends or clients. To him, these places accommodate and create an excellent and memorable experience – regardless of busy schedules. Jack is currently based in London.

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