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, December 18, 2015
And having pretty much dismissed the concept of the prequel films altogether (I'm not even sure if I ever saw them all entirely through), mostly because of George Lucas's unforgivable tinkering with the original trilogy, I wasn't sure what to expect when we went to see The Force Awakens on its day of release. (Don't worry, there's no spoilers here - unless you're really looking for them!)
Not content with bringing The Force back into my world after a lengthy absence, I also took the opportunity to check out The Lounge at the Odeon Bayswater - where a full table service provides the food and drink, while you watch the film from luxury reclining seats with footrests. A strange combination, which has apparently been around for a few years, so it must be working out for them.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Like most beer writers, I sometimes receive samples from breweries for my earnest consideration, but the reality is that I prefer to do most of my drinking at the pub, and these bottles (and more recently cans) can be left lying around for months to the point where they may not be in optimal condition, and any assessment would be coloured by that.
I also feel that if I review one of them, I should probably review them all, which creates a lot of work for me, and ultimately a series of fairly samey reviews about fairly samey beers. I'm not a bottled beer expert and there are plenty of other writers keen to work in this fashion, so I'll leave it to them.
And while I'm grateful for the freebies, if a beer is good enough for me to write about, I'll probably be buying it myself.
(Occasionally, I do make exceptions if a beer is particularly good, bad or just noteworthy - like Brewmeister 'Snake Venom' and Brewdog 'Nanny State', neither of which, incidentally, were free!)
Montezuma's Chocolate Lager is a collaboration between the Hogs Back brewery in Surrey and Montezuma's, a fairly small time chocolatier based in West Sussex. In all honesty, I don't think I've ever tried one of their chocolate bars, and while Hogs Back beers have been around for as long as I've been drinking, they're not a brewer that has made much of an impression, at least until now. The beer was developed last year, but I've only discovered it in the last couple of months.
This is a very good beer, a very different beer, and at 4.5% a very accessible, drinkable beer. And the good news is that it's widely available in supermarkets, at least around here.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
It was remarkable in that it was one of the few pieces of legislation from a Labour government with which I've completely agreed, and a rare moment of genuine liberalisation from that most authoritarian of parties.
It's also remarkable just how little it changed things. It wasn't the life-changing progressive development we thought and hoped it might be, was it?
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Given that I'm reasonably well-traveled and had already been to something like 36 different countries, depending on what criteria one uses, this was a bit of a challenge. Especially as I also really like staying in England quite a lot. (We live in a fucking great country with a history and culture that shames the rest of the world and a thriving craft beer scene. Coventry are winning every week, and Steeleye Span are on tour. Who in their right mind wants to go off somewhere else in a fucking aeroplane?!?)
But with over 50 days still left in the year, I completed the mission relatively easily. Go me. (It's an even more impressive score for Mrs. B-V who hadn't been to Estonia or Belgium before and thus got 14 new countries!)
Some places were interesting from a food and drink perspective, some were not. Some I blogged about at the time*, others I wrote about elsewhere, and still others I didn't bother with as I considered them a waste of ink. Or keystrokes.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
(Yeah I know. We've only just come back from Krakow. And Cumbria the weekend before. And Tallinn/Helsinki the week before that. Amazing that I had enough time in the Green and Pleasant land to get all 50 beers really, isn't it?)
Now, for more years than I can remember, one of the Wetherfest's selling points is that beers are available in smaller measures and you can sample three third-pint measures of different beers for the price of a pint.
Obviously this doesn't apply to me because I drink pints, but most tickers do not, and it's become an all-too familiar sight at the bar - the bedraggled scooper, hunched over his beerly triptych, squintingly scribbling notes into his crumpled festival programme.
Last week I started to find this phenomenon just a little bit irritating, after waiting ages at the bar while countless trios of thirds were served, so I ordered three of the beers I needed all at once, sidled up to Mr. Threethirds and lined up my pints, just as he had his thirds.
He looked at me. I beamed back disconcertingly until he started shuffling on his feet.
I looked down at my pints, glanced over at his thirds and then looked him in the eye again, still smiling.
