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!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Who hates all the pies?

It's strange. By my reckoning I've only been to Manchester about four times in my life, and then generally only fleetingly. 

I'd never before had to spend a night in the city centre - until Tuesday this week, which just so happened to be the evening the riots kicked off there. What are the chances of that?!?

Mrs B-V and I had been watching Coventry City losing pathetically to Bury and were hoping to head back to Manchester city centre on the Metrolink to drown our sorrows, but the police in their infinite wisdom had decided to close the system down. 


Well done, chaps - while you're advising everyone to stay indoors, you close down transport systems so people who are already out and about can't get back to where they are staying?!? Really sensible, that. 

We're saved!

Fortunately a kindly taxi driver eventually agreed to take us into the wild frontier and after a spooky journey through hoodies and fires we made it to our hotel, it's entrance windows freshly smashed to fuck.

It would have been nice if the evening had some kind of redeeming feature, but the beer in the Bury Wetherspoons was horribly vinegary, and the pie at Gigg lane was one of the worst I'd ever had at a football match.

The Northern-style 'Meat and Potato' pie is often far from brilliant, but this example was particularly dry and bland - truly a disgrace to the game. I doubt rioters will be looting the refreshments kiosk to bag themselves a load of these any time soon.

Chesterfield - home to the tastiest pie in football
And yet a couple of weeks earlier we'd been to a pre-season friendly at Chesterfield's new stadium and the pie was bloody good - proper, unprocessed beef in a rich gravy with the pastry cooked to perfection. Not too puddingy, not too brittle. See, it is possible.

And they had resisted the temptation to festoon the pie with some kind of novelty 'twisted' crust on top!

I've been to about 80 football grounds around the country and eaten pies at most of them. If there  were such thing as the Ben Viveur Football Pie of the Year Award, it would be in the trophy cabinet at Chesterfield FC.

The worst one ever... Well, there was a minced beef pie at Scunthorpe once which was frozen in the centre and had a hole in pasty base, but that was quite possibly a one-off.

The worst 'actually meant to taste that way' pie is probably another meat and potato, and while the Bury pie was pretty awful and I there was one at Burnley a few years ago that I couldn't even stomach. The catfood-like stench made me physically gag, and on the train home I managed to make myself throw up just by remembering the smell of it!
It just goes to show that even amongst the humble football ground pie, there is vast culinary diversity. 

Stuff being good is the most important thing in the world

And that's why it amazes - and annoys - me that people still say things like 'I don't like beer' or 'I like chocolate' as if variety only exists between rather than within foodstuffs.

There are almost no kinds of food that I'd say I universally like, and equally almost no kinds of food that I universally dislike. It would seem foolhardy to commit onesself wholly to either perspective. The difference between a good Full English Breakfast and a bad Full English Breakfast seems far greater to me than the difference between a good Full English Breakfast and a good Chocolate Souffle.

Yes, really.

I cannot stand peas, generally. But in certain specific situations, I'll eat them. I don't go picking them out of samosas and leaving them on the side of the plate for example - indeed the sight of the peas in isolation on the plate would probably sicken me more than eating them as part of the samosa.

On that basis, although in principle I prefer an onion bhaji to a samosa with peas in, I'd much rather have a good samosa with peas in than a bad onion bhaji.

No ordinary Scotch Egg, this
Buy a pre-packed scotch egg from a motorway service station, and it will be a processed, sweaty ball of hard-boiled mankiness. 

Yet the scotch eggs at the Fat Cat in Ipswich where I used to drink on a regular basis are the stuff of legend - freshly made, generously meaty and perfectly seasoned. The beer is pretty good there too, naturally.

Which brings me neatly on to another point-proving example: I love drinking beer, but there are loads of beers at which I'd turn my nose up, and if it's out of condition all bets are off - the Bradfield 'Farmer's Stout' in Bury was truly, truly unpleasant.

So, in summary the only philosophy you need in this life is this: If your team has a game at Chesterfield, go there and have a pie, if they are playing at Bury, stay at home and have a samosa, and if they are playing in Ipswich, go to the Fat Cat and have a scotch egg!

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