Richard Corrigan has been installed in the Dublin outpost of his London Bentley's, in one of the best dining rooms in the city, for a couple of months now. In London, the buzzy Oyster Bar is downstairs and there's a rather frumpy dining room upstairs. In Dublin, the Oyster Bar is at the far end of the long stretch of the dining room and up a few steps. On the night we visited – a filthy Sunday evening; it rained for 18 hours without interruption – there was no one at the bar and the dining room was about half full. During the week, it's hard to get a table.
We were celebrating a stellar set of Junior Cert results (not that I'm boasting, perish the thought), so started with a couple of glasses of prosecco (and a diet coke for the star pupil). We liked it so much that we ordered a bottle (€34.95) to accompany the meal.
The starter offering was seductive – so much so that we added an extra one to share. In fact we shared them all, rotating the plates between us. The risotto of smoked eel, celery and thyme (€12.50) is a gorgeous dish, putting Frank Hederman's superb smoked fish to good use. Grilled tiger prawns, chickpeas and coriander (€12.50) constituted half a dozen decent-sized shelled prawns atop a chickpea puree – kind of a hot hummus. This too got the thumbs up all round. Tartar of mackerel and pickled cucumber (€9.50) had been chopped, skin on, and marinated in soy and mirin. It was a clever idea for an under-appreciated (and very cheap) fish and one that I'll be attempting to recreate at home. The stuffed baby squid with chorizo and organic feta (€11.50) was sublime, perfectly balanced so that the chorizo did not dominate. Friends at another table loved their oysters rockefeller (€15.50).
Of the mains, the Irish organic chicken and foie gras ravioli with lovage and bacon (€24) suffered from too much chicken and some stinginess on the foie gras front. It wasn't a bad dish, just dull and not the luxurious experience that we expected. The black sole meuniere (€45) was disappointingly bland. The fish special was wild sea bass in a langoustine reduction, served with mashed potatoes. The baby squid put in an appearance here too, along with a goodly quantity of tarragon. At €24.50 this was easily the best (and best value) of the main courses, although I only managed to secure a morsel – the treacherous person who ordered it welched on the sharing deal. Hand-cut chips were better than they were when Bentley's first opened but still not as good as they should be – our pals were similarly underwhelmed. You wouldn't, we agreed, be getting up in the middle of the night for them.
We shared a crozier blue soaked in Banyuls, deservedly one of Corrigan's trademark dishes, with which we took a glass each of Banyuls and Jurancon (both €8) and a caramelised lemon tart and raspberry sorbet, which received great praise for exceptional pastry. Puddings are all priced at €9.75.
With water and a side order of spinach, the bill came in at €255.55, to which we added €40 for service, making a total of €295.55. Less profligate ordering – fish soup (€9.50), say, perhaps followed by natural smoked haddock and poached egg (€18.50) or, another Corrigan trademark, Bentley's fish pie (€17.50) with a carafe of one of the several modestly priced house wines – would result in a very reasonable bill.
With Corrigan's insistence on provenance and quality ingredients well publicised, Bentley's could be perfect – but it's not there yet. And whether it will ever give Town Bar & Grill a run for its money as the canteen of choice for the city's movers and shakers remains to be seen.
Bentley's Oyster Bar
22 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2
Tel: 01 6383939