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Fishful Thinking

Frankly, I blame the fish pie.

For the delay, I mean.

It’s been almost 2 months since I met Natasha, she of 5 Star Foodie, and her daughter Hannah for lunch.

It’s been so long, in fact, that Bentley’s, where we ate, is no more, having morphed into the Cliff Town House. And while I am more than happy to see an outpost of the Cliff House Hotel come to Dublin, this does mean that the Bentley’s menu is gone from our shores.

Which brings me back to the fish pie.

Bentley’s creamy, mashed potatoey fish pie.

The restaurant’s signature dish and the one that I had to have when I met Natasha, despite the fact that it was the middle of (an admittedly Irish) summer.

And it was good. Heavy and rich but very good.

Bentley's fish pie

The fish pie in question

So I got it into my head that I should make some kind of Bentley’s inspired fish pie to accompany this post. Except that, until last weekend, we were experiencing anything but fish pie weather. Not that I was complaining about that, you understand, but now that the weather has started turning, I find that fish pie and five star foodie lunches have bubbled right back up to the top of the menu.

And, my, what a lovely lunch it was. Though the fish pie was good, the company was even better.

Lobster bisque

And before the pie, there was the lobster bisque

Natasha was as delightful as I had imagined, but it was her daughter Hannah who stole the show. Despite being all of 6 years old, she has experienced her fair share of fine dining, both at restaurant tables and in her mother’s kitchen. Based on her forthright opinions on all we ate, she could certainly challenge her mother for the 5 Star Foodie title and could probably give most restaurant critics a good run for their money.

During the meal, she asked if Bentley’s had a Michelin star, ‘cos it was “kinda fancy.” I explained that it had the involvement of a well known, Michelin star kind of chef, if not an actual Michelin star. And I realised that this was most definitely not the kind of conversation I was used to having with 6 year olds of my acquaintance.

And so, a couple of months later, as I pondered my fish pie, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would pass muster with Hannah. That seal of approval would, I feel, be worth more than any Michelin star.

Lemon posset and 5 star foodies

My lemon posset dessert but, more importantly, my charming 5 star companions

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Fish-A-Leekie Pie (a Fish Pie with Leek and Potato)

Fish pie

As you might expect, this pie takes its lead from the recipe for Bentley’s fish pie, which is included in Richard Corrigan’s fine book, The Clatter of Forks and Spoons. I’ve used a similar creamy white wine and thyme sauce and a mix of smoked and unsmoked fish, as does the Bentley’s pie, though I’ve added leeks and capers and swapped the mashed potato for a topping of potato slices.

While I might mourn the departure of Bentley’s and its fish pie from Dublin, having this in my repertoire will ease the pain considerably.

