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!
ʼʼ

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Beer of the Year

So, it's New Years Eve, and given that we're going to be staying in tonight - cooking Boston Baked Beans, drinking champagne and polishing off the last of the Christmas cheese - it would appear that I've supped my last ales of 2013.

Which is possibly for the best, mind. It's certainly been quite a beery year for me, as I managed to tick over 1000 new real ales for the first time ever.

Many of them were passable, many were bland, some were downright unpleasant, and a few were fucking shit. Like liquidised sweaty scrotums and marmoset turds in a glass. Or 'crystal malt', as it's known in the brewing trade.

But what you want to know, I'm sure, is which beers were actually any bloody good. Because, some of them really were rather excellent.

So, these are the cask beers I ticked in 2013, to which I gave my highest possible score of 8/9. (OK, so 9/9 is theoretically achievable but I've only awarded it to two beers in my entire life, so fuck off!)

Monday, December 23, 2013

50% off all naked goose-fat massages - today only

So, it's nearly Christmas then, and I've been feeling like I ought to write some sort of a seasonal bloggette.

You know, festive spirit and snowflakes and goodwill beaming down upon the glans of humankind. That sort of thing.

But the sorry truth is that I haven't really come up with any new Christmassy recipes yet, and I already used the puntastic title 'Yule Blog' a few years back, and can't think of anything anywhere near as clever.

So you'll have to amuse yourselves and just pretend that I said something hilarious about cloves.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Utterly Paphotic

Having an e-Passport is great.

It means you can breeze through immigration at Gatwick in no time, whilst pointing and laughing at the suckers in the lengthy queue with their manual passports.

'So long, losers!' you get to say, as you merrily scan your way across the border and into the Arrivals Wetherspoons.

Of course, as the new e-passports are phased in, the balance will shift. Soon we'll start seeing queues, and then they'll be the same length as the non-e queues. One day the last remaining people with old fashioned documents will be having the last laugh when 99% of us are waiting in line to scan.

But for now, it's the golden age of the electonric passport, and I fully intend to savour the schadenfreude.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tourism and Chips

If you're in the mood for pity, I have to get up at the crack of sheer unreasonableness tomorrow morning to catch a 7AM flight from Gatwick.

Assuming we get past the initial hurdle of waking the fuck up on time, things should get better as we're off to Cyprus for a couple of days. It should be fairly mild, the food ought to be great, and it's another country to tick off the list - No. 34 for me!

Paphos in December isn't the most mainstream short break, which might be why the flights and hotels were grunt-cheap. And that suits me. I don't want to be a typical tourist if I can possibly help it.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Let's drink to the Wintersmith

I've never been a particularly big fan of Terry Pratchett.

Sorry, Terry. It was just never really my sort of thing. I've never read Harry Potter either.

(And, embarrassingly, I actually assumed the Harry Potter series was written by Pratchett until around about the time that JK Rowling started outselling him...)

Truth be told, I don't read a whole lot of fiction at all, much less elves'n'goblins fantasy-type fiction, and while I've idly skimmed the first few pages of a couple of his novels, I've never actually finished one, and knew almost nothing about Discworld until a couple of months ago.

(And there's about 40 booksworth to know about, so I really am coming from a place of near-total ignorance here!)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hello, Goodbye?

All good things come to an end, and having been granted several stays of execution, the BV London Pub of the Year - the awesome Catford Bridge Tavern - finally closed its doors for the last time on Sunday night.

We laughed. We cried. We reminisced about old times. We looked to the future. We told old war stories and sang sad songs of lost loves and drowned kittens and the guy who got a death row pardon two minutes too late. Actually, some of that is just lies and Alanis Morrisette. Disregard.

A seamless transition from old to new
But, impressively, they were able to keep going for several weeks longer than expected after the pub was sold from underneath their feet. And this was no sad shell of its former self, staggering on waiting to die either: Whereas some pubs would be running down their stocks and taking it easy in this situation, the CBT continued to put on tasty new beers right up until the final hours.

The last pint I had in the place was perfectly alright, but the penultimate one... Oh Boy!

You know I'm a sucker for big, hoppy, American-style IPAs, and Wild Beer 'Fresh #1' (5.5%) will go down as one of most fantastic beers I've ever had the pleasure of drinking. Pale, refreshing and bursting with juicy, citrussy hops, it's every bit as good as the very best IPAs from the USA. And, as I've come to expect from the CBT, in absolutely flawless condition.

Perhaps even more impressively (OK, not to me - the beer is the most impressive thing to me! - but maybe to others?) the team were up and running in the CBT's replacement pub just four days later. Four fucking days, dude.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

MSG, Marinara and the magical fish

Way back in the long-long agos, when I were a wee sapling child and Feargal Sharkey was just launching his solo career, there was quite a lot of tooing and froing in the media about Monosodium Glutamate. MSG. Angel Dust.

These days it's all about Aspartame and how it makes Diet Coke actually more fattening than drinking melted butter because scientists on the internet proved it or something, but back in the late 1970s and early 80s the controversial food additive was MSG.

Worse than Heroin and Thalidomide, MSG was going to give us all cancer and turn us into Communists by the year 2000.

Thank fuck it's not around any more.

Although, in reality, it is. Probably more than ever, in fact. They just stopped calling it MSG and people stopped caring so much. People can be like that at times.

If you look closely at the ingredients, you can see that it turns up in loads of packaged savoury foods, from cheese and onion crisps to chicken wings to pizza to ready-made Marinara sauce. It's just called E621, or 'flavour enhancer'. these days 'Hydrolysed vegetable protein' is, I gather, almost identical too.

As rebranding exercises go, I think they can chalk it up as a success story. Bastards.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Borough market that isn't Borough Market

Every time I walk through it, there seems to be one or two fewer stalls than there were the previous week...

