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, October 18, 2012

10 things you may not have known about Switzerland and York

I know, I know. I’ve not done a whole lot of blogging lately. Been out and about you see. Riding panthers, slaying  dragonflies, tormenting chickens, that sort of thing.

Actually that’s all a shower of vicious lies, apart from that last one, but last week we were in fact in York, watching the mighty Sky Blues winning 4-0, and the week before we took a little trip to Switzerland (no, not to the Dignitas clinic – things aren’t that bad!)

I’d never been to either Switzerland or York before and there was plenty to do and see and eat and drink. But given that I’m lacking the time and inclination to carefully sculpt vast blogs about either of these places, I’ll just shower you with a dixtet of factoids:

10 for starters

Beer in Brigantes, York
  1. Switzerland used to boast the strongest beer in the world - Hürlimann ‘Samichlaus’ (‘Santa Claus’) - but the brewery closed some 15 years ago, and since then far stronger beers have come along, making the 14% ABV Samichlaus look almost like a very weak beverage, suitable only for girls and gays.
  2. In general, beer in Switzerland is pretty boring – imagine a limited subset of the beers of Germany, and then imagine a limited subset of that, and you’ll get the idea. Bland, weak lager, malty stronger lager and the occasional wheat beer. It's all over-carbonated of course, but look out for the unfiltered Zwickelbier, which is a bit more interesting.
  3. Beer in York is actually rather good. I managed pints of 18 different ales over a two-day period and almost every pub we went into had something new and interesting to try. The good pubs include Brigantes on Micklegate and Ye Olde Starre Inne by the Minster which, unusually for a tourist-trap pub, actually has a great range. The best beer of the trip was Great Heck 'Citra' - light, hoppy and a very drinkable gallon-completer, but then I have a weakness for Citra hops.
  4. If you order a hot chocolate in Zurich, you might possibly be expecting something rich, luxurious and a bit special. After all, it’s Switzerland. It’s famous for chocolate, right? But what you’ll probably be given is a cup of hot milk and a sachet of instant chocolate.  And they’ll charge about four quid for this! Fuck that.
  5. Switzerland might be the home of suicide tourism, but Liechtenstein is a country that has built its economy entirely around ‘country-grabbing’ tourism. Yeah, I’m sure there are the ‘real’ parts of this tiny nation up in the mountains that few people ever get to see, but for most people a visit will consist of a 45 minute coach stop in Vaduz where you can by postage stamps and other souvenirs, get your passport stamped and then get the fuck out.
  6. York City FC must have the humblest toilet and catering facilities in the league. The less said about the 'outhouse' the better, and the pies weren't bad (but not outstanding) and only available in a Steak-and-kidney-with-not-very-much-kidney variety. Actually there wasn't much steak either. Nice gravy though.
  7. Swiss cheesecake (‘Käsekuchen’) is quite unlike any cheesecake I’d had before. Firstly, it’s savoury, secondly, it’s served piping hot, and thirdly it’s actually more like a thick, floppy slice of a very pungently cheesy pizza. Not unpleasant, but a bit weird, especially if you ordered it expecting a sweet snack for your elevenses.
  8. The chips in York were proper Northern bastards - well thick and cooked in beef dripping – but the batter (at Micklegate Fisheries) was just weird – very dark, dense and oily, and crumbled into dust in my mouth. It was like eating tiny pieces of burnt gravel.
  9. Raclette - just as dull and pointless as it is in this country, frankly. (There are some tasty sausages and pork to be had in Teutonic-influenced restaurants though, and if you're having a Rösti, go for the full-on version with bacon and egg on top, rather than settling for a fairly bland side dish.)
  10. If you get to try Timothy Taylor's 'Havercake', cast all notions of blandness from your mind. This is nothing like Landlord or their other beers, and actually tastes just like Yorkshire Parkin! forget about the everyday bland

Sausagey meals in Zurich's Zeughauskeller
And so, that's York, Switzerland and Liechtenstein in a nutshell. Go, drink beer and eat sausages, but just make sure you do the right things in the right places.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Chicken tormentation. My secret shame.

Animal rights violation?

OK, so here's what happened.  If you’ve ever been around me in the morning you might have noticed the alarm going off on my phone – the traditional strains of a rooster crowing ‘get the fuck up you fat lazy genius’ in Chickenese.

Well, after visiting Vaduz we went up into the ‘Heidi country’ where there were goats and chickens’n’shit, and I had the toppingly wizard idea to play that particular ringtone.

While standing next to the rooster.

Stop annoying that rooster!
Upon hearing it the hitherto silent creature began crowing and crowing while running around, flapping confusedly, trying to figure out where this new poultrine  rival could possibly be.

Yeah, I know it's probably some form of animal cruelty and PETA will be after me now. But it was very, very funny. I only played the sound once, but the actual rooster carried on for ages!

And that’s officially the most fun it’s possible to have in Switzerland.

As for York, we’ll be going back in a few weeks time for a stopover when we play Hartlepool. I’m looking forward to the beer already…

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