For the sauce:
  • 50g butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 medium leeks, white and light green parts finely sliced (about 200g)
  • 0.5 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 75ml white wine
  • 50g plain flour
  • 500ml milk
  • 0.75 tsp salt or to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp English mustard (Colman’s)
  • 1 tblsp capers, rinsed and drained
  • 4-5 tblsp chopped flat leaf parsley, loosely packed
  • 1.5 tblsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp malt vinegar
For the rest of the pie:
  • 300-350g potato (about 2 medium sized spuds – preferably waxy as they will hold their shape better)
  • 250g smoked haddock (or other smoked white fish)
  • 250g salmon fillet
  • 1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tblsp freshly grated parmesan
You’ll also need:
  • An ovenproof dish – mine was 20cm x 20cm x 5cm deep – plus a processor or blender for blending the sauce (an immersion blender is handiest).
The Sauce Steps:
  • Place a large, heavy saucepan over a medium heat and, when hot, add the butter.
  • Once the butter has melted, add the garlic, leeks and thyme and cook over a medium-low heat for about 5 minutes or until the leeks have started to soften.
  • Add the white wine and cook for another 4-5 minutes.
  • Add the flour and stir quickly until combined, then very gradually start adding the milk, stirring vigorously all the time. Continue until all of the milk has been incorporated. Don’t worry too much about lumps as you can blend the sauce later.
  • Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Add the salt, black pepper, mustard, capers, parsley, lemon juice and vinegar and stir to combine.
  • Remove from the heat and blend briefly (though don’t worry about making the sauce completely homogenous). Taste and check seasoning, adding more mustard or lemon juice if you think it needs it.
  • Cover and set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the pie.
The Rest:
  • Preheat the oven to 180C
  • Scrub the potatoes and, leaving the skins on, cut into approx. 0.5cm slices.
  • In a saucepan, bring about 1l of water to the boil, add 1 tsp salt and the potato slices.
  • Bring back to a simmer and simmer gently, covered, for 5-6 minutes or until the potato slices are just starting to become tender.
  • Remove the potatoes from the heat, drain and leave to sit for about 5 minutes, covered with a tea-towel to absorb the steam.
  • Cut the smoked haddock and salmon into approx. 1cm cubes.
  • Spoon some of the previously prepared sauce onto your ovenproof dish, add the fish pieces and spoon over the remaining sauce.
  • Top with a layer of overlapping potato slices. Drizzle over the olive oil and sprinkle with the parmesan.
  • Bake for about 30 minutes – the potatoes should have crisped up around the edges. Serve with some salad and the rest of that bottle of white wine you had to open for the sauce.
The Variations:
  • If smoked fish is not your thing, you can certainly replace the smoked fish with with any unsmoked white fish. You can also top the pie with mashed potato or a pastry crust instead of the potato slices if you like.
The Results:
  • Serves 2-3 pie-eaters


  1. Chef E

    I have some meat in question- and now I know what to do with it, but this does look and sound great. I am sorry to hear a place changed out so quickly. They are dropping around us like flies, but then someone out of the blue opens a new strip mall eatery.

  2. An American in Ireland

    I have always liked the idea of fish pie but am well aware how wrong it can all go, and therefore am always shy about ordering it at a restaurant. I like that you use capers in yours, I imagine it offers a nice balance to the richness. Will have to give it a go and get over my fish pie fear, lol.

  3. Tim

    I don’t think you should blame yourself, this seems to all have come as a bit of a surprise! They should probably just invite you along to assure yourself & your readers that things are as good or better!

    Love the 6-year-old conversation :-)

    Also, in a bit of shameless self-promotion, I hope they haven’t changed the Aviator’s Bar upstairs too much! http://www.flickr.com/photos/trjh/sets/72157624620202409/

  4. gastroanthropologist

    I had the most amazing fish pie last Valentine’s Day at La Fromagerie in Marylebone. But it was a dinner for two and we had to share the entire meal so my much taller and less talkative half ate most of it before I even had time to go for a second bite! Love how the recipe has smoked fish in it to. Now that American College Football season is underway we will be spending many more weekends at home, somebody else glued to ESPN at weird hours and me cooking away in the kitchen…might need to start with fish pie this weekend.

    So fun you met 5 Star Foodie – love how her six year old daughter includes Michelin star in her vocabulary!

  5. Daily Spud

    Chef E: I guess (and as I’m sure you know well) things can change quickly in the restaurant business. The original Bentley’s in London is still there though, so the fish pie survives, just not anywhere close at hand :)

    An American in Ireland: Actually, I’m a bit like that about fish pies myself! And it does need something to help balance the richness – the capers, lemon juice and vinegar all help (I was very much thinking tartare sauce when I was doing this). Also swapping out the mashed potato topping helps lighten the load.

    Tim (or yet another American in Ireland…): methinks I should go fishing for that invite – even if only to check out the Aviator’s bar :)

    gastroanthropologist: the same could be said of the Bentley’s fish pie – could definitely be shared between two (though I seem to remember doing a good job of polishing it off myself, oops!); and the smoked fish definitely works well here I think – I thought it might be a bit overpowering but it really adds something to the dish;

  6. TheGlutton

    I was reading The Clatter of Forks and Spoons the other evening and reminded myself that I had to try this recipe – I am glad to hear the book recipe offers some consolation for having never tried the Bentley’s version. I heard Richard Corrigan on the radio saying that if he does return to our shores in a new venture he would only do it as a majority shareholder. Here’s hoping.

