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1880 at The Bentley

Clifford Mould was seriously impressed!  

The Bentley Hotel

The Bentley Hotel has recently had an amazing refurbishment. Six hundred tonnes of marble to line the bathrooms, hand laid mosaic floors, silk lined bedroom walls, Louis XV furniture and a full blown Turkish bath and spa ensure that guests remain pampered and cosseted in this exclusive and discreet palace.  

The art of 
 Andrew Turner

Art is all about choices. There is a wonderful story about Turner (William Mallord the artist!) nonchalantly choosing a particular red hue on his palette, and planting a blob of it with his thumb in just the right place to create a sublime sunset.  

These thoughts flitted through my mind as I contemplated a beautiful arrangement of lobster that looked like a vividly coloured miniature Koi swimming across the plate. The dish was uncluttered in its perfection and I wondered what manner of botch it would have looked if I had attempted to place exactly the same ingredients myself. That's assuming I could even have created them in the first place. I quickly put these thoughts out of my mind, as I destroyed this ephemeral work of art, combining it within my very person through the act of eating.

It would be nice to think that one becomes a better person through eating better food. Perhaps we should all try this particularly pleasant way to reach a state of higher consciousness.

Andrew Turner is one of a select band of chefs who have recently been rehabilitating hotel dining to the pinnacle of gastronomy that it once occupied virtually unchallenged. This is not to say that hotel dining is entirely back in fashion; there will always be some who feel uncomfortable in such palatial surroundings. And the Bentley Hotel, although located in an out of the way residential Kensington Square, is nothing short of palatial. But don't be put off by the chandeliers and gold ormolu, the waiting staff are both friendly and charming and do everything to put you at your ease whilst being thoroughly proficient at what they do. There's no haughty maitre d', or insufferable sommelier here to put you off your foie gras.

Turner continues to develop his tasting menus - he calls them grazing menus in the evening and blazing menus at lunchtime. At dinner, these range from five courses, starting at £40, going up by only £2 per course until you reach the amazing ten course menu. Or, you can throw yourselves on his mercy and take pot luck - in a very superior kind of way - and avail yourselves of the chef's menu. Furthermore, Sommelier Patrick Salles has many wines available by the glass and he matches each dish with a spectacular and often unusual, wine. To make it all work, everyone on the table has to eat from the same menu, but if this isn't possible, then there's the a la carte menu to fall back on. We placed ourselves in the maestro's hands.

We began with a coffee cup of velvet smooth velouté made from rabbit, served with a perfectly formed samosa of confit  pork flavoured with tarragon. The pork filling might have been a little dry had it not been for the soup which had a deliciously delicate flavour of bunny. Sommelier Patrick Salles came up with a glass of Vouvray from Domaine Huet whose lively mineral tang proved a great combination. Next was one of Andrew's most artistic creations, a lobster and asparagus cocktail whose imaginative arrangement in a tall sundae glass demanded some ingenuity on the part of the diner to deconstruct it elegantly. The lobster was succulent and the crunchy asparagus worked particularly well. 

After a wee pause out came the foie gras which had been cured in Port. This was quite the best foie gras I think I've ever had. The secret was in the combination of flavour with a close but melting texture. If heaven is "foie gras and trumpets" then I was almost there. With this, Patrick came up with Aleatico, an Italian sweetie from Salice Salento, whose nutty, smoky style was even more suitable than the more usual Sauternes. This was a most impressive combination of flavours.

Then on to a couple of fish dishes, first a seared plump scallop in the most refined sauce, and then a square of sea bass fillet on a miniature plum tomato tart. Needless to say the presentation of all the dishes was immaculate without being needlessly showy. This is where I lose count of the wines, I think it was a rather attractive white Burgundy. 

By now we're up to course number six. Out comes Patrick with another unusual treasure. This time it's an Argentine version of my favourite Italian wine, Amarone della Valpolicella. This one is made from Malbec and Corvinia grapes that have been partially dried to concentrate the juices. I wondered for a moment what this was to be partnered with when along came a huge glass topped cheese trolley with about thirty different French cheeses ranging from hard to soft, from both goat's and cow's milk. Luckily we still have a little bit of room left, but I was worried about saving room for the puds. 

Yes, there's a pre-pud pud, but of course! It was a miniature (and grown up) version of my schoolboy favourite, Knickerbocker glory. There's something Olympian about a Marathon feast like this - but in spite of the precision of culinary detail, Andrew Turner keeps a light touch, without making each plate look a throw back from Nouvelle Cuisine. For serious diners who want to linger over some beautifully constructed dishes, not to mention the refined choice of wines, this is a place not to be missed.

Clifford Mould August 2004

Dine Online Accolade: Most Inventive Menus of the Year

Restaurant 1880 at The Bentley
Harrington Gardens
Kensington 
London SW7 4JX
Tel: +44 (0)20 7244 5555
www.thebentley-hotel.com


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