When it first appeared a couple of months ago, there was an intriguing array of vendors tempting me with ripe melons, hot meat sandwiches and chocolatey muffins, but many seem to have given up already.

And I think I have a pretty good idea why.

If you're not familiar with the area and haven't yet twigged what the flying buggery I'm banging on about, I'm talking London Bridge Farmers' Market, which runs every Tuesday between 9 AM and 2 PM. For the time being at least.

It's a relatively new cog in a larger wheel that rolls more or less all over London, operating farmers' markets in different areas on different days of the week. So far, so organic wholesome goodness.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The strongest beer in the world

One Easter, way back when I was but a callow and impressionable teenager, my father gave me, instead of an egg, a bottle of Kulmbacher EKU 28. 'The strongest beer in the world', he said, and it probably was back then.

At the time, I was very interested in world records and just beginning my journey of discovery into the beeriverse, so this was an item much revered and awed until the time came to drink it. The Robert Wadlow of beer.

Truth be told, I didn't enjoy it all that much, but at least I could say I'd tried the strongest beer in the world and wouldn't need to have it again. Ever.

Except that a couple of years later I found out about Schloss Eggenberg 'Samichlaus', which - at 14% ABV - was even stronger than EKU. Again, it was widely reckoned to be the strongest in the world at the time, again, I tried a single bottle, and, again, I wasn't very impressed.

That was nearly two decades ago, but I'm still not particularly keen on doppelbocks and other super-strength lager type beers. Too sweet, too malty, nowhere near enough hops for my liking.

And to the breweries producing weapons-grade beers these days, a piddling 14% is basically less alcoholic than water. Water, I say!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The food of Kings(meadow)

It's a little odd, but although I've been to over 100 different football grounds supporting the mighty Sky Blues, I'd never once experienced match day hospitality - until last night.

I know what you're thinking. 'B-but, you're a world-famous food blogger and Coventry City's highest profile fan after Richard Keys, Jon Gaunt and that guy from Westlife. Surely you get the red carpet treatment every time you attend a game, with only the very hottest of the players' spouses feeding you truffles, bare-breasted, from a golden plate?!?'

Sadly, while this probably should be the case, it isn't. And in any case I usually prefer to be in with the real fans and have a half-time pie. Directors' boxes always seemed bit stuffy and sterile and detached to me.

The closest I'd ever come to stroking the big Corporate Hospitality Cash-cock was one Christmas, about 8 or 9 years ago, when I was living and working in Ipswich and the office party was held at Portman Road stadium.

The FA Cup
As far as I can recall, the food was your standard overpriced, turkey-and-trimmings-and-house-red set menu, but the facilities looked quite impressive. A private dining room that led directly out onto an almost-as-private balcony overlooking the pitch where you could watch the game from the comfort of a leather armchair-style seat. Barely relevant, obviously, as this wasn't a match day, but I got the impression, such an experience would be pretty luxurious.

But that was Ipswich, who have a Premiership-quality ground even though they've been out of the top division almost as long as we have.

Last night, on the other hand, was a first round FA Cup tie against AFC Wimbledon, who currently groundshare with non-league Kingstonian FC. I was surprised that the Kingsmeadow stadium even had hospitality facilities, and given that it only cost about 20 quid more than a standard match ticket, I was interested to see exactly what you get for your money.

(Also, I have to admit I was just a little concerned that, given CCFC's current fine form, we wouldn't be able to get standard tickets in the away end and I'd miss out on ground no. 102!)

Monday, November 4, 2013

A rough guide to British beer festivals

The English language is an interesting beast.

Whereas some foreign tongues have rigidly prescriptive rules, grammatical genders and other shittingly complex stuff that I don't have a kitten's chance in Hades of ever getting my head around, colloquial English is rather more subtle and nuanced.

Which is good. I like subtle and nuanced.

So, some words and phrases take on subtly (or indeed completely) different meanings, depending on context, but, crucially, we don't need to explain them because we just 'get' the meaning because we get the context.

For example, if your seven year old son comes home from school and tells you he's been invited to Sanjay's party, you'll instinctively have vastly different expectations than those times when you pick up a guy in a bar in Soho and he asks you knowingly if you like to party.

Same word, but differently nuanced (unless Sanjay's birthday parties feature fisting and crystal meth instead of pass-the-parcel and ASDA Cola these days, obviously!)

Likewise, if your beloved suggests a trip to New York over Christmas to do some shopping, it's not the same as picking up some shopping on the way home from work. Not by a very long chalk. 

Not all beer festivals are this big
The same is true of a 'Beer Festival'. Yes, they always involve beer but the level of festivity one can expect varies wildly. As far as the format goes, a beerfest can mean almost all things to all beer drinking men.

But unlike a lot of the other nuanced phrases we use, the subtle detail isn't always widely understood yet outside the inner sanctum of beer geeks, so it's about time somebody wrote a guide to the subject.

Any volunteers?

Anybody want to identify and define the eight different kinds of Beer Festival we have in this country?

Alright then, I'll do it...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Monster Mashcakes and other Halloween tips

So, it's fucking Halloween again. The cuntiest American import since Mayor McCheese.

(I'm not entirely sure, technically, if we did import him and his wide, bunny, face, but as cultural references go it feels right, so I'm sticking with it!)

The Good ol' US of Stateside has given us many good things (especially in the world of food and beer) but the manufactured sentiment around what they call 'holidays' certainly isn't one of them. Apart from maybe seasonal ales and the Treehouse of Horror episodes of the Simpsons. They're usually pretty good.

Monster Mashcakes
Now, I'm lucky enough to live in an apartment without a front door that faces the outside world, so I shall be spared the worst excesses, but I've heard from others that the 'trick or treat' phenomenon has reached hideous levels in recent years and over the next few nights your doorstep will be infested with local scrotes in Harold Shipman costumes armed with rotten eggs and pump-action water pistols.

Fuck off.

