bennett oyster bar + brasserie
It’s not often that B and I find ourselves in SW11, but last weekend the promise of cheap art lured us over to Battersea Park for the Affordable Art Fair. Sadly we didn’t snag any bargain masterpieces, but we did score a parking ticket (joy) and had a leisurely late lunch at the week-old Bennett Oyster Bar & Brasserie in nearby Battersea Square. Billed as a “food emporium”, the expansive dining space consists of a handsome marble-topped bar, clusters of metal tables, wooden chairs and lime green upholstered banquettes and a sheltered al fresco area out front. To the right of the bar is the store – a small room lined with shelves of wines, containing tables displaying a small selection of organically-grown produce and baked goods.
We took a seat in the brighter section near the windows overlooking the Square, and after a lot of faffing about by the flustered staff we got out hands on some menus. Seafood featured heavily (together with French and British classics), so we opted to kick things off with the Seafood Platter for two. It arrived resplendent with oysters (rocks and natives supplied by Rossmore), razor clams, mussels, prawns, crevettes, whelks and cockles – all very fresh and quite reasonably priced at around the 30 pound mark. B was in the mood for oysters so ordered an extra plateful of the minerally natives.
The shellfish would have made a more than adequate starter, but eager to put the menu through the paces we both ordered an additional course before our mains. Mine was a plate of Salted Beef Tongue, Foie Gras and Pickled Cauliflower which seemed a peculiar combination but it worked – the saltiness of the tongue and fattiness of the liver all nicely tempered by the sharpness of the red-onion laced pickles. Texturally it was pleasing as well with a mix of springy offal, soft velvety foie and crunchy vegetables.
I stole a few spoonfuls of B’s Fish Soup (presented with the traditional accompaniments of garlicky rouille, grated gruyère and toasted croutons) and it was delicious – rich and gutsy with a distinct fennel note running through it.
Mains hit the spot as well. The Scampi and Chips was good – the crumbed fried morsels lovely, juicy and sweet, chips decent, peas pert and homemade tartare sauce tangy. Pity though that there weren’t more scampi on the plate and tasty as it was, the £16 price tag did leave me feeling a tad short-changed.
The Bennett Fish Pie was a fine specimen, with neatly-piped smooth creamy mash and moist chunks of crab, salmon and haddock. Unfortunately the chef went a bit dill-happy with the sauce and the abundance of the herb completely overshadowed the delicate fish.
I have a soft spot for Baked Alaska so immediately ordered the retro pud when I spied it on the dessert menu, envisioning a snowy-peaked creation arriving in flaming splendour. We were presented with something far more ordinary, and taste-wise the small mound of jam-swirled vanilla ice cream on a dry sponge layer and enrobed in soft meringue didn’t fare much better. We left it mostly untouched.
There are clearly kinks that needed to be ironed out at Bennett – the kitchen struggled to get orders out promptly (despite only being one fifth full) and service was shaky. However I would put both down to opening week nerves and to their credit the waiters were amicable, eager to please and very apologetic. Based on the strength of the first two courses I predict the restaurant will do well with the locals, especially once the store is amply stocked and fully operational.
Bennett Oyster Bar & Brasserie
7-9 Battersea Square
London, SW11 3RA
t. 0207 223 5545