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!

Friday, July 1, 2011

‘On the Wharf’ no more

Leaving New York wasn’t easy for REM, and Sheryl crow was indifferent to leaving Las Vegas. Now it’s my turn to muse on an imminent departure. And beer. And pubs named after Prime Ministers. Oh, and hotdogs. 'Gourmet' hotdogs. Hmm...

I can’t pretend I’m ecstatic about the fact that I’ll be leaving Canary Wharf in October when the organisation for whom I work relocates to Holborn. 

Longer, more expensive, more crowded commutes unarguably suck, and the move will have significant ramifications for this little blog. It still feels like I’ve barely licked the outer crust of the myriad food outlets around this place, and I’m always finding new places to eat.

Like the Gourmet Hotdog Company stand that just opened up. Of which more, presently.

At least the after-work drinking opportunities will be better in Holborn. I'll need beer to fortify myself for a long journey home surrounded by suited cocks... and interchanging at Bank. Ugh.

It's Grim up Wharf

Anyway, Wetherspoons aside (and there’s still just the one of them, Tim Martin, there’s still just the one of them), I’d pretty much given up on finding a decent real ale pub around here.

Henry Addington
So of course, in typically conspiratorial fashion, now that I know we’re leaving the Wharf I discover the Henry Addington. God knows how I’d overlooked it for so long. It's right there on the water looking across towards Heron Quays.

Let's not go nuts. It's the kind of pub I give three solid stars rather than a dreamboat Euston Tap, but this is in an area where there is a distinct lack of good beer and most of the pubs are lucky to get one star.

It’s a Nicholson’s pub in a modern dockside building, which is unusual as the vast majority of Nicholson’s-branded pubs are in and around the West end, and are 'historic' London pubs aimed largely at tourists.

The old Nicholson’s name, owned by Bass spin-off pubco M&B, had been practically mothballed since the late 1990s and the pubs allowed to run down a bit. Some kept the signage, some were rebranded as other things, and they fell very much into the 'will have some real beer but probably nothing interesting' camp.

But now the brand has been revived and extended and is even getting a bit of a promotional push with a Summer programme of guest ales and a sense of cohesion across the estate.

It’s upmarket Wetherspoons, basically: About 50% more expensive, food menu slightly more varied and better quality (based on the barbecue pork baguette and chips which I have to admit is all I’ve sampled thus far).

It was only via their ‘trail’ leaflet that I picked up in one of their pubs in town that I learned about the Henry Addington, and I have to admit, I've been mildly impressed with the reignition of the chain, mainly because the beer list is pretty good for a chain pub, and while it might not be as extensive as Spoons seasonal lists, there’s more concentrated variety and a true mix of dark and light, hoppy and unhoppy, weak and strong. 

I’ve popped in to the Henry Addington four or five times since discovering it, and there’s been a good choice of half a dozen beers at all times, which most Wetherpoons can only manage during their beer festivals.

With beers like Brewdog’s formidable Alice Porter, Nethergate Umbel and a few properly-hopped American-style IPAs, not to mention several ales exclusive to the chain, the handpumps in there always seem to have something that inspires my imagination. This is good in an area where if there is any real beer at all, it's usually the drab, predictable selection of brown, malty, mid-strength bitters.

Normally in these kinds of pubs, they expect you to settle for the bland and the mainstream and I don't really consider Pride, Pedigree, 6X and the latest offender, Doom Bar to be 'a fine selection of ales', whatever the perma-chalked blackboards say.

If you're like me, and you'd rather drink Camden Inner City Green or Rudgate Mild or Harviestoun American IPA then drink in the Henry Addington. Simple as that.

Why does everything have to be 'Gourmet' these days?

So, the Gourmet Hotdog Company then... Well, it's the kind of snack you might fancy after a few beers, and fortunately they're just around the corner from the pub, along with the crepe and chickpea kiosks I've recently reviewed. 

They offer a range of different sausages available with various toppings, currently at a reasonable £3.55 each.

A loyalty card gives you every sixth dog free, they have special deals that change daily, it's a decent-sized proper sausage rather than the kind of slimy little processed Frankfurter that made me hate hotdogs as a child, and on paper everything sounds great so far.

Trouble is, they're just not that good, and not all that filling either so post-beer disappointment looms at every turn.

The 'Full English' is a pork sausage topped with mushrooms, tomatoes and brown sauce. Hardly 'full', given that it lacks bacon and eggs, and you can buy far better 'traditional English' sausages in supermarkets. The Black Farmer makes particularly good ones.

I've also tried the Spicy Chorizo, which is hot but not at all Chorizo-y, and covered in overly sweet goo. It isn't a patch on the hot chorizo wraps you can get from the Posh Banger Boys by Borough Market or indeed the sausage sandwich from Birley Salt beef, just a few yards away.

It's trendy to call things 'gourmet' these days, but this is really just an old-fashioned sausage in a manky bun stand like you'd find at a football ground. Not unpleasant in the right circumstances, but singularly unspectacular.

There are lot of things I'll miss about The Wharf, but this won't be one of them.

On The Wharf...

The Henry Addington
22-28 MacKenzie Walk,
Canary Wharf
E14 4PH

Gourmet Hotdog Company
Reuters Plaza,
Canary Wharf
E14 5AJ


  1. Mr Sir Nunn, have you tried the Grapes on Narrow St?

  2. Hmm, might have to check out the Grapes. Been past it en route to Gordon Ramsey's restaurant, and had some fleeting 'wonder what that's like?' thoughts, but not ventured inside.


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