To be honest, I'm not even entirely sure what point I was trying to make, but I felt better for it, and that's the important thing. I guess I could've gone on to glance at our respective crotches, but that would've just been weird.
Friday, October 23, 2015
Now it's Shit Takeaways.
I used to be staunchly of the opinion that any curry cooked at home would never be quite as good as the equivalent dish from your local Tandoori restaurant. They had the specialist equipment; The spices you can't buy anywhere without being in the know; The proper Tandoor oven.
Now I'm not so sure - while there are some perfectly good places plying their trade in the 21st century marketplaces of Just Eat and HungryHouse, there are also some right munters, pigstrotters and tugboats out there. (If you accept that these terms can apply as equally to shit takeaways as they might to someone picked up in a shit nightclub before picking up a shit takeaway!)
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
We set off at stupid'o'clock on a Friday morning, on a minibus from Ipswich, started drinking in the Stansted Wetherspoons, and got to the Estonian capital shortly after midday local time, if I recall correctly.
There then followed a marathon afternoon and evening of spiced beer and shots of pepper vodka, followed by weird, tasty, offally food. I suspect I drank more than anybody else. At least eight pints plus half a dozen shots, I'd imagine.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Or, to put it another way, people think that if it's worth mentioning, it must be worth mentioning, even when it isn't. If that makes sense?
This blog gets over *100* visitors EVERY SINGLE DAY!
See what I did there? It's true, it has a number in it, and it's made to sound impressive even though it really isn't.
But I guarantee there'll be someone somewhere not even reading this sentence properly because a part of their brain is still going 'ooh, hundred visitors, eh, that's not bad, is it? Bully for him'
Let's try and send a few more of you off into the realms of bemused agreement, shall we...
"Houses in this street go for upwards of £100,000!"
"Look at that bloke over there - he must be well over 5 foot tall!"
"You'll be generously remunerated with a five-figure salary package!"
All technically correct, yet all absolute wanky, misleading nonsense. Most of the time, you won't hear people extolling such modest virtues, because, well, it sounds ridiculous, but it happens a lot in the food and drink industry. Probably more than I'm comfortable with.
Look at all the cheap whiskies on an off-license shelf. 'Aged 8 years' they proudly proclaim, as though it's a mature old gentleman, in comparison to all those two and three year old whiskies out there.
|'Seven whole days' (not one in seven, apparently...)|
You can see why an 18- or 25-year-old malt would want to proclaim its age, in order to distinguish it from the 8s, but the selling point of whisky is almost always age, not youth, so why do they do it with the youngest ones?
Greene King's ad campaign for Abbot Ale used to boast of how the beer was matured for 'seven whole days' and I have no doubt that there were some Abbot drinkers who considered this a very long time simply because they'd been told about it. To put it into a more realistic perspective, Cantillon in Brussels typically mature their beer for a year to 18 months and often quite a lot longer than this. A week is fuck-all.
Damning with faint hyperbole. Shouting about modest numbers. Unshrinking Violet Theory. This thing really should have an official name.
I have a beef
It's the same deal with 14-day aged steak, a familiar sight on pub menus. Imagine that! A whole fortnight! How impressed we all are...
Except that 14 days is pretty much the minimum maturation period for any cut of beef marketed as 'steak'. 35- and 50- day aged steak is not hard to find, and you can get stupid beef that's been hung for three months or so, though experiments show that peak taste is achieved at around 45.
Back to the supermarket, let's have a look at the packaging for ready meals:
'Be good to yourself' Lasagne - only 397 calories!!!
Buyers will think that's a low calorie count because the packaging proclaims it. Yet, a couple of items downstream towards the frozen aisle, there's a different lasagne ready meal, rather understated and not branded as lo-calorie that has a calorie count of 394. Fractionally lower than the diet version.
I don't know what we can do to stop this phenomenon, after all, they're essentially telling the truth, which, in advertising, is a feat in itself.
I just wish people would be less gullible and look at the numbers in context rather than isolation.