I know I'm probably sound sounding like a grumpy, grizzled old grandfather, and some of you will be thinking 'pfft, it's only once a year, let the kids have their fun', so you can fuck right off too.

Fucked off yet? Good.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Two Unlimiteds

It's now been well over a year since my Grandma died and a lifetime of home-cooked Sunday lunches came to an end.

The rest of the family still meet for lunch on Sundays, but these days it's not usually one of us that's cooking it. Sometimes we'll go to one of our old favourite restaurants where we used to go with Grandma; sometimes we'll go to a pub; sometimes we'll try somewhere new so I can blog about it.

But, more than anywhere else, we go to the Princess of India.

It's an all-you-can eat buffet in Morden - a part of South London that has seen better times and which generally doesn't trouble the hit parade of foodie destiations. No, it doesn't look like much from the outside either, but then neither do the finest restaurants in India.

Apparently they do home deliveries from a normal menu, but then I don't live anywhere near Morden, and if I did live near enough for them to deliver to me, I'd make the effort to go out for all I could eat. Every time.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Cheeseburger pizza crust - greater than the sum of shit parts?

Sometimes you can whack two indifferent things together and produce something that's pretty good - better, indeed, than its constituent parts.

And sometimes when you fuse desirable components, from the collision emerges a whole that is truly fucking awesome - as happened at the Titanic brewery on the day they decided to combine dark stout, chocolate and vanilla to create the amazing 'Velvet Curtain', one of the silkiest, smoothest, lusciousest dark beers of all time.

But a lot of the time, when the inspiration is less than divine, putting one and one together simply results in a mangled hybrid, like when you go to the toilet and do both at the same time, or, as I call it, a number three.

And so I expected it to be with Pizza Hut's latest base-fad: the cheeseburger crust.

That's right. Cheeseburgers in a pizza crust. According to the promotional wank it's 'a fun sharing pizza with 10 succulent 100% British Beef burgers baked in the crust, smothered with melted mozzarella. Hurry! Limited time.'

Hmm. Sounds really fun. And succulent. And Limited time...

You know I love great burgers and I love great pizzas, but this is an experiment that was never going to end well. Still, the proof of the pizza is in the eating, so I felt I ought to give it a go...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Capital Breakfasts

You might remember, way, way back at the very dawn of the year, I enjoyed a rather fine breakfast at Duke's Brew and Que and resolved to seek out London's other great breakfasts to see if the Duke could be matched or perhaps even bested...

It went the way of most resolutions made at that time of year, obviously.

Yes, I know. I've let my readers down, I've let myself down, but most of all, I've let breakfast down.

It's the-most-important-meal-of-the-day, so it is, and I've done gone and let it down by utterly failing to stick to my pledge.

Well, until now that is.

Look, I'm not really a morning person. It's a lot of effort getting up and leaving the house before I've even properly woken up. It's hard enough on work days. And I don't even have an appetite until lunchtime usually.

But enough excuses. You've had to wait a long while, so, to celebrate Ben Viveur post No. 150,  here's a double review of the breakfast fayre from two of London's big meaty heavyweights: Simpson's in the Strand and the Hawksmoor Guildhall.

Can silly money buy the best breakfast in London or just the most expensive?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Back to my roots

It was three years ago that I first began to think about writing this blog.

I was eating my lunch in Singapore Sam, in the little food courty bit above the Tescos next to Canary Wharf DLR station. I think it was beef in black bean sauce. Maybe sweet and sour chicken.

Anyway, Singapore Sam (and indeed the little food courty bit above the Tescos next to Canary Wharf DLR station) has long since gone the way of all flesh... but the blog liveth on!

Back then, I had no idea I'd last for three years, or that I'd be awarding a Pub of the Year trophy, or that I'd find myself being recognised in restaurants from time to time. Indeed, I first conceived the blog as a modest guide to navigate a world of bustling anonymity.

It started out, in my mind, as a simple and fairly unambitious idea - go around reviewing all the places to eat lunch on the Wharf; Where to get the best sandwiches, the best coffee, why you should avoid Bene Bene because it's a pile of cheap shit and the sandwiches are slimy. That sort of thing.

Oh, and why Birley is one of the best things about Canary Wharf, obviously.

I hadn't come up with the masterstrokingly brilliant 'Ben Viveur' pun at that point, and was thinking of calling the blog 'The Wharf Foodie' or something equally mundane.

My strapline could've been 'Where the Financial Services Industry go to read about places they might like to get their lunch'.

Or maybe not.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Now that's what I call a trophy!

Ben Viveur London Pub of the Year is a pretty damn prestigious thing to be, and I've felt for a while that it needs to go beyond a congratulatory blog post.

I'll have a large one, please
Not being the sort of person to do stuff by half measures, I didn't think the winners should have to settle for some piddly certificate either.

Pubs might be closing like never before, but there are still several thousand in London, and being the best of the best is surely an accolade worthy of a big fuck-off trophy.

'Trophy shopkeeper', I said to the trophy shopkeeper, 'I'd like to see the biggest, fuck-offest trophy in your shop, if you please, Sir'.

As it turned out, nothing in the shop was big and fuck-off enough, so they ordered one in especially from the World of Trophies Trophy Warehouse. Or something.

And as of last night, that trophy has pride of place behind the bar of the Catford Bridge Tavern.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Miami Rice

Some years ago, back when the internet first ceased to be the sole preserve of cybergeeks and porn-lovers, there was an invasion of 'cool stuff'.

In those days, 'cool' usually meant a dancing Jesus or a photoshopped hamster with big eyes made to look like it was saying something cute. Oh joy.

Every time we think those dark days are behind us and we've moved on, someone somewhere comes up with another tedious meme that spreads like Leukemia. Keep calm and post another fucking picture of a sunset with 'motivational' words on it. That sort of thing.

