Bentley's runs like a Rolls
RESTAURANTSI was going to say that I can't imagine anyone not liking Bentley's, Richard Corrigan's new Dublin restaurant, which is based on the London original which was opened in 1916.
But perhaps I should pause for thought. There are those who object, on principle, to simplicity, even if it's simplicity done with brilliance, as it is here. They expect fashionable restaurants to be all bells and whistles.
Good food can sometimes be a bit theatrical but most of us, in our heart of hearts, yearn for simply cooked food, based on the kind of excellent raw materials that we can rarely buy for home use, served with consummate professionalism in impeccable surroundings.
That is what you get at Bentley's. And anyone who has revelled in the joys of Corrigan's original of the species, in London's West End, can rest assured that the Dublin version is very much in the same league.
True, Richard Corrigan is very exercised at the moment about the lack of truly excellent crab in this country (that's the kind of man he is) and I suspect that he's also a bit distraught at some of the differences between trying to run a restaurant in London and its equivalent in Dublin, but the experience is spookily similar for the customer.
Within reason, you can spend as much or as little as you like here. For example, half a native lobster is €18.50, and a proper black sole costs €45 (and they pay €33 for the actual beast, before getting it to your plate).
Okay, in the interests of transparency, I must confess that Richard Corrigan is a good friend and someone of whom I am very fond. His pursuit of excellence is just one of his qualities that I greatly admire. If you wish to regard this review as being compromised by the relationship, that's fine, but I have to say that our meal was flawless. And really, truly, I have very rarely been able to say that.
We started by sharing a dozen Galway oysters anointed, in my case, by a little shallot vinegar (something that Corrigan has taught me to eschew when dealing with Whitstable natives, reverting to the gentler lemon and black pepper approach). They were excellent, tasting strongly of the sea, good and briny, and not at all milky as you might have expected at this time of year.) They were gobbled up with good bread and proper farmhouse butter.
Then we had the Bentley's fish pie, which a friend of mine had told me was "not quite as good as the London version". If so, I defer to his delicately tuned taste buds. It was equally rich, filling and glorious, as far I was concerned: a creamy filling with all manner of seafood topped with mashed potato enriched with beaten egg. Simple but brilliant.
Bentley's fish and chips was, quite simply, the best I have ever eaten. A feather-light and ethereally crisp batter shrouded a fillet of haddock which tasted intensely of haddock. Cutting through the centre revealed a flake of fish that was still just a hint translucent in the centre. Perfect. And the chips were chunky, crisp outside, fluffy inside, again just as chips should be but so rarely are. A chunky, pungent tartare sauce was served in a tiny sauceboat, with a muslin-wrapped half of lemon on the side.
Keeping up the theme of simplicity, the puds which we had started off with no intention of ordering were a fabulously intense raspberry jelly with an equally intense raspberry sorbet and rich, smooth vanilla ice-cream; and a sharp, creamy lemon tart with a casing as crisp as a brandysnap.
And, in keeping with the simplicity, we had a bottle of outstanding Philipponnat Champagne, some sparkling Tipperary water and a brace of excellent espressos. The bill for this perfect meal came to €168.50 before service. That makes it the best value meal I've had in Ireland in a very long time, even if few of us would spend this kind of sum eating out on a weekly or even monthly basis these days. Just think about it. I don't need to spell it out. You can spend that kind of money on complete rubbish in Dublin. And without the lovely view of St Stephen's Green.
THE SMART MONEY
You can have the outstanding fish pie, a glass of the cheapest, but very pleasant wine and a coffee for €27.20. Adding 10 per cent for service, this works out at a shade over €30, probably the best value in Dublin.
The wine list is unusual being, for the most part, a collaboration between Le Caveau in Kilkenny and the distinctly eccentric but glorious La Cave Pyrenne in London, an exercise that has benefitted both of these excellent suppliers. The result is unique in the Irish context, something that will annoy other restaurants and wine merchants, but will delight discerning punters. Our lovely Philipponnat Champagne NV (€75), is a complex and rich form of fizz that is rarely seen elsewhere. On a more conventional level, the Muscadet du Coing de St Fiacre is €36; Château La Mirande Picpoul de Pinet is €31; the slightly fizzy Txacoli de Gateria, overpriced for what it is everywhere but in its native Basque country, is €41, and Grosset's second string but intensely minerally Watervale Riesling is €65.