After all, we're always told that just because someone says something, it doesn't make it true. How about 'just because someone says something that is true, it doesn't make it impressive'?
Monday, August 31, 2015
|Apparently you can still buy this stuff|
Barbican. Kaliber. Possibly a bottle of Clausthaler if you were in an upmarket wine bar and wanted your non-alcohol imported. It was all woeful.
Maybe you're lucky enough to be too young to remember. Unfortunately I'm not. And because they were non-alcoholic I recall them with greater clarity than any other beers I drank as a teenager.
Even then, it wasn't just about the not-getting-drunk either. They tasted so extraordinarily bland that they didn't even qualify as a good soft drink. An afternoon drinking Kaliber and skipping school left one yearning for a can of Quatro. Remember that? Quatro?
Thursday, August 27, 2015
It's not, for example, like choosing socks, which is one of the simplest decisions facing mankind. You can't just pick pubs out of the sock drawer and say 'yep, these'll do', or chuck it back in on the basis that a vibrantly-coloured Pac-Man design might not be the most appropriate internal footwear for your grandfather's funeral.
This is the fourth BV Pub of the Year contest, and one thing I learned pretty quickly is that it's difficult. Your brain becomes the battlefield for endless power-struggles over which pubs to exclude, why one pub worth seven points is not quite as good than other with the same score, or why that might be unfair on the first pub. You've never had a bad pint at Pub X, but in your heart of hearts, you know that the atmosphere doesn't live up to Pub Y, but your head of heads can't qualify exactly why not...
It's like having a massive fuck-off draw full of flawless, fragrant-smelling pairs of socks, none of which could possibly cause offence to anybody at any time.
Friday, August 7, 2015
What a week it's going to be - just look at the schedule. A whole host of fantastic beery events taking place all over the capital.
Brewery open days, one-off brews, beer and food pairings, it all looks lovely, doesn't it?
Trouble is, there's hardly space for any beer in this room, given the massive, trumpeting elephant that's stamping all over common sense and reason as we speak.
IT'S THE SAME FUCKING WEEK AS THE GBBF!!!
The same week. Who in their right mind could possibly think that this insane scheduling is a good idea, hmm?
Monday, August 3, 2015
If the food is good, I'll wax endlessly about the succulence of the crispy fat and the opulent richness of the sauce, and if it's bad you won't be able to stop me banging on about the ropey quality of the beef and how the pastry tasted of margarine and poor peoples kitchens.
This review, however, I should be able to motor through in just a few short paragraphs because the food was so absolutely, utterly unmemorable.
Monday, July 27, 2015
But what makes the competition fresh and interesting every year - and hopefully injects at least some element of surprise - is the arrival of the new contenders. Five lovely little pubs that weren't in the competition last year but are hoping to take top spot nonetheless.
And, unlike the General Election, there are no desperate retreads amongst our intake - these five are all PotY debutants! And one of them even does the world's best sausage rolls!
Saturday, July 18, 2015
For some it's the scalding hot weather; for others, the sensation of sand in their footwear that lingers long after they've left the beach.
But in a recent survey 98.8% of people said that the best thing about Summer was finding out which pub has won the BV Pub of the Year trophy. No, really. That's what 98.8% of people said.
And here we are, it's that time. That special, magical time. 98.8% of peoples favourite time.
As I explained recently, we're playing by some slightly new rules this year, but the principle remains pretty much the same: Last year's top five pubs compete against five new contenders and we'll reveal the winner some time next month.
Today we'll check up on the first batch - the best of the best from the 2013-14 competition...
Friday, July 10, 2015
Now, I know what you're thinking: 'But Ben, you're an expert on all things beer. You don't need to be told how to taste the difference between a Lemon Saison and an Imperial Chocolate Stout. You're fucking amazing, you are.'
|Phenolic! Diacetyl! Taste those off-flavours!|
It's not just about telling the difference between good beer, and beer that has gone off either. There are several differents kinds of off-flavours arising from myriad different causes, not all of them are considered universally unpleasant, and some are even tolerated by brewers and drinkers, to the point that they're not necessarily considered off-flavours at all, but a de facto characteristic of the beer!