And stupid pictures of kittens with banal, anthropomorphic sentiments. The suffragette movement may have achieved a lot of advancements, but they have a lot to answer for here!

If people truly like this cacksome drivel then that's all well and good and fine and dandy'n'shit. My worry is that anything I might actually find entertaining or interesting gets lost under unfathomable piles of mindless cock.

You have to feel for all the people who never get to read Ben Viveur because the internet traffic is backed up with cunts re-tweeting Stephen Fry and asking for ploughs in Farmville.

I'm about to share a great recipe for leftover roast pork, for example, but hardly anyone will get to see it. All too busy keeping calm, I shouldn't wonder...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ten food trends I suppose I ought to have an opinion on

People occasionally come up to me and ask my opinion on various things.

Usually it's something along the lines of  'where's the best vegan restaurant in North Dakota that's open after midnight on Sundays?' or 'which pubs in London serve a hemp and raspberry stout and do a full breakfast -  as a child's portion?'

I give them the best answers I can, and then try to veer the conversation towards a topic where I have strongly held, staunchly right-wing opinions, in the hope that they'll run away like a simpering jackal.

You already know what I think about some of the big issues. Like tank beer, the horsemeat 'scandal', and why it's a fucking Marathon bar, not a S**ckers.

So, for a change, here's my take on some less important stuff. The trivialities that don't keep me awake at night.

It'll save you having to come up and ask me!

Friday, August 23, 2013

BV London Pub of the Year 2012-13 - the results

And so, here we are. The big one.

It's the Daddy. The Double Rollover. The Granada Coupé.

The big, fuck-off analogy of your choice. Yes, it's the Pub of the Year results!

We've revisited last year's top five. Over and over again in some cases. Good pubs, all of 'em.

And we've scoured fan recommendations, the beer press, the blogosphere and our own little travelogue of adventures to come up with five brand spanking new contenders.

So what it all boils down to now is: Who won? Who the fuck won?!?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Food and beer pairing insights from GBBF 2013

Well, I wasn't completely sure if I'd make it through the week, but I'm pleased to report that I've survived the intensive beer marathon and emerged from the experience a wiser, happier, more accomplished man.

(The 'wiser' assertion is based on the idea that previous studies are wrong and excess alcohol consumption does, in fact, boost brain cell production, obviously.)

Last week, the GBBF at Olympia became my home. It was my living room, my dining room and, yes, my toilet.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Beer, beer and more beer

If I'm ever going to OD on beer, it'll probably happen this week.

Let's face it, I've already had a fairly beery weekend, the GBBF starts today and I'm armed with a season ticket and a hitlist, and last night was the fantastic British Guild of Beer Writers 25th birthday event which meant unlimited free beer.

That's right. Unlimited free beer - almost all of it very rare and much of it very strong (like the 10.7% Fuller's 'Imperial Stout' brewed in collaboration with a Guild member and with 'dry-rosebudded' with, err, rosebuds.)

It was basically a help-yourself beer festival in a room full of celebrities from the beer world, and life doesn't get much better than that. Even Roger Protz's speech wasn't as bad as I feared - I think he only said 'Socialism' twice, and Vegetarianism didn't even get a mention!


Thursday, August 8, 2013

BV London Pub of the Year 2012-13 - part two

After some strong showings from last year's top five, it's now time to get even more excited with the second part of this year's London Pub of the Year contest.

These five pubs are surely the most eagerly-awaited new challengers since T. Hawk, Cammy, Fei Long and Deejay showed up in Super Street Fighter II. (Three games for 50p. Good times.)

And in our first pub, you can actually play Super Street Fighter II. So let's crack the fuck on with the reviews...

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Ultimate Roast Chicken Sandwich

People don't seem to have roast chicken as much as they did when I was a child.

I've no idea why. It's just one of those things that has changed over time. Back in the 1980s people would always be roasting chickens like there was no tomorrow.

Yep, that's a roast chicken alright
'Hey Ben, why don't you come over for dinner, my mum's doing roast chicken then we'll play on the Commodore 64.'

'I'm just going to finish driving my Ford Capri around whilst listening to Saxon, then I'm going to cook a roast chicken'

'That's right, kids, it's roast chicken again. Should be ready after Metal Mickey. Have a can of Quatro in the mean time.'

...and so on.

(Your memories may vary slightly, obviously.)


Friday, August 2, 2013

The law is an ass; The pub is an asset

As mentioned the other day, in the first installment of this year's Pub of the Year competition, the Catford Bridge tavern is once again in danger, following a successful battle to save the place from closure and conversion to a supermarket last year.

Worrying stuff, given the tremendous job the team there have done - I admire the Antic pub company generally but even by their fairly high standards, the Cat Bridge is in a league of it's own. (The final deliberations have yet to take place, but you can see from the scoring that it's got every chance of winning the BV PotY.)

Now, a couple of days on, things have become slightly clearer. Antic were only ever tennants, and despite hoping to buy the pub outright themselves, the building has been sold to another pub company who intend to run it as a pub.

What kind of pub is anybody's guess though, and this, crucially, is where the law spectacularly fails.

It's all very well having legislation that prevents pubs being turned into supermarkets or betting shops because they are 'community assets'. But there's nothing to preserve the very things that make the pub what it is in the first place - the unique combination of the beer, the food, the atmosphere and the people!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

BV London Pub of the Year 2012-13 - part one

Alright, you. The waiting is over.

It's time for this years Pub of the Year award, and what a Pub of the Year award it's going to be. We're gonna get a trophy and everything this time!

Today we'll be reassessing last year's top five to see if they're still up to scratch, while in part two the five new challengers will be unveiled.

Following some feedback from landlords I have decided to change things a tiny bit - pubs that don't have 'a kitchen' but who do provide cold snacks like pies and scotch eggs will now be eligible for a point (or indeed a minus point) for food. Otherwise, the scoring system is the same as it was last year.

