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!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Feeding Tube

Maybe one of the reasons I've been so slack at this blogposting lark lately is that I have an imperial tonne of interests besides food and drink.

Folk music, for example. And philosophy. And cartography and comedy and travel and psephology and poker and football and building my own computers.

Oh, and railway systems. Particularly the London Underground. When I was 13 I visited every station in one day in an attempt to get into the Guinness Book of Records, don't you know.

Planning my route took a fair bit of poring over the iconic diagrammatic map, and since my childhood it's been one of my single favourite visual things.

As colleagues of mine well know, sometimes in meetings I doodle incessantly. And quite often I'm doodling railway maps, with ticks for stations and circles for interchanges. I don't even know I'm doing it half the time!

There have been a raft of 'alternative' tube maps over the last few years, some interesting, some stupid, and some that would make Harry Beck turn in his grave. At a perfect 45 degree angle.

But back on the subject of food, I'm rather tickled by this recent effort from the Cheese and Biscuits blog - a tube map that purportedly shows the best places to eat in London. Well, in Zones 1 and 2 anyway.

Mind the gap?

Obviously these views will be subjective, and in some locales it will be tough to pick from a bunch of brilliant contenders while in other places it will be difficult to find anywhere remotely worth visiting.

The choices for each station say a lot about the compilers, but so do the imposed ommissions, and this will inevitably result in several places on the map being rather less good than establishments which didn't make the grade, but that would have been part of the fun of the challenge.

Cheese and Biscuits 'Restaurant Tube Map'
And there is an obvious challenge for 'ticker' types like me too - yep, to visit every eatery on this map! 

Of the relatively few I have actually already checked out already, there are some undeniably great places - MEATliquor at Bond Street, for example, and offal specialists St John for Farringdon - a place I really must revisit as I've not dined there for some years now and it really is very good indeed.

With an embarassment of eateries to choose from, my old munching ground of Canary Wharf is represented by Roka, and I'd struggle to argue against that conclusion given that it's the most delicious Japanese food I've ever tasted. But it must've been a tough decision leaving out the likes of Gaucho, or even, far more modestly, Birley salt beef, possibly the best sandwich money can buy.

My local station - in an almost entirely residential area singularly unrenowned for good food or drink - is represented by the 'Guildford Arms' gastropub, which I've never knowingly heard of, but which can be expecting a visit from B-V sometime soon.

Where's the beer?

There aren't many pubs on the map, and the omission of some of the best pubs in London suggests that real beer perhaps wasn't top of the compilers agenda. Where is the Craft Beer Co, surely London's best pub right now?

Indeed some of the pubs that do make the grade are places I've avoided for years like Stockwell's Canton Arms, where the beer quality and range didn't merit a second glance. But maybe I'm missing a trick if the food in these places makes up for the lack of decent beer?

The lines are blurred in these days of gastropubs, and perhaps when I dismiss a 'bad pub' because they don't have real ale or they only serve Pride and Doom Bar, I'm actually missing out what is actually a really great restaurant?
As a very non-foodie pub, the Southampton Arms (Gospel Oak) is a surprising but very welcome inclusion (though their pork pies are perhaps the finest in the land).

Perhaps controversially, Brewdog Camden does make it though, and while I haven't yet tried the food there due to the place always being rammed, it did look reasonably OK, even if their beer policies and general attitude suck bigger donkey dick with every passing month.

Nearby, the Camden Town brewery bar also makes an appearance - another brewery that has made a conscious decision to turn its back on cask beer. (With rare exceptions - a few weeks back they did four differently-hopped variants of  '1908' in cask for one weekend only, which is the kind of thing they'd be doing all the time if I was in charge!)

Their food consists of whichever pop-up has set up outside on that particular evening - so the map is no guarantee of quality there. On the 1908 cask night there was a place serving a rather good Kedgeree as it happens.

The map has given me plenty of food for thought and is probably taking up loads of precious space in my brain, but I shall make it my mission to visit as many of the establishments on the map as I possibly can.

Yep, there are probably brilliant places that aren't on the map, there are probably fairly rubbishcunt places which are on it and it's all a bit subjective and idiosyncratic.

But, lest we forget, these very things were all hallmarks of Mr. Beck's famous Underground map.

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