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!

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.

In with the New

The Catford Constitutional is located in the old, long-abandoned Conservative Club just a few yards down the road from the CBT and the regulars have been transplanted as successfully as a perfectly-matched donor kidney.

Some say the venue is haunted by the spirits of the Tory voters who once (actually, twice) elected Colin Moynihan to this seat in the dim and distant 1980s, so keep a look out for rattling chains and blue rosettes.

Yes, it was heaving uncomfortably with supporters on the opening Thursday evening, and they still need to do a bit of work getting it decorated, putting on a full range of drinks, and installing a kitchen to recreate the delicious food I enjoyed on many occasions at the CBT.

But I have every confidence that within a few weeks they'll have made the Con club a new contender for the best pub in London (though I shall endeavour to remain open-minded about the new owners of the CBT until they reopen the place).

Out with the old?

Now, happy endings are all well and good, but they are far from guaranteed, even at the finest massage parlours and Hungarian restaurants.

It was with considerable sadness that I learned that the Gay Hussar, one of London's longest standing and most important restaurants, is being put up for sale next month, and it's not obvious what will happen to the place. Whether it stays the same, changes radically or disappears altogether will rather depend on who buys it - and those of us who are fans of the place making our voices heard.

Some things are worth fighting for
The Hussar has been around for 60 years, which is longer than many of us can even comprehend. If the thought of Tories in Catford seems like ancient history, then just consider that the Hussar has changed little since ministers in the Churchill and Attlee governments dined there in the 1950s.

That probably makes it worth saving even if the food wasn't pretty damn good too.

The campaigning and the petitions to save the CBT from becoming a Tescos ultimately succeeded, even if the long game failed, and we can learn from that. But the circle of life has seen new life breathed into a derilect Con club whose members have probably long since died or defected to UKIP.

Sometimes the battle can't be won, but at least you can fucking well celebrate the fact that you gave it a shot. 

So, on that basis, please sign my petition to the prospective new owners of the Gay Hussar. I don't know if people power can save the Hussar, but I'm having a go anyway.

I've yet to eat a starter this year that is better than the fois gras in the Gay Hussar.

And I don't expect to either.

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