I've drunk in (or perhaps been drunk in) all ten pubs several times over the past year and in between pints of Black IPA and bags of pork scratchings I've formed some strong opinions. Then I've discarded them, re-formed them, like re-formed ham, and finally come to some pretty fucking conclusive conclusions.

Hold tight, we're going for a ride. To the pub:

Saturday, July 20, 2013

'Dam you, 'Dam you all to Hell!

This isn't the place for me to bang on about the (mis)fortunes of my football team. There's enough reporting elsewhere of the shambolic clusterfuck that is Coventry City and the clueless Hedge Fund managers destroying our poor club.

Suffice it to say that when new owners come in to save you from Administration, you don't expect to be in a situation five years later where your squad has been asset-stripped to the barest of bones, you've been relegated to the lowest division you've played in for 50 years, you're in self-imposed exile from your own fucking stadium for not paying the rent for a year, you've alienated the vast majority of your supporters and you've still fucking well ended up in Administration anyway!

Amsterdam, home of window shopping...
What's more, the day-to-day running of the club is now so shockingly bad that no new depths of incompetence can surprise me any more.

We were supposed to be playing Dutch side Go Ahead Eagles on Tuesday, but ironically the game didn't go ahead, and was replaced at the last minute with a fixture in the middle of nowhere, the other side of the German border - completely inaccessible for us fans who had already booked flights and accomodation in Holland.

And so, that's how Mrs B-V and I happened to have a couple of completely unplanned days hanging around Amsterdam this week instead of watching a 6-0 win against non-league German minnows Wachtendonk.

Still, I'd never actually been to the Dam (or indeed anywhere in Holland) before, and was vaguely hopeful of some good beer and interesting food...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The ultimate Stroganoff

I was saying the other day, following the trip to Moscow, that I can cook a tastier Beef Stroganoff than the rather bland version I found in Russia itself.

Inexcusably boastful, I'm sure, so I wanted to back that up with something concrete. Something on a plate. Something you can actually fucking well eat!

Stroganoff
Now, it's not a dish I've cooked all that often, and my recipe has probably been slightly different each time. But now I've sampled it in Moscow, it's clearly was high time I came up with my definitive 'Strog'.

The influences are myriad, drawing upon research into very old and traditional Russian recipes for the dish, but I've added a wider Eastern European angle through the inclusion of chicken livers.

There's even a hint of the good old curry house about it, as I looked for ways to include tomatoes, which are apparently one of the traditional components, along with the wine and cream.

And so, this is what I've come up with. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Tanked up? Fuck off!

So, having got through all the ales I needed at the White Horse's American beer festival last night, I decided to try the new 'Tankovna' version of Pilsner Urquell.

Tank
Now, my view on Pilsner Urquell is very simple:

Firstly, the normal keg version is just typical fizzy Eurorubbish.

But from a wooden cask - as sampled at this same pub last year- it is very nice indeed. Completely different stuff, and I considered it worth blogging about, which I'd rarely do for a single beer.


By all accounts, the 'fresh tank beer' version should be somewhere in between the two. Might it even be better than the cask version? I've heard people raving about it of late.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Sicklehammer would be a great name for a band, wouldn't it?

We were flying back from Moscow at exactly the same time as Edward Snowden was flying in the opposite direction.

A week later, he's still stuck at the airport - I can vouch for the long queues, complicated, expensive visas and overly fussy customs and immigration processes, but a whole week is ridiculous!

But then Julian Assange has been happily living in some 3rd Division country's embasssy for a year now. Maybe these are the prices one pays for a life of consciencious whistleblowing (or perhaps self-important attention-seeking).

I thought this 'we're all being spied on 24/7' went out of the window years ago with the demise of the old USSR, but apparently not. Maybe in some ways we're all still living there waving our hammers and sickles around, and I didn't actually need to visit Moscow after all?

Walking past the mummified corpse of Lenin I made some throwaway comment about how amusing it would be if he suddenly opened his eyes and sat bolt upright... and a security guard angrily sidled up behind me before I'd even finished the sentence.

Of course, I didn't notice at the time because it was quite dark in there and I was already writing a screenplay in my mind where Vladimir the Revolutionary Zombie gets into all sorts of hilarious scrapes.

In my contended obliviousness I didn't realise what was happening until Mrs B-V told me later on, long after Mr. KGB had decreed that I wasn't a legitimate threat to his great, deceased leader. And maybe we don't notice when our governments back home are spying on us either?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

5000 not out!

I reached a big beer milestone last night - 5000 different real ales since I started counting!

The beer itself - Atlantic 'Gold' in the Catford Bridge Tavern - was pretty much of a muchness: a 4.6% golden ale with the (not overwhelming) addition of ginger.

But that's not the point. (The point is I'm fucking great; Go me!!!)

OK, I know that there are plenty of tickers who have reached 10,000, 20,000 and more. I met an old guy recently who was claiming a tally somewhere north of 35,000.

But I don't feel particularly despondent in the face of any such cock-waving because very few of these tickers insist on having a full pint of each beer. Most drink halves or thirds and some count a beer even if they just have a tiny sip of the stuff.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Coming soon... BV London Pub of the Year 2012-2013

Oi, Landlords!

You have just a couple of weeks left to impress me if you want to become the second Ben Viveur London Pub of the Year.

11 days actually.

Actually less than that, because I'll be in Russia for three of those days. Or four if you count travelling time.

And you can deduct a few more days when I'll be fasting and not drinking any beer.

OK, basically you have about one day remaining to wow me into a creamy frenzy with the most amazing beer you can find.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The miracle that didn't happen

I'm not exactly an investigative journalist, am I?

Too lazy. Too languid. Probably too self-absorbed (or at least, too absorbed in the stuff I like and a reality with which I'm comfortable).