  7. Lisa

    I am on a mission to get my family to try a fish pie. The boys love my fried fish but my husband is a bit leery of fish without beer batter and chips. So I will keep trying and see if this won’t be the one to win him (or them all) over.

    Me, I love it.

  8. Daily Spud

    TheGlutton: The book version would definitely be worth a go I think; I actually tried (but failed) to source some green tabasco, which the recipe calls for and which Bentley’s serves as accompaniment to the pie. It definitely needs something like that to help cut the richness and (having had the real thing) can confirm that it works really well (though adding capers, like I did, is another, different option). Meanwhile, will be interested to see the further (ad)ventures of Richard Corrigan.

    Lisa: good luck with your fish pie mission (and sure if the rest of your family don’t take to it, all the more for you :) )

  9. 5 Star Foodie

    I am so excited to see this post! It was so much fun meeting you in Dublin! I can’t believe that Bentley’s is already closed! Hannah will be sad as she really liked this place but I will make your delicious fish pie for her for sure and she will definitely love that!

    I will be even later to post about Bentley’s; I have so many travel posts; but at least I am now finally done with Greece :) so should be soon!

  10. Mike

    Wow. This sounds incredible! Fish Pie is not a common dish in the US (in fact I’d never heard of it prior to this post, so thank you!), but it sounds like it should be!

    I’ll also have to see if I can find that book. Sound interesting.

    And I will definitely be testing this recipe!

    Thanks again.

  11. Daily Spud

    5 Star Foodie: Hey there, hope you’re well! Have been reading your Greece posts – they make me want to drop everything and head for the Mediterranean :) Looking forward to reading your Dublin posts soon!

    Mike: Hi there, thanks for stopping by and happy to introduce you to fish pie – hope you like it! It’s definitely a cold weather comfort kind of dish.

  12. Amanda

    Thanks for this delicious looking recipe. I am usually wary of fish pies as I have had some pretty ghastly efforts in the past, but this looks great – although I love a mashed spud topping, myself!
    Also, many thanks for reminding me that I must get my hands on Richard Corrigan’s book.

  13. jenn (Bread + Butter)

    I saw two words I thought I never see with eat other and now you’ve piqued my interest in the two. fish and pie. I am certainly bookmarking this.

  14. English Mum

    Yum. Love the addition of capers here. What a brilliant idea.

  15. sippitysup

    Fish pie is new to my shores or at least my palate and it sounds great. I am a bit fished out right now having just returned from a few weeks in Hawaii (the reason I am soooo far behind on yours and so many other wonderful blogs). But when the weather turns cool here and my appetite for fish returns I think I’ll give this (former) piece of Dublin a try! GREG

  16. Daily Spud

    Amanda: I’m fond of a mashed spud topping myself – the sliced spuds were just for a change :) And the Richard Corrigan book is well worth getting your hands on.

    jenn: gosh, I hadn’t realised that fish pie wasn’t that well known in the US – enjoy!

    English Mum: I do love a good caper, me :D

    sippitysup: …and I for one can’t wait to see fish pie get the sippity sup treatment!

  17. Mimi

    I’m so sorry that I have never had fish pie before, it looks terrific.

  18. Daily Spud

    There’s a first time for everything Mimi, including fish pie :)

  19. Biren @ Roti n Rice

    It must be so fun for you to meet up with Natasha and her daughter. Your fish pie looks and sounds so good, I’ll have to give it a try one of these days.

  20. Daily Spud

    Hi Biren – it really was lovely to meet Natasha and her daughter. so nice to have the opportunity to do so! And do give the fish pie a try – it’s good stuff :)

  21. OysterCulture

    What a treat that you were able to connect with Natasha and her daughter and over such a delicious meal at that. This recipe is one that deserves immediate attention which I shall give it as soon as I am back to SF time.

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