Oyster Master Class at Bentley's
Until a few weeks ago, I thought oysters weren't really for me. I'd tried them once before and didn't enjoy any part of my experience: gulping them down in one seemed a waste for something that is quite an expensive treat and the taste was a little too much like I'd drank a whole lot of sea water.
So when I was invited to visit Bentley's for their Oyster Master Class, I umm'ed and ahh'ed for a bit. In truth, I thought it might be a waste for someone who doesn't like oysters to go but then I decided that I would give these odd little molluscs another go. After all, it was Bentley's.
Taken over by Richard Corrigan in 2005, Bentley's (which was established in 1916) is part of what I call the 'classics' in London, sitting alongside the likes of The Ivy and The Wollesley. They're classics because of their timelessness and unwavering popularity after so many years. With so many restaurants popping up and closing down all the time, it's nice to see restaurants stand the test of time.
The Master Class is held once a month, on a Saturday morning around Bentley's beautiful marble topped bar. It costs £65 per person and includes champers on arrival, an introduction to oysters and plenty of tastings, as well as sommelier matched wines. We took our seats, had our bubbles poured and were presented with an 'Oyster Passport' to document our findings (very useful and a rather nice keepsake).
Our class was hosted by expert Oystermen Fred & Helio, who know everything there is to know about oysters. They introduced us to both British and Irish oysters - from West Mersea (these native oysters tasted too much like the sea for me!), Dorset (you could set them apart because they were sharp on the side) and Carlingford (less meaty, more delicate - my favourite out of the bunch). We learnt that native oysters are a seasonal product - Bentley's don't sell them between the months of May and August because they are best when the weather is cold - and it's Pacific oysters (rocks) that are available all year round. Much to my relief, we were advised to chew the oysters (they don't believe in just swallowing them whole) and to experiment with the condiments on offer. I found a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of black pepper worked best to bring out the flavour. We finished our tasting with some cooked oysters which you should certainly not turn your nose up at! The deep fried oyster with caramelised shallot and chorizo was de-lish.
The final part of our class had us rolling up our sleeves and getting our shucking on. Let me tell you now - it is not as easy as the pros make it look! You have to really get your knife stuck in then work your muscles to ease them open, all whilst trying to avoid slicing your palm open. Of course, our hosts made it look effortless, which given that they sometimes have to shuck up to 1,000 a day makes a whole lot of sense!
A genuinely fun (and educational) experience, you don't have to be an oyster fanatic to enjoy the Master Class. If you fancy trying it for yourself, visit the website here and book your spot. Oyster sceptic? I dare say Bentley's will convert you.
11- 15 Swallow St, Mayfair W1B 4DG