All reader reviews by Anonymous

Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill

Bentleys neon signage has always intrigued me on brisk walks up Piccadilly. Not at all what one expects from a supposedly 'smart' restaurant (Ramsay in neon? Not likely), but it just seems to work on this period facade. I have always assumed that this is a signature dating back through this restaurant's long history? Who knows.

Bentleys is now run by Richard Corrigan, of Lindsay House fame. We needed a dinner spot not too far from a party at the Royal Academy and I really needed to stop ordering steaks.

We arrived late, having made the most of the free bubbly and sushi down the road, but this was no problem for the greeter at Bentleys. Quite buzzy in the downstairs oyster bar, a guy tinkling the ivories, moody lighting. We are despatched upstairs.

We enter one room and are guided on to the next and deposited. Is RC in the kitchen we ask? No, he is sampling wines in Italy. Hmmm. Nice work if you can get it.

We order a half bottle of sancerre (not much topping up required!), half a dozen mixed oysters (menu offers 3 varieties, only 2 appear - no explanation/apology received...). L detests oysters so I suggest she orders the stuffed squid, principally because of all the positive reviews here. Oysters were absolutely top notch, super fresh, loosened from the shell, proper condiments, excellent! But extremely expensive at close to £15. Squid disappointing - very small portions and that combo just didn't work for us.

Entrees - I had the mixed grill - I'm a sucker for variety. And it was OK. A bit fiddly, and the waitress didn't talk me through the plate, so some fish remained unidentified, but it was OK. L had smoked fish - fine, but we probably do it better at home, but then it's done exactly to our taste.

No puddings, too full, too drunk and we are on a tight curfew with the babysitter! Plus, alcohol having weakened our resolve to limit carbs after breakfast, I had devoured the (excellent) bread basket. Damn. That's another few k's on the miserable treadmill.

The bill, a few pennies under £100 - hooray, probably the most satisfying part of the meal. Other guests - assorted internationals, a few tourists, a few lardy retired types. A bit stiff for our liking.

Service friendly, but a little slow and not particularly attentive. A request to turn down the AC was dealt with immediately. BUT a big final gripe. We head downstairs, the usual nods and thank yous. And then we have to wait 5-10 mins to receive our bits and pieces from the cloakroom. A real shambles - no one knows what is going on. A queue of punters ahead of us and behind. LOUD americans complaining and generally making the situation worse. What I would expect in Giraffe en famille on a busy lunch service - this absolutely should not happen here.

Would we come again? Not for dinner. Oysters on stools at the downstairs bar? Possibly.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Overall rating 4 stars
Food 5 | Service 5 | Atmosphere 4 | Value for money 3


When Sinatra was singing My Way, could he possibly have imagined that it would get murdered in so many weird and wonderful ways.

Dining at the Bingham with L for an anniversary dinner and as we are enjoying the quietness of the evening (late evening bird song, wind in the leaves etc), we hear the increasing warbled tones of a party boat gliding up the Thames.

We share a giggle, several glasses of wine having been drunk by this stage (but nowhere near the quantity consumed on this boat!!). It occurs to me that when Sinatra sang that tune, he was qualified to, having motored down every metaphorical highway. Wage slaving a 9-5 in a provincial insurance office? Not quite the same thing at all. But of course THAT is why it is sung so often.

Anyway, back to the meal. We are BIG fans of the Bingham. It helps that it is a short cab ride home and we often pass it on wholesome, if precarious, tow path cycle rides with the boys.

The service is excellent. The waitress and somellier are genuinely friendly, attentive, but with no unnecessary formality. The food is pretty faultless - well presented and an interesting menu. And the best bit? Well the setting - right on the banks of the river, a stone's throw from Richmond. It is a bit of a secret, not quite in the centre of town, and if you are lucky enough to be sat at a table on the balcony on a summer's evening, you will struggle to not have a memorable evening.

As guests at a wedding here in the summer, you can wander from the stepped gardens through a hidden gate on the tow path.

L and I retire to the boldly retro bar to have a drink - black wall to wall carpets, extensive use of mirrors - (in this former private house) it feels like we are guests at a 1930's dinner party. Later we wander down through the gardens through a hidden gate (we discovered this as guests at a wedding here) and out onto the tow path for a moonlit walk home, carefully circumnavigating the familiar Friday night piles of vomit.