Plenty of drink for thought, and another set of things to consider next time I'm on a judging panel.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
OK, technically they're six of the longest days of the year, but who gives a fuckpig for such pedantry when the fourth BV Pub of the Year contest is lurking just around the corner!
You know the drill by now. Last years finalists go head to head, toe to toe and cask to cask against five spanking new contenders and we'll see if anyone can wrest the shiny trophy away from the Craft Beer Company in Clerkenwell.
Importantly, I will be making a few adjustments to the rules this year, following feedback from readers, co-drinkers and an important missive from the Iranian embassy. (OK, so, one of those didn't actually inform the decision all that much.)
Monday, June 15, 2015
We've all eaten our share of dodgy fried chicken and toilet-grade kebabs when stricken with ferocious hunger pangs shortly after leaving the pub. Beer can do that to you.
|Got a much better takeaway than the man on the bus|
Well, almost invariably dire. There are, believe it or not, a few very special places where you can actually get something decent to eat at 12:37 AM.
Friday, May 29, 2015
I suppose it's one of those things that people take for granted. We all have the same sort of shit in our kitchens, and the bigger the kitchen, the more of it we have.
But I'm not wholly convinced that this is true.
Monday, May 18, 2015
A quick check of my personal records reveals that I've tried 33 different Robinson's beers, none of which were this particular mild. That in itself says quite a bit.
I'm a ticker. So given that I will always try a beer I haven't had before - subject to limits of capacity, which are probably greater than the average persons - this suggests that I've never been anywhere that Robbies Mild has been available, apart from possibly a beer festival where it would've been lost amongst hundreds of other, largely more exciting brews.
This in turn indicates that Robinson's have been astonishingly crap at distributing their mild and probably had little interest in the product. Compare it to their heavily-promoted Trooper, a fairly bland beer which appears to be available absolutely fucking everywhere.
I've had two other Milds brewed at Robinson's - Young Tom and Hartley's Mild - and I've even been to Stockport once (first game after City were relegated from the Premiership, won 2-0) so if I've never had the opportunity to try the beer, it's a fair bet that your average drinker hasn't either.
Monday, May 4, 2015
|Who are you voting for?|
As far as the wider electoral picture goes I shall, of course, be rooting for the Tories and hoping for the best, but I'm not at all confident now. We're almost certainly heading for abject constitutional carnage for various regrettable reasons that I won't go into here - I'm well aware that the stuff that fascinates politicos like myself is more of a turn-off to most people than the sight and aroma of a steaming dogturd with a red rosette on it.
Anyway, one of the advantages of an Election campaign is that the house isn't sitting, and that means that ordinary folk like you and I get a rare opportunity to see a bit more of the innards of our parliament than we normally would.
Places like the Members' Dining Room, which I visited last week, fulfilling a long-held wish.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
There's lots of good stuff in there with the latest news on the London (and wider) pub scene, and I've written a piece about cask Altbier in Dusseldorf and an emotional farewell to the gone-but-not-forgotten Brew Wharf.
Oh, and there's an advert that really fucking wound me up something rotten.
I know. I know I should probably be thinking about the victims of the earthquake in Nepal or the grieving relatives of Keith Harris, but it's always the little annoyances that get to me. Partly because I know most people aren't going to be bothered about it.
Friday, April 17, 2015
What would John and Greg make of Bodeans? A place that smokes and slow-braises meat over many, many hours, if not days. If not years.
'You've got one hour and 15 minutes?' I suspect not, somehow.
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
(Particularly the ballsy Lancastrian lass who is my tip to beat the moustachioed twatster in the final!)
What I'm less impressed by is how formulaic the programme has become, with contestants slave to the straitjacket of rigid format as they wield their spatulas of conformity. (And, if anybody asks, I'll probably use that rather florid excuse for not entering rather than admitting my shitting fear!)
|Too busy drinking beer to go on MasterChef|
Pretty much every challenge involves having an hour (or, quite often, an hour and 15 minutes) to cook something, which rules out any slow-cooked dishes and indeed discriminates against chefs whose speciality happens to be slow-cooking.
