Oyster Master Class at Bentley’s Piccadilly
Think oysters. Think pearls. Think champagne. Think romance. I’ve always tried to, but my only experience had left me wondering where exactly was the magic? Despite the best efforts of my other half, who will happily browse the Whitstable waterfront for the perfect dozen, a mouthful of salty water and an oversized mussel just didn’t cut it with me.
And then I was introduced to Bentley’s which has been feeding the locals and visitors to London’s West End for 100 years. Specialising in fresh oysters, grilled fish and steak chosen from throughout the British Isles, this is an oasis of calm, tradition and amiable service. It’s also the place to go for an Oyster Master Class, an induction into a whole new gastro-culture and a whole lot of fun in the process.
Saturday classes take place on a monthly basis, start at 10:30am and cost £65 per person. This includes champagne on arrival, an entertaining and informative tutorial, and tasting with sommelier matched wines. You also get to take home a goody bag containing an apron, recipe cards and the all-important oyster shucking knife!
The classes take place at the lovely marbled oyster bar where I was welcomed and ably hosted by Bentley’s expert Oystermen, Fred and Helio. With great charm, they explained how to distinguish native (wild) and cultivated oysters; how their provenance, sea or fresh water, affects their texture and why we don’t eat fresh oysters in the summer (that’s when the natives are reproducing are best left alone). I learnt which condiments to use to complement the oyster’s texture and flavour (Helio swears by black pepper and a squeeze of lemon, but tabasco and shallot vinegar were on hand to compare and contrast) and of course, which wine to quaff (remember this is fun as well as educational) to ensure you don’t overwhelm the subtle oyster flavours (Grange des Rocs Picpoul de Pinet recommended). By way of recompense for sharing their knowledge, our host’s superiority was verified when we amateurs took up our knives and, initially, poked and sawed helplessly at the rock on our plates. There can be no greater delight than watching an expert at work whilst hearing them talk eloquently about their craft. This proved the case on this occasion where the fact that the Bentley’s team shuck up to 1,000 oysters a day during the October through December period was illustrated by the ease with which our pair flipped shell after shell.
Bentley’s chef patron is Michelin star winner, Richard Corrigan. His approach is defined by his belief in good hospitality coupled with excellent food made, where possible, from locally sourced producers and from independent businesses. At the end of my Master Class, I was converted to oysters (they’re full of zinc – great for your bones; they filter the water and their shells make great fertiliser) and oyster eating. Even more so I’m enamoured of Bentley’s with its timeless, delightful service and great quality menu.
You’ll find Bentley’s at 11 Swallow Street, sandwiched between Regent Street and Piccadilly and Oyster Master Classes can also be organised on a bespoke basis for groups.