But since I've been doing the 5:2 diet I've heard a fair few whispers about these 'ere new-fangled 'Miracle noodles', and so a little investigating really had to be done.

Just a teensy bit, mind. Basically just trying the product and then writing about how amazingly great / shittingly bad / soul-numbingly indifferent it is. (It's the middle one.)

After all, I'll try pretty much anything once. I've eaten alligator... ants... silica gel... a meal in Spaghetti House...

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A fucked-up breakfast for a fucked-up Britain

What's Black, Blue and Green?

The flag of Tanzania, perhaps? Nope, that's got a little bit of yellow on it.

A martian that's been savagely beaten?

How about a martian that's been beaten up whilst shrouded in the Tanzanian flag, but has excreted a viscous black-bluey-green bile all over the yellow bits of the flag, thus concealing them?

Is this all sounding completely fucking idiotic? Maybe a bit disturbing? Good.

Actually, it's no more disturbing than a couple of surveys I noticed in this morning's Metro.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Spaghetti Louse

I’ve been to Brecon twice in my life, and I’ve been to the Brecon Tandoori twice in my life too.

Because it’s a fantastic restaurant that lures people back to Brecon time after time with its irresistible food? Because it’s so good no trip to the Brecon Beacons would be complete without sampling their delicious curries?

Well, no. It was because it was the only place in town where we could get a bite to eat after about 8 PM. That's small towns for you.

The first time - I think was 13 - was on a camping trip to West Wales with my father and my brother. On the way back we stayed overnight at the Gremlin hotel in Brecon and ate at the Brecon Tandoori.

It was nothing special, and we didn’t particularly feel like eating there again. Ever. 

The following year (or quite possibly later the same year – it was a long time ago) we returned to the area to climb Pen y Fan, staying once again in the Gremlin, where we hoped to catch a glimpse of their famed Billiard Room ghost. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Would 'Salmon rush tea' be the worst pun ever?

I'm not the kind of person who looks at a menu, sees a warm salad and thinks 'Wow! Fuck yeah! Warm salad, baby! No way on God's own earth that I'm going to choose anything other than that bad boy!!!' 

And I'd guess that there aren't many people who are - possibly those on certain diets or who have overdone rich, heavy food over the last few days, but certainly not many people.
 

You just wouldn't, would you? I mean, it's not something that appeals in the same leapy-outy way that 'beef and ale pie' or 'chocolate gateaux' does, is it?

Nothing fishy about this - apart from the fish, obviously
And salad is supposed to be cold and crispy and juicy'n'shit, for, like, Summer days, right?

But stick with me on this one. Occasionally, just occasionally, you might want to eat something light, something different, something exactly like a warm salad of baby leeks and courgettes with pan-fried salmon in fact.

And you might want to know how to make one too.

Monday, May 6, 2013

You can't overdose on beef, right?

Another day, another great burger...

I'll resist the temptation to make a cheap bus-related pun, but having had my faith in burgers thoroughly restored by Lucky Chip, I've been on something of a beef spree lately.

Like all those dodgy beef products with traces of Horse DNA, I'd probably test positive for beef if I was minced up and flogged on the cannibal market.

But it's a testimony to the great choice of quality burger places we now have in London - something I'd personally longed for for a very, very long time. Probably since my first visit to the USA.

There's Haché, there's MEATliquor, there's Lucky Chip. And there's always somewhere new to get a credible beef fix. For all the horsey furore around bad beef, there's actually never been a better time to eat the good stuff.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Hard and Fast day

Today has probably been the hardest fast day since I started doing the 5:2 diet over seven months ago.

It comes a couple of days after my birthday, so I've been drinking beer and eating cake and doing other things that I'm well entitled to do 'because it's my fucking birthday'.

But for some reason it's been particularly hard fasting today - all I've had is a little tub of flavourless cous-cous and a soup that tasted like watery mushy peas. Ugh.

It's been unsatisfying to the point of starvation, and I literally feel hollow and empty. Bad times.

I feel like beer, burgers and chilli cheese fries that burn my mouth.

Basically, I feel like another visit to Lucky Chip burger now, having belatedly discovered their full gorgeousness on Tuesday night. God, that would really hit the spot right now.

Oh yes, sit down my children, and I shall tell you a tale. A tale of aged beefy goodness. And fries.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Fajita of Contentment

Stop the world, I want to get the fuck off!

Actually, that would result in floating indefinitely through space, but the infinite-voidy stuff would probably be quite peaceful once you got used to it.

Sorta like El Chico's. I'll explain presently.

In a couple of days I shall be 36. That means I'm closer to 50 than to 20! What the aged fuck?!?

El Chico's
Another sobering thought is that a few days ago I lost another grandparent - that's three dead in the space of 18 months - and as that generation rapidly disappears from my life I feel not only a sense of enforced having-to-grow-up, but also of rapid, irreversible, tragic change.

Fortunately in this ever-changing world, there are some things that pretty much stay the same. And sometimes you just need familiar creature comforts like that.

I can cling to the fact that the denouement of the new Scooby-Doo movie will probably involve a janitor or sheriff revealed inside an apparition costume. I can enjoy listening to Queen and the Beatles knowing that I know their entire catalogue and there won't be any unpleasant surprises from here on in.

It's a hot comfortable bath of reassurance.

And on Thursday I'll be going to the Tower of London to witness the Ceremony of the Keys - and while this is a new experience for me, I take comfort from the fact that I'll be witnessing something that has been exactly the same, every single night, for about literally hundreds of years.

I think the last time they changed the format for the ceremony was round about the last time El Chico's  changed their menu!

Ah, the old ones are the oldest...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Milk Purse


I occasionally wonder if my hate affair with milk goes back to my primary school days in the early-mid 1980s.

Every morning, at about 11, right before playtime, we’d line up outside the caretakers office and wait for our milky rations.

