Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase 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. And as a critic 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!

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Linguine Experiment?

Like the proverbial physician, my bacon-burnt mouth healed itself, though not without a thirst for breakfasty revenge.

Bacon, Eggs, Sauce of brown; O how may I demand satisfaction of thee?!?

Well, the idea came to me while shopping for ingredients for two seemingly unrelated meals: Let's cook a pasta dish containing only the staple ingredients of an English Breakfast (and pasta, obviously). Yeah, that'll learn 'em.

The more I thought about it, the bigger the challenge seemed. Instinctively linguine (or tagliatelle or spaghetti or whatever) is just crying out for a sauce of onions, basil, oregano, red wine, red peppers and Parmesan - all things I'd have to do without.

Instead, I got to use bacon, sausage, table condiments and, as a radical gamble, pink grapefruit juice. It just felt right, and besides, there are plenty of dishes that call for lemon, lime and occasionally orange, so why not give the black sheep of the citrus family a rare outing?

And the recipe works. Pretty much. Just not as revenge.

It seemed obvious to whack a lightly poached egg on top and let the gooey yolk run into the linguine as a final flourish, so that's what I did.

But egg-poaching is fiendishly hard to get right, with a very poor effort-to-reward ratio, which is why I hardly ever attempt to poach eggs unless absolutely necessary.

Consequently, being all out of practice, I somehow managed to get a load of eggshell in the pan, reached in to remove it and succeeded in not only destroying the egg, but also burning my finger...

They fucking got me again.

Full English Breakfast Linguine

Ingredients - serves any number

Linguine, fresh, as much as you need
Smoked sausage, a couple, chopped into bite-size bits
Smoked Bacon, chopped
Eggs, one per person, to be poached at last minue
Mushrooms, a few per person, chopped
Tomatoes, about one large per person, chopped
Black Pepper

Tomato Ketchup
Brown Sauce
Pink Grapefruit juice
Olive Oil


Heat the oil and butter in a big sautee pan, and fry the bacon, sausage and mushrooms until lightly brown.
It's like two meals in one!
Add the tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes, before turning the heat down, adding black pepper, ketchup, brown sauce and grapefruit juice to taste, then cover and leave to simmer for 20 minutes.

Cook your linguine in a big pot in boiling water until done, then drain, and pour in your sauce, tossing vigourously so that the pasta is covered with the strange, breakfasty concoction.

Finally poach each person an egg. Carefully. And don't overdo them. You need a runny yolk.

Plate up the pasta, put the poached egg on top, prick it with a fork and then maybe sprinkle some black pepper on top of it all.

Be very careful when eating this meal: it combines breakfast and dinner ingredients, so you might get all confused and end up going to bed in the morning or something. In fact, fuck it. Do exactly that. It's a free country'n'shit. See if I care (which I don't, obviously).

Typically you'd expect to serve a sausagey, bacony pasta dish with an elegant Italian Red, but due to the breakfastyness, this would probably go quite well with a glass of fruit juice or a strong black coffee.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Seared tongue and snapper

Frying the brunchtime bacon last Saturday, as I frequently do at around brunchtime on a Saturday, I allowed myself the luxury of eating a little piece that had stuck to the (non-stick) pan. Big mistake.

Extra crispy and sizzly, I scraped it off with the spatula and popped it straight into my mouth to enjoy the smoky, salty goodness before I whacked the tomatoes to the pan to cook them in the bacon juices, as one does on Saturday brunchtimes.

At the time it didn’t seem like a big deal. Having glued itself to the pan at a high temperature, it scalded my mouth, and I should have fucking learned my lesson by now I know, but I thought nothing more of it, and it certainly didn’t stop me cooking, eating, and enjoying my Saturday brunch. Or watching the FA Cup final. Or Eurovision later that evening.

But fast-forward a couple of days to when the brunchtime payload reached it's zenith, and my mouth is suffering horrendously. What’s more, I can’t really taste anything but the strongest, most pungent flavours.
The antiseptic effect of cask-strength Ardbeg last night may or may not have healed my blistered tongue and palate a little, but my failure to appreciate light, delicate, subtle flavours extended, unfortunately, to today’s business lunch at Curve.

Which is a fish restaurant - possibly not what your remaining tastebuds would choose when most of their brethren have been burned away by a tiny morsel of hot pig!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How to damn organic chickpeas with faint praise

‘You should review’, said a colleague of mine some weeks ago, ‘that new hummus and falafel place that just opened up on the plaza.’

I’m not sure if this was a deliberate challenge designed to cunningly wrongfoot me and my blogpipe, but if it was, I failed at the first couple of attempts. You see, to get to ‘that new hummus and falafel place’ I have to walk out the tower and right past Birley Salt Beef.

Not an easy thing to do of a lunchtime, that. I’m only human.

I mean, what sane person could possibly eschew a sandwich full of hot roast beef or crackling pork belly and walk on by, merely in order to munch on some tasteless chickpea nonsense?!?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The basil paradox

Today I grabbed a crayfish and chilli wrap from one of the seven thousand and two Prets on the Wharf for a hasty lunch on the move - being so busy with real life'n'shit over the past month or so, I haven't been able to do things like eat proper sit-down lunches, or - ahem - write blog posts... well that's my story and I'm sticking to it. 

Anyway, the wrap was fairly indifferent, but upon the packaging, the following snippet of overt worthiness caught my eye:

'Air Miles: We believe air freighting fruit and veg is completely over the top. It's unneccessary and, with the exception of fresh basil leaves, we don't do it.'

Hmm, alrighty-roo then. But what is so special and fresh about their basil that it has to be flown - and I might be using my imagination a little too readily here - half-way around the planet in a Boeing 747 with a colossal carbon footprint dangling between it's legs, when every other ingredient used by the chain can be sourced locally?!?

The irony is that on this very day we've started growing a little basil plant which will sit on our balcony - and that's probably the only thing we're able to grow. And I'm sure it will serve my culinery purposes just fine, thanks.

But for whatever reason, Pret - who apparently use locally-reared and slaughtered cattle in their beef sandwiches, locally-caught crayfish in their wraps and locally-grown and pulped mangoes in their smoothies - feel the need to import their basil from the Solomon Islands or somewhere.

A few hours ago I had no idea that this would be the issue that would relight the Ben Viveur blogfire, but there you go.

If anyone from Pret is listening, I'm happy to supply fresh basil for you from my balcony if you give me a few weeks. You might need to buy me a house with an aeroplane-sized herb garden to meet your requirements though...