Sunday, April 13, 2008
Overall rating 8 stars
Food 7 | Service 9 | Atmosphere 10 | Value for money 7

The Wolseley

There is something quite magical about the Wolseley.

Two visits to date. A walk in with the guys - steak frites all round. Really very high quality cuts and mine was certainly perfectly cooked. Touches such as the presentation of coffee turn what would otherwise only be a pretty solid meal into quite a special experience. Cost? P kindly paid, but I would guess at £150.

And then I took L recently. She LOVED it. Some interesting starters, solid entrees and excellent puddings. Three courses with wine were around £140. Very reasonable. Took a walk through Green Park after to prolong the bubble and work off a few of the calories.

But it is all about the atmosphere. There are few venues in the Wolseley's league. A cathedral like space, amplifiying every murmur. Eating here is truly a communal activity. Just as eating should be? Well sometimes. And there are celebs, if you are care and take the time to scan for them.

Criticisms? Well it feels like the type of place that you should make a bit of an effort to dress up to. And some people don't. It is a grand cafe after all. Which is exactly what London needs, but because of its pricing, some people treat it as simply somewhere to eat. It is never good when the waiters are better dressed than the customers. But a restaurant can't be held responsible for its guests, can it?

Service can be hit and miss, with cutlery removed and not replaced, glasses not refilled, waiters asking asking which dish belongs to who. Though the greeters, waiters et al are without exception professional and completely unflappable (surely they've seen it all here).

If it is possible to say this in a nice way (and I really do think the staff here are excellent) there is something of the herman munster about some of the waiters. Immaculately turned out (surely these are tailored suits?) and statuesque but with a loping, ungainly style and slow speech. But quite charming.

Notice the industrial metal cladding in the rear stairwells, the flagstones, the use of linen (this really works well) - this truly is a place to touch and feel.

Even a group of sloanes braying and showing off in one of the galleries (including screaming at the top of their voices - how intelligent!) failed to spoil one evening. This really is a restaurant I will make excuses for, rather than find fault with.

London's first £10m a year restaurant? I can quite believe it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008
Overall rating 9 stars
Food 8 | Service 8 | Atmosphere 10 | Value for money 9

Royal Exchange

Friday afternoon and a quick pit stop into the Royal Exchange with O.

We bypass the lobster and oysters and ascend the stairs. A friendly greeting in the gallery by the floor staff and then we're off to find ourselves a table in the brasserie. Has a bit of a country club feel, thick carpets underfoot, fairly heavy lighting.

Of course the Royal Exchange building itself is rather special. L remembers it when it was a trading floor - she visited the gallery with an ex, a City trader. Fortunately the boys with their computers are long gone, transferrred to glass and steel and we can enjoy these historic surroundings. How many traders now meet their dates, expectantly on trains from Chelmsford? You couldn't fail to be wide eyed at all of this. A sure thing?

We arrange ourselves in some low slung seats near the bar. Comfortable, but quite difficult to eat from - can't be good for digestion?

The waiter announces the fish of the day. This takes a LONG time. Not his fault and he is very understanding when O asks for a burger. But there are no burgers.

Having had possible the worst caesar salad in a long history of caesar salads on wednesday in Mayfair, I was determined to end the week on a good note. And I did. Seasoned chicken, on the bone, crisp lettuce (possible a little too much for some, but not for me), plenty of dressing. O has a club sandwich and we catch up over soft drinks. It might be Friday, but there is still work to be done.

Service attentive throughout and friendly. Restaurant quieter than I like. Certainly quieter then you'd expect on a Friday afternoon. Then, the markets are bad, people are maybe feeling attached to their offices?

Other guests - thank god not just city types, though quite a few of these. The odd tourist, some dress downs, some overly self conscious city girls. A good place for an illicit meeting, I would have thought.

O's generously picks up the tab - my guess, probably only £35. What good value for this environment.

Sunday, April 13, 2008
Overall rating 7 stars
Food 5 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 6 | Value for money 8

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