It would be brought in in big crates by two middle-aged ladies - I guess you’d call them ‘teaching assistants’ these days – called Mrs Lovett and Mrs Sexton, which was, naturally, a source of great amusement to primary school boys.

1925 - 2013
The milk itself came in little glass bottles – a third of a pint I believe, the dwarven cousins of the bottles delivered by the milkman.

(Yep, in those nostalgic, milky days we still had proper milkmen doing the rounds, my father worked in some capacity or other for the Milk Marketing Board at some point, and there were TV ads for the stuff - 'Gotta Lotta Bottle' and  'Nice Cold Ice Cold Milk'.)

We were also given a weedy little blue straw – two if we were lucky – and we’d puncture the foil cap and drain the milk before heading out into the playground to climb frames and play ‘it’.

UNTIL THATCHER, THE EVIL MILK-SNATCHER CAME ALONG AND TOOK IT AWAY FROM US - CAUSING US TO GROW UP WEAK SO WE COULDN'T RISE UP AND FIGHT AGAINST HER HEINOUS REGIME!!!1littlebitofpoliticsthere11one1

 ...Of course, it didn’t actually happen like that at all, though some would have it thus and have predictably been banging on about it this week.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Easter Egg Hunt

The early part of Easter Saturday was a fucking nightmare. (The evening wasn't, because we went to see Steeleye Span and they rocked, but the daytime was a bit of a shitter and no mistake.)

We must've been into 20 shops in various parts of South London, looking for Easter Eggs to give to various family members. Spent about three hours solid, so we did.

There's nothing for you here!
Nothing. Absolutely fuck-all available anywhere. (Except for Cadbury Creme Eggs and bags of mini eggs). From the tiniest local shops to the big Sainsburys and Safeways (I refuse to call them Morrisons for the same reason that I refuse to call a Marathon bar anything other than a Marathon bar!) there was not a single proper egg available to purchase.

The shelves were bare, apart from the occasional solitary badly broken egg in Tesco with the cracked chocolate exposed to the elements that staff had inexplicably failed to remove, perhaps deliberately leaving it there to taunt people like me.

The twats in the shops said things like. 'Ooh, you should've come earlier', which as well as being singularly unhelpful is also indicative of the widespread acquiescence of a flawed culture.



Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Do they have Vanuatuan takeaways in El Salvador?

I remarked the other day that it was almost impossible to find food that identified as 'United Arab Emiratean' in Dubai. (Which is in the United Arab Emirates if you needed reminding!)

This got me thinking.

Think, think, think went my brain, like some sort of vast, organic thinking machine.

And I came to the conclusion that this criticism is possibly a bit harsh, if only because the UAE is far from alone in having a dismally flaccid presence in the World League of Food.

Want to know what I'm banging on about? Hold tight for some Gastro-geopolitical discourse.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Broken Eastern Promise

A few weeks ago I went along to Craft Beer Rising, not expecting there to be anything much for me, and came away rather pleasantly surprised.

It didn't take long, however, to find the place where there was nothing for me, and that place is Dubai.

So, what's my beef with this fantastic international city; this emerging gulf hub; this centre of Arabian Nightlife... and what is the food and drink like?

Well, it's too hot, too sandy, too crowded, too 'international', too expensive, no pubs. It really is quite a shitty place and now that I've been there I can confidently tell the next recruitment consultant who informs me about 'spectacular job opportunity in Dubai' that 'thanks, but no thanks, I'd rather work on the moon.'

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Just desserts?

If the best starter I've eaten this year was the foie gras at the Gay Hussar, then the best dessert I've had must surely be...

Well, let's begin at the beginning, shall we?

This week my Royal British Legion colleagues and I celebrated the public launch of our MoneyForce programme with a post-launch lunch and were keen to try somewhere new and different, near the office in the Borough area.

The rooftop take on shabby chic?
And so we found The Rooftop Cafe @ The Exchange in London Bridge street.

Merely finding it is a challenge in itself as it's extremely well hidden.

One has to go into a fairly nondescript office building next door to 'All Bar One', up a couple of floors in a lift (or take the stairs as I did), then ascend several more flights of rather shabby, fire-escapey stairs before finally arriving in the loft space where you'll find the Rooftop Cafe - an open kitchen, a few tables and one private dining room where our table was waiting for us.

I try not to be swayed by the fickleness of first impressions, but getting into the place isn't a red carpet experience - it all feels sort of unfinished right now. By the Summer there will be a proper outdoor rooftop bit which will increase their capacity, and being so close to the Shard, you can see where they think the money is.

That does rely on people actually being able to find the place though.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rising, falling or standing still?

So, this weekend I've been to a beer festival that's a little bit different.

Possibly not as different as the organisers would like to believe, mind, but different enough. They didn't use the word 'festival' for a start.

When, some months ago, I first heard about Craft Beer Rising at the old Truman Brewery in Shoreditch I rolled my eyes in exasperation.

The blurb informed me that the event was 'here to throw off the shackles of a traditional beer gathering by crafting events, experiences and environments that take craft beer to the masses.'

Hmm. Smells a lot like marketing wank to me. Besides, I like 'traditional beer gatherings'!

All rise for craft beer?
Further reading inscribed more horror stories in my jaded mind... Nothing much to do with CAMRA... 'craft' keg beers... trendy location... Probably horribly overpriced, overhyped and overrated. Ugh. Basically everything that's wrong about the current Brewdog ethos writ large.

The beer equivalent of Lapland New Forest, perhaps?

Then, a couple of days beforehand, I saw the beer list and decided that I would go, albeit determined to follow up with a damning write-up about how desperately misguided and disappointing it all was.

It's a good thing I did though, because it was ticket-only and sold out every session over the two days, so they must've been doing something right, even if it's just marketing!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Shrove Tuesday isn't as Shriven as it used to be

My ‘giving up chocolate for Lent’ plan proved spectacularly unsuccessful, lasting as it did a mere three days. (Although on the 'being able to eat chocolate again' scale, it's actually been a roaring success, obviously!)