(Yes, I'd probably include myself in that category.)
My other complaint, which may well be a by-product of the first, is that there is nowhere near enough cooking with beer on the show.
And we could all use some additional beer, right?!?
Saturday, March 28, 2015
Supercheap Ryanair flights, a swift one-night break somewhere in Norway, and another boring country ticked off the list. Job done.
But life can surprise you. What I actually experienced this week was a peaceful, pleasant stay in delightful little town and one of the very best seafood restaurants I have ever visited. I've been banging on about it for the last few days since we came back.
If you like your fish you have to go there. You just have to.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Such a bargain is nothing to be sniffed at, of course, but the reason behind it is going to fuel a bit of a BV rant-a-thon, so feel free to tune out now.
Still there? Good.
Thursday, March 5, 2015
It's British Pie Week, apparently. (Well, it would be, wouldn't it? They have a week for fucking everything these days.)
Thing is, this could just be me getting older'n'shit, but I'm convinced that pies aren't as good as they used to be. Ironically, before we ever had British Pie Week, pies were actually tastier. Weren't they? Is it just me?
I enjoy a good pie as much as the next fat cunt, but all too often these days we seem to settle for disappointing fillings and bland, dry pastry. Yes, you can get some fantastic 'gourmet' pies these days, and pork pies designed to be served cold are probably better than they've ever been, but I'm convinced that your standard everyday hot pie used to be better.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Essentially, the plan is to try and tick off 12 whole new countries in 2015, and given that I've already visited 30-odd, including most (though not all) of the closer ones, it could be a bit of a challenge, so I'm trying to get off to a flying start. Except that I don't like flying all that much.
|Sampling beer at the Cantillon brewery|
A really, really fucking short trip, actually. About 80 minutes. There's not an awful lot to do in Lux.
However, the upside of this is that we got to use Brussels as a base for a couple of nights to break up the 13 hour train journey, and there is plenty to do there. Especially if you like drinking Belgian beer.
Thursday, February 5, 2015
Fairly wussy stuff, I'm sure you'll agree.
|You can see why they used earthenware vessels..|
Looking through the history books, you'll find several variants on the posset theme - the only real constant seems to be eggs, milk or cream and some sort of alcohol.
Some versions use strong ale, while others called for sack, a forerunner of sherry. Sometimes they were consumed hot but often they were allowed to cool and set, forming a hard crust on top and a custardy layer between the crust and the liquid, almost like a sort of alcoholic pie.
It's not the prettiest drink ever, but probably quite unlike anything you've ever tasted.
With this 'ancient and modern' take on the posset, I hedge my bets with a mix of Barley Wine and Oloroso Sherry, with the addition of a shot of Absinthe for extra fortification.
There are no lemons involved.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
STOPtober. MOvember. There's probably a PLEBuary going on somewhere. Every month has to be A Thing, usually with a #trending #hashtag clinging obligatorily to its loins.
This month is, of course, a Double-Whammuary. We've got #Dryanuary - where people give up the grog for a month for charity, auto-detoxication or some combination of the two - and the beer industry backlashtag, #Tryanuary, encouraging drinkers to keep on putting themselves out there, supporting pubs by trying something new and different.
Both camps have plenty of support: Top beer writer Pete Brown goes dry, and is probably dying for a pint by now, while Hardknott brewer Dave Bailey makes a solid and impassioned counter-argument and is unlikely to be thirsty.
Friday, January 2, 2015
Now let's get down to the important stuff. You know, the stuff with hops in it that we all love to drink in vast quantities.
Brutal fucking honesty: Last year was a great one for beer, possibly the best beer-year ever indeed, and I was lucky enough to drink a lot of it.
To put this into perspective, in 2013 only half a dozen beers scored 8/9 on the BV scale. In 2014 I gave that score to a massive 13, despite drinking fewer new beers overall. (888 if anyone gives a toss!)
And now I'm going to tell you which beers they were.