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, March 29, 2012

Possibly the greatest idea of all time

About 20 years ago, my Father was organising a Barn Dance. 

Tickets were to cost £5 or something and would include food, with beer available for £1 a pint (if memory serves, he was going to be ordering firkins of Ringwood Best). 

But there would also be a £10 ticket available which included, wait for it, unlimited beer. What a brilliant idea.

I can't remember if the Barn Dance ever took place or if I went to it, but the concept of 'pay once and drink all you can' so aroused my teenage pysche that I began to think the unthinkable... what if there were a beer festival where I could have unlimited beer?!?


I'd been waiting those 20 years, and what with 'binge drinkers' being the new paedophile asylum seekers and everything, I suspected that there were probably laws against such an arrangement. 'Irresponsible', the press would say. 'Asking for trouble!'

Well there wasn't any trouble last night at the 4th Wandsworth Common Beer Festival, but plenty of beer. And, for the special VIP preview night, it was all included in the £25 entrance fee!

Normally you'd pay £3-4 to get in and a couple of quid for your glass, and beers range from £3.30 to £4.80 a pint, so you need to drink a fair few to make a saving. Not that this was ever likely to be a problem for me!

I got through eight pints, and probably saved about £9, but that's not really the point... there's just a joyful sense of freedom about just going up to the bar, asking for a pint of Nelson Powder Monkey, and taking it away without any money changing hands or the need to scribble on a beer tokens card. 

Over the course of an evening, it also saves a hell of a lot of time, and there's no danger of your pockets getting filled up with all the change from £3.65 pints.

Wouldn't it be great if all beer festivals could offer this feature - perhaps with wristbands for the thirsty souls who want to take advantage, like those that allow pushy people to jump queues in theme parks?

If they did this at the GBBF I'd probably drown though!

History and Geography Lessons

You could live in Wandsworth all your life and never know about Le Gothique, or the beer festival they host every spring.

An unlikely location...
In one sense, it's 'hidden away' in the obscure corner of Wandsworth common - but it's inside the most imposing landmark for miles around, the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building, not that you'd ever guess there's a bar and restaurant inside.  

With a growing reputation as a wedding and party venue, the location oozes character and history. 

The Victorian building has variously served as an orphanage, a hospital, a prison and the base for MI5 and MI6, but this is all a lot less important than hosting an 'all inclusive' beerfest, obviously!  

It's in the courtyard that the stillage for the 100 or so beers is set up, and they have a decent range of styles available, from milds and light bitters all the way up to Burton Bridge Thomas Sykes barley wine, which clocks in at a mighty 10% ABV. 

I was planning to finish with a pint of this last night, as it's one of the many beers available that I hadn't had before, but I thought better of it!

Of the beers I tried, many of which had been on my 'to do' list for some time, the most interesting was probably Windsor & Eton's 'Knight of the Ginger' - a variation on their standard 'Knight of the Garter' with the addition of...  no, it's escaped me!

Tuck in!
The vast majority of the beers are from micros, and if I had one criticism it would be that the cooling could be more effective as most of the beers would, in my view, have benefitted from being a little colder. The elderflower flavours in Downton 'Elderquad' being a little sickly at room temperature, for example.

If they'd held it a week or two later, they'd avoid clashing with the Wetherspoons 'festival', which would be an advantage but this year, thanks to some intrepid hot-footing around London, I'd already scooped the 36 beers I needed from the Wetherlist, so it wasn't an issue.

Upstairs they have a french-styled restaurant, but basic, good-value festival food is available too, including burgers, sausage baps and chips, plus pickled eggs and black country pork scratchings. 

All in all, for a non-CAMRA festival (though very CAMRA-friendly), it's rather good. I'm heading back tonight, though, unfortunately, the 'all-inclusive' policy was for last night only!

The Wandsworth Common Beer Festival runs until Saturday March 31

Where to find it...

Wandsworth Common Beer Festival @ 
Le Gothique 
The Royal Victoria Patriotic Building,
John Archer Way,
SW18 3SX (map)


  1. hic! I think thats a wonderphilibious idea, Bert! -hic-

  2. As an addendum to this post, I should probably point out that on the second night I went I enjoyed some far more interesting and enjoyable beers:

    Windsor & Eton Treetops is a superb African style stout with yam and vanilla. Easy 7/9

    From the same brewery, Irish Conquerer is a black IPA with added Irish Whiskey, while Downton's Japanese Pale Ale was light, lively and refreshing.

    I was also able to end with a whole pint of the 10% Sykes this time, and it was rather good.


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