It wasn’t my fault, mind, it was the beer.

Ilkley ‘The Mayan’, specifically, at the Cask in Pimlico. It’s a chocolate chipotle stout, and certainly the best beer I’ve had this year. (And I've drunk some good beer this year).

Chocolate beers can be a bit hit'n'miss, and I’ve never drunk a chilli beer that I could honestly say I really enjoyed, but Ilkley – one of my favourite breweries at the moment –  manage to get the combination just right.

It wasn't that surprising given that, in just a few years, the Yorkshire brewery has shown itself to be remarkably adept at experimental beers - like their Crafty Jane cranberry milk stout - as well as doing a fine line in big, hoppy pale ales, which, to my mind, should be any credible brewer's meat and drink

At 5.3% the Mayan had enough stouty weight behind it not to be watery, but was still staunchly in ‘quaffable’ territory. The cocoa on the nose was like an upmarket chocolate milkshake, while the heat only comes through at the finish and leaves a nice lingering burn.

It's worth breaking your Lenten fast for!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Huzzah for the Hussar!

'There's nothing new under the sun', goes the appropriately old phrase, and it oh-so-often rings true. Except when it doesn't, obviously.

But, for grumpy, prematurely-old fogeys such as I, it frequently seems like that which is new is no fucking good, and that which is any fucking good is stuff with which I am already familiar.

Music these days? Shit. TV these days? Shit. Films these days? Shit with Ben Shitting Affleck acting all shit.

OK, so I'm exaggerating just a tad. Some stuff which is technically new, though not necessarily widely promoted, is actually pretty good. Look hard enough and you'll find decent music and films and everything else made very recently indeed. And some things - like beer - are probably better and more exciting now than they've ever been. New beers are good, they're fucking, shitting good!

But my point is that, if you often struggle to see the merit in the latest stuff and are baffled by the faddishness around it, there is another path to tread which is a bit more interesting than just sticking with what you know and never expanding your horizons...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Horses for Main courses?

The big news this morning, apart from my helicopter lesson going badly wrong, obviously, was the revelation that some frozen beefburgers made and sold in the UK and Ireland actually contained traces of horsemeat. In some cases 25% 'traces'.

Now, I don't buy frozen value burgers from Tescos, and I've not been to Iceland since about the time it stopped being called Bejams, so I'm not worried that I might have inadvertantly eaten the stuff.

My immediate reaction was: Never mind the horse, the quality of the beef in those things was probably highly dubious!

I know, little predictable ol' me.

But, horse or no horse, cheap beefburgers generally contain the worst cuts of 'meat' from the worst cattle, padded out with additives and fillers and mechanically-recovered anus tissue. I bang on about this sort of stuff because I'm a fan of really good quality beef and really good quality burgers.

The initial media reaction was equally predictable - shock, horror, outrage! How dare they put this in our beefburgers?!? and so on.

And then, continuing the predictability, came the 'but why is it outrageous?!?' backlash with the good old unbiased BBC asking why Britain doesn't eat horses when we eat cows, pigs and other farmyard creatures.

I wasn't asked for my view for some reason, but one or two 'experts' had some, frankly, strange opinions and these rather bizzare arguments for why we don't eat it triggered a bit of friendly office debate.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Break Fast

One thing my diet of intermittent fasting has taught me - along with the satietal importance of soup, obviously - is the value of breakfast.

Yeah, I know the etymology; the whole thing about breaking ones fast'n'shit, but this is the first time that's really made sense on any kind of practical level.

See, for many years I've generally only partaken of a big cooked breakfast in the morning when either getting up early to travel somewhere (typically having a full English in an Airport Wetherspoons) or while staying in a hotel (on the morning of New Years Eve I had a fairly decent plateful at the Mortimer Arms near Romsey - first time I've had fried bread for many years, which in itself probably isn't a bad thing!)

A bad breakfast is an unpleasant thing, whether you're hungry in the mornings or not. During in the early-Naughties I lived for some time above a pub in Ipswich where a greasy and unpleasant full breakfast was served every morning. Sometimes the fried egg even had cigarette ash in it. After a few months of this I told them I'd go without. None of the other guests seemed to mind much, but then they consisted almost exclusively of builders from Teeside.
 
Anyway, I have been known to fry up a fry-up at home occasionally, but this would be our main meal of the day and probably eaten sometime well North of midday. During normal, everyday, stay-at-home life, I'd never think 'ooh, let's get up early and go out for breakfast!'

But this might be the year where that all changes.

On the mornings following fasting days I'm often ready for something substantial and assuming I stick to the diet for a while, 2013 could well end up being the year I seek out the best breakfast in London.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Souper New Year

I'm sure it's been woefully remiss of me not to have wished everybody a Merry Christmas or indeed a Happy New Year, but here we are already in 2013, and to be honest, this year I'm just glad to have got through it.

It was never going to be a hugely enjoyable Christmas, and being somewhat chronophobic I've never much cared for all this 'New Year' nonsense (although these days it has an altogether different celebratory tone, what with New Years Day being Mrs B-V's birthday).

On the food side, the cheese, rare breed ham and game pie from Borough Market was, as expected, totally fucking awesome, and the excellent Glenmorangie Sauternes cask a very pleasant discovery.
 
But it was a challenge was sticking to the 5:2 diet throughout the festive season, but we managed to average two fasting days each week by making the pattern just slightly less regular than the usual 'every Monday and Thursday'. We've avoided having to do consecutive days too, though there have been a few 'one-gaps' to counterbalance the 'five-gaps' - we're fasting today (Wednesday) and there's another one coming up on Friday.

If anybody has been wondering what we've been eating on the days when we've been restricted to just 600 calories (500 for Mrs B-V) the answer is... mostly soup.