ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!
ʼʼ

Monday, December 2, 2019

Lost Breweries: J is for Jarrow

One of the biggest changes to the beer industry in recent years - and it's probably part perception, part reality and part aggressive promotion forcing reality into perception - is the defining nature of the new breweries that are springing up.

Think for a moment about what it means to set up a brand new brewery these days. What do you imagine that means? In meeting-speak, what would a new brewery about to launch in early 2020 'look like'?

Would it be run by self-confident young hipsters? Based under a railway arch or on an industrial estate? Maybe crowd-funded to some extent? Bold marketing campaigns with some edgy but slick artwork that their mate did? American IPAs and plenty of pale hoppy beers? High strength experimental dessert Stouts? Lots of beer going into keg and can? Tap room open on Saturday lunchtimes? A relationship with CAMRA that's love-hate at best?

Sounds about par for the course, yes? That's certainly how I see it. And, yeah, I know that not all new brewery start-ups are exactly like this, and those that are probably achieve more prominence than those that aren't, due to that whole 'forcing reality into perception' thing I mentioned, but, overall, this is how it feels to me.

And it represents a marked shift from the 90s and 00s when new microbreweries typically took a somewhat different form. E.g.

Often run by older chaps (and it was almost always chaps) who had already enjoyed a lengthy career and perhaps taken a redundancy or early retirement; Sometimes spin-off projects from long-serving pub landlords or former brewery workers; Focused mainly or entirely on producing cask beers, usually ordinary strength, not particularly hoppy bitter; Beer names invoking historical curios, bad puns, railways or, in the worst cases, crassly sexist jokes; Inconsistent pumpclip design featuring poor typography and rubbish illustrations? Firmly in bed with the local CAMRA branch (and not above designing a 'hilarious' pumpclip playing on that phrase)...

Sound familiar, if slightly nostalgic?



Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Wetherspoons: A life just beginning?

JD Wetherspoon is turning 40.

In pub industry years, where change now tends to happen at breakneck pace, that makes it something of an elder statesman. In 'real' time, the chain is only a couple of years younger than I am, and consequently Spoons has been around for my entire life; a constant presence since I started drinking, albeit one that has changed substantially over time. Not necessarily for the better.

Marked by their latest beerfest featuring 40 beers - most of them new and/or exclusive - this birthday is a milestone occasion for a staple of the British High Street that is as controversial as it is popular.

Having visited over 600 of their pubs (exactly 612 at the last count), I consider myself one of the chains biggest fans, but also one of its more vocal critics. There is a lot that Tim Martin has done right, and few would argue that, on balance, Wetherspoons haven't been an overall force for good. but there are a number of worrying issues and a hell of a lot of ways in which things could improve.

Monday, September 2, 2019

BV London Pub of the Year 2018-19 - the results

Everybody enjoys a really close contest - there's nothing better than a thrilling nailbiter that goes right down to the wire. So much more enjoyable than watching a procession where the end result was never in doubt. No prizes for being in front, only for winning as they say.

(I've got loads more cliches left in the locker from my days as a BBC Sports writer, but that'll probably do.)

Anyway, this year's Pub of the Year competition has turned out to be pretty exciting. With five - count 'em, five! - pubs all level on points going into the final reckoning. Nothing like this has ever happened before and the margins involved in picking the winner will be finer than a fine old ale (see what happens when you stop using sporting cliches, you end up with beery analogies that are weaker than a table saison...)

Saturday, August 3, 2019

How times change...

Having reached my 40s, and considering myself really quite open-minded about food and drink, Ive been thinking about how little my tastes have changed in adulthood, yet how drastically they were altered in the space of a few years - probably from 14-17 or so.

Happily, there seem to be far more things that I've 'grown into' than those with which I've fallen out of love.



Stuff I liked as a child but now pretty much detest Stuff I hated as a child and still don't really like Stuff I thought I didn't like as a child but now rather enjoy
  • Milk
  • McDonalds
  • Cadbury's Chocolate
  • Margarine
  • Cake Icing (the traditional hard, white kind)
  • The adhesive you lick on the back of stamps.

  • Peas
  • Tuna
  • Quorn (and its laboratorial ilk)
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Broad Beans
  • Liquorice
  • Marzipan - even when I liked the icing that goes with it.
  • Mushrooms
  • Haggis
  • Venison
  • Broccoli 
  • Black Pudding
  • Anchovies
  • Carrots
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Butter Beans 
  • Smoking
  • While we're on the subject, Frankfurters and other smoked sausages
  • Tofu
  • Blue Cheese
  • Pâtés and Terrines
  • Poached Eggs
  • Game Birds
  • Veal
  • Grapefruit
  • Yoghurt

Monday, July 15, 2019

BV London Pub of the Year 2018-19 - part two

Welcome back - it's time to crack on with the 2018-19 Pub of the Year contest, and here we have our five new contenders for this year. Four completely new ones and one re-entry hoping to make a triumphant return. Let's see how they stack up against last year's Final Five.


Monday, July 8, 2019

BV London Pub of the Year 2018-19 - part one


It's time, yet again, for the Ben Viveur London Pub of the Year awards to commence. Woohoo!

Now, don't get upset, but I'm going to have to make a decision as to whether this should be the last year of the competition, or keep it going.

This is the eighth year of the competition and it's always a pleasure. but the truth is that since I moved out of Greater London I've spent a lot less time drinking in eligible pubs. In all honesty, my pub surveying process has therefore become a bit rubbish. It's certainly not as thorough as it could be, and in all likelihood there are numerous very good pubs that aren't getting a fair crack of the whip simply because I haven't been to them.

But that's for me to think about over the next 12 months. There will be a 2018-19 award, and it starts right here, right now.

You know the drill - first I revisit last year's Top Five pubs, then in part two I check out some new contenders and re-entries. We think about it for a bit, talk it over with some fellow beer writers, and then, some time in August, this year's winner is crowned.

Let's get right to it then.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Nothing to see here?

It's perhaps appropriate that during the visit of Sir Donald Trump to our fine native Covfefe, the Morning Advertiser has served up its latest misleading slice of fake news.

CAMRA yields to allow craft keg beer at GBBF reads the headline, announcing that, for the first time, the flagship beer festival of the Campaign will be serving beer that isn't cask.

Except that it's not news. It's clickbait. As I reported at the time, domestic keg was served two years ago. And again last year. And foreign keg beers have been a part of the action for about the last 30 years.

The main difference this time might be, if I'm reading it correctly, a dedicated keg bar, which social media is predictably hailing as long overdue and 'not before time'.