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!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I'd rather be Tiny Tim

Work Christmas party last night - the first one of the year - and at the risk of offending my otherwise lovely bosses, it was the culinary equivalent of a multi-vehicle pile-up with no survivors. But then these sorts of things usually are.

For years, my work Christmas parties consisted of eating a plateful of shit food, drinking uninspiring house red, trying and failing to cop off with girls I fancied, getting a bit pissed (both in the English and American sense of the expression), trying and failing to cop off with anyone at all, ranting and raving about the futility of life, then finally stumbling home home alone in a raging, dispairing, sobbing, drunken heap of messed-upness.

These days, now I'm all grown up and cohabiting, a work Christmas party merely consists of eating a plateful of shit food then going home early. Which is, I suppose, rather better.

I guess it was too much to hope for that the standard of Christmas party menus would improve in the way that other aspects of my life have done though. As meals go, 'christmas dinner with all the trimmings' has to be one of the most overrated, overhyped, overpriced dishes ever conceived. Yet we eat it every year, often on more than one day.

A 'special' menu, whoop-di-do

I mean last night, there wasn't even a menu as such to choose from. We just had what we were given.

Dead poultry magnate

The starter was Parma ham and melon, which, while perfectly decent, isn't even a dish, it's just a bunch of stuff plonked on a plate. Next.

The bland turkey slices had a processed, reformed, feel about them, despite the recent passing of Bernard Matthews which I'd rather hoped would signal an end to such carnal abominations.

Vegetables came on the plate, rather than being self-servable from big dishes on the table, and were predictably horrible. you know the deal: The round and uncrispy 'roast' potatoes that taste of chemicals and a couple of token bits of parsnip and carrot.

For some reason, sprouts were missing from my plate, though everybody else got a pair. Thanks for small mercies!

The gravy and stuffing ball tasted horribly synthetic, and the most pleasant item on the plate was the smallest - a tiny sub-chipolata sausage, wrapped in the most minute rasher of crispy bacon.

So the main course was predictably manky, the house red as rough as they could get away with, and the individual Christmas pudding that followed (inexplicably topped with a sliver of strawberry) rather cakey and lacking in richness. I made the mistake of having two portions because my colleague didn't want hers, and I had a childish wish to assemble a festive pair of puddingy breasts on my plate. Oh well.

And the miniature mince pies which concluded the meal had the least favourable filling-to-pastry ratio I've ever encountered. Dentists could have used them to dry patients mouths out, for fucks sake.

So, in short, don't go to the Grange City Hotel by the Tower of London for an organised Christmas meal. In fact, don't go anywhere for an organised Christmas meal, because it will almost certainly be shockingly shite, and hugely overpriced.

The biggest rip-off in town

I don't know the exact costs, but I guess they might have charged us about 60 quid a head last night - and I'll warrant that outside of office party season, that 60 quid would buy you a far nicer meal of your own choice in the Grange City Hotel restaurant.

Seriously, what is it with these shit festive (non) menus. Yes, they put a few crackers and toys on the table, but so fucking what? Crackers, like spider shoes, cost an eighthpence each.to make and are just various assembled bits of paper with an occasional plastic toy inside. Mildly amusing in their shittiness for a few minutes in inebriated company, maybe, but pieces of shit nonetheless.

Serving everybody the same dish in the same way is piss easy. Buying ingredients in larger quantities saves money. Economically it makes no sense at all that they are priced the way they are, and yet even in these austere times, bosses all over Britain fall for this lark over and over again because there will be shit crackers, and 'Stop the Cavalry' playing over the speaker system.

I'm going to another on Sunday. Trying Wetherspoons Christmas menu, in fact, which for some stupid reason one has to book in advance, even though many of the courses are available on the normal everyday wethermenu.

Being Spoons, it won't be hugely overpriced, of course, but I'm fairly sure now that their turkey roast will have all the shortfallings of their usual roast dinners what they done serve every Sunday, and I'll be wondering again what the fucking point of it all is.

(To line the pockets of those in the hospitality industry and given them a few weeks on Easy Street is the point, presumably)

I hope that in my lifetime I see the end of tacky, poor-value Christmas party dinners, and the bad potatoes and bad wine and bad cracker jokes that go with them, but I'm sure I won't.

Maybe going hungry at a bare Dickensian dinner table isn't such a bad thing after all?!?

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