I can just about remember the drunken after-dinner discussion. "What car would Jesus drive?" My religious friend reached for the Bible, and suggested a Honda ("For I did not speak of my own Accord", John 12:49). But I wasn't convinced. Jesus was a carpenter, who hung out with his 12 best buddies and fished a lot. I reckoned a VW camper - low-key, with good mileage. He certainly wouldn't have driven a Bentley.
You see, a Bentley is the last word in luxury and opulence. For the wrong side of £100,000, they will match the paintwork to any colour you like - whether it's a lipstick or a nail varnish. And they will take 13 days just producing your veneers. Personally, I don't think Jesus would have felt comfortable with that conspicuous consumption. But it's a nice name for a hotel. If it can live up to the billing.
The Bentley Hotel is off London's Gloucester Road. You won't find it unless you're looking for it. But once you do find it, you'll never forget it. Think marble, think gold, think silk. Think embossed - like a wedding invitation. It made me feel like visiting a casino afterwards.
The restaurant in the Bentley is called 1880 - the year the hotel was built. Andrew Turner, who did great things at 1837 in Brown's Hotel, has now taken over here, and has introduced a series of grazing menus. I eat too much. I know I do. Last week my doctor said I was the perfect weight - for a man who is 17 feet tall. So a grazing menu suits me just fine. Even if there are eight courses.
There's a lot of interference at the table when you are eating your way through eight courses - a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. But the staff were magnificent. I especially loved the woman from Barcelona who managed to smile every time she offered us a choice of six different breads, two butters and five olive oils from her trolley. Just park the bread, señora, thanks very much.
The sommelier was just as helpful, even when I explained my end-of-the-month type budgetary situation. He was thrilled to come back with something affordable. I felt obliged to show him that I was thrilled too. So, as I tasted it, I said, "Lots of stuffing in the mouth." I always say that. Nobody (including you) knows what the hell you're talking about. They just think you're a wine genius and leave you alone.
The cup of curried mussel cappuccino arrived in the right-hand corner of the plate. Like a postage stamp. The cup was big enough to carry several fat mussels, and the appropriate amount of grit. The curry in question was more bhoona than korma, with a refreshing taste of fennel about it, and was served with a thin straw of pastry - just the right amount of carbohydrate to make the dish feel satisfying.
The restaurant manager looked pained when I asked about the gravadlax. Poor chap. I sense it wasn't the first time he's been asked about the provenance of his salmon recently. But I was satisfied with his answer. Besides, you can tell if a fish has had no stress when the grey fat ridges are narrow and the aroma is good but strong. My thickly sliced salmon, clearly, had led a stress-free existence.
I was confused by the chicken oyster tortellini. I didn't realise that chickens had an oyster. Apparently they have two. The little nubs of meat are hidden behind the wings and are, according to my guest, "one of the treats of picking at a carcass". But so tiny. I remember making a dish that involved trout cheeks. Maybe I should have used lake trout. Or pickerel. But I ended up with something I could have served in a thimble.
The scallop was Andrew Turner's signature dish. I know that because it came on a plate saying 'Signature Dish', with his signature, and it was a dish. He had also left his fingerprint in gold. Rather showy, I thought. Like the décor. The scallop was rarer than I'm used to. And I wasn't keen. But my guest was. I, however, am paid to do this job and he's not. So bear that in mind.
There followed a selection of French cheeses. In this country, we're too hung up on our French cheese. A colleague told me how some American cheese-makers, looking to France as the gold standard in cheese-making, have started smearing classic French cheeses on the wall of their dairies in an effort to introduce the Gallic moulds into their operations. For goodness sake. Smear something British.
I did spot a rogue Swiss cheese - Tête de Moine, which translates as "monk's head". Traditionally it is sliced horizontally with a girolle to create ruffled, very thin rosettes. Once the top of the rind is taken off, it resembles the bald patch on a monk's head. The firm, dense texture makes it perfect for paper-thin slices. And it goes beautifully with a white wine jelly.
One small thing to remember when pairing cheese (I learnt this from my recent jaunt to Vivat Bacchus) is that far too often a salty cracker or a sweet bread completely ruins the wine and cheese combination. But - at the opposite end of the scale - 1880's home-made biscuits went beyond bland, with less flavour than uncooked dough. That was only one small complaint. And eight courses for £46 seemed very fair. Heck, I had made an awful lot of washing up.Reuse content