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!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The German Invasion

Well, baste my roasting fowl, Christmas - yes, Christmas! - is just two weeks - yes, two weeks! - away.

What the festive fuck?!?

I suppose that means I'd better start thinking about presents and merrymaking and food and drink'n'shit.

Now, for reasons outlined earlier in the year, I'm not particularly looking forward to the Yuletide season. It's going to be a bit strange and different and not especially welcome. 'Twould be nice to put Christmas off until June or something, like they do in Australia.

But, nevertheless, it doth cometh apace, and so I'd better put on my best brave face.

By the way, if you're in London in the next couple of weeks and fancy some high quality seasonal music, with a pint of decent beer, you might want to come and hear the Barber's Hop quartet doing our Christmas set. We're performing at a couple of Antic pubs - the Westow House in Crystal Palace on Friday December 14, and then the Jam Circus in Brockley on Saturday December 22.

Marketing wank

A more mainstream Christmas entertainment concept these days seems to be the German Christmas Market, which has really left its mark on London in the last few years.

The other night we checked out the Southbank Christmas Market which, according to the blurb 'brings the real German Christmas feeling to Southbank Centre's Winter Festival'. Das ist gut, Ja?

Now, Germany is one of the countries in which I've never spent much time, so I can't vouch for the authenticity, but my suspicions is that discretion has been exercised in one or two areas for the sake of commercial success - possibly on the basis that the tourist market is golddust, non-German tourists probably won't know the difference, and German tourists probably won't care.

There is plenty of gluhwein to be had, which tends to be very warming thanks to the addition of Jägermeister which seems almost ubiquitous these days, but it's all a bit mass-produced and served from identikit wooden chalets. It wouldn't surprise me if the whole thing was owned by a single, non-German company.

A hollow victory for German bakers...
This year's en vogue foodstuff seems to be Churros doughnuts - I counted at least three stalls selling them - which are undoubtedly very nice, especially with a nice chocolate sauce, but about as German as Paella, Bullfighting and being the beneficiary of IMF bailouts.

There was, however a stall selling 'Baumkuchen', also known as 'Chimney Cake' or 'Log cake', which is a bit more Teutonic in origin.

It's a sort of hollow pastry pipe, baked to order, a bit like the outside of a strudel but with no filling. Or an extra-big cream horn that's more of a cylinder than a horn, and without any cream inside it. Yeah, I'm detecting the unterwhelm.

You're right though. Basically it's not very interesting and probably not worth £4, though you do get a fairly generous portion that will easily be enough for 3-4 people, mainly because after a couple of bites it doesn't really have a whole lot going for it.

We went for the chocolate version, obviously, but in hindsight this might have been a mistake. The 'chocolate' coating consisted of that sugary vermicelli stuff we used to put on fairy cakes as schoolchildren and added little in the way of rich, chocolatey goodness. Perhaps the cinnamon option would have been tastier as well as more traditional.

Ich bin ein auslander

There is also a dedicated food market which isn't just for Christmas and while it's still a bit touristy, there's considerable variety with the usual mix of pop-up stalls doing hog roasts and tacos and other fairly decent snackettes. 

Mrs B-V about to not completely eat an Oyster
Unbelievably, Mrs B-V had never tried a real, freshly shucked oyster before, so we took advantage of the Oyster bar to get our fix of live molluscs..

She's now had about 57% of an oyster, having contemptously spat out the remainder.

There was beer too, with a Meantime brewery stand doing a couple of their (keg) beers, and a European beer place with a couple of indifferent mass-market German lagers and Fruli, the synthetic fruit beer from Belgium that's not typically German, and not even really typically Belgian either.

But, it's supposed to be a Christmas market, for fucks sake. Would it be too much to ask for somebody to have a few casks of a strong, seasonal winter ale on their stall? Perhaps a nice stout to go with the oysters, yes?

I'm probably never going to be a fan of these German market things because it's all a bit lightweight and gimmicky and touristy and overpriced and overhyped and everything else that rubs my glans up the wrong way. 

Not many of these on the roads...
And they're ten a penny these days. There's probably half a dozen such markets in central London alone.

Mind you, on the way back to the station - via a few pints in the Kings Arms - we saw a perfectly preserved Citroen SM... and that's the kind of properly-rare sight that really makes my day. Way more exciting than endless stalls of overpriced Christmas tree decorations, that's for sure. 

And when the highlight of a trip to a German market is seeing a 1970s French car, you know that someone somewhere really isn't trying all that hard.

The Southbank Christmas Market runs until January and can be found on the Southbank, by the Royal Festival Hall.

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