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, August 19, 2011

A week in the life of a Birley king

One of the things I’ll miss most about Canary Wharf when we leave will be Birley's.

In an area where hungry bankers and regulators are decadently spoilt for lunchtime choice Birley still stands out like a bready, meaty beacon in an uber-competitive field of lunch.

Unless you obsess about these sorts of things in the way that I do, you may not be aware that there are actually five, no, six Birley outlets on the Wharf, all with different specialities? That’s one for every day of the week – if you fudge the maths, which we will, obviously - and whereas going to the same place for lunch everyday would normally turn out to be rather tiresome, I always felt that Birley’s range is so diverse that one could quite happily go there every day and not feel cheated at all.

So guess who’s spent this week going to a different Birley shop every day?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Who hates all the pies?

It's strange. By my reckoning I've only been to Manchester about four times in my life, and then generally only fleetingly. 

I'd never before had to spend a night in the city centre - until Tuesday this week, which just so happened to be the evening the riots kicked off there. What are the chances of that?!?

Mrs B-V and I had been watching Coventry City losing pathetically to Bury and were hoping to head back to Manchester city centre on the Metrolink to drown our sorrows, but the police in their infinite wisdom had decided to close the system down. 


Well done, chaps - while you're advising everyone to stay indoors, you close down transport systems so people who are already out and about can't get back to where they are staying?!? Really sensible, that. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

London's Burning (but dinner's OK)

Last week's beery adventures at the GBBF became hard work after a while, but it will go down as one of the greatest beer festivals of all time - I just needed a weekend to recover and take it easy on the alcohol front.

Well you would too if you'd spend four successive days relentlessly downing pint after pint, especially big Transatlantic fuckers like Clipper City Big DIPA (10%) and Amnesia Wonka Porter (?%).

But now it's back to normal - although a 'normal' where rioters are mindlessly setting fire to the capital so they can steal trainers - and I have to start cooking my own food rather than just picking up a tub of olives or a 20 inch bratwurst or a pork and stilton pie when I feel like it. 

Your starter for ten. Minutes.
The other day somebody pointed out that I rarely do recipes for starters, so to shut them the fuck up, here's a starter. Nah nah na-nah nah. You're wrong, WRONG I say. Go and loot Bejams or something, Sonny Jim. And relax...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

GBBF 2011 - the BV Review

Little tip to everyone with murderous intent who has been offended by my controversial brand of journalism over the years - if you're looking for an opportunity to bump me off, this is the week when my movements will be utterly predictable.
The most exciting few days in the beer calendar are finally upon us, and I'll be spending every day at the GBBF. And if you like beer and are anywhere near London between now and Saturday, so should you!

Last night's first night began with the Champion Beer of Britain announcement, which coincided with the beautiful feeling of putting my 'out of office' on and hitting the road - and by 'road' I mean 'Jubilee and District lines', obviously.

I won't be partaking of the overall winner, Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde Mild at the festival, simply because I've had it many times before and it was a staple of mine when living in East Anglia, but it's an interesting choice, and the award probably inspired me to incorporate some mild into my opening night's drinking.

It begins

With thirsty enthusiasm coarsing through my veins, I grabbed a pint from the bar nearest the entrance, recognising Rudgate Jorvik Blonde as a beer I'd seen at festivals previously but not got around to trying.

A low strength but fruity pale bitter seemed instinctively to be the best thing for quenching ones thirst and attaining instant refreshment, and I wasn't disappointed. An eminantly quaffable starter for ten, and I began to wander around the festival, 'casing the joint' as it were. (People planning to kill me - you'll need to do this too, so pay attention!) 

Having been sceptical when the event moved from Olympia to Earl's Court, I have to admit that the new venue has grown on me, and it's sad to think that this will be the last GBBF here before the vast hall in all its concretey glory is demolished. I've got used to the layout, and will miss it not being like this.

I like the interesting, triangley shape of the venue too - a little like a Ram's Head (which would have been useful free advertising for Youngs before they pretty much abandoned the Ram motif) or perhaps even a taperingly thick cock and balls.

I went to one of the bars in the 'left testicle' to get my next pint, and successfully concluded some unfinished business.

At last year's GBBF I was drinking silver award winner, Amber Chocolate Orange Stout and very tasty it was too. Like a chocolate orange in a glass of beer.

Trouble is, I spilled my pint half-way through, and when I went back to the bar to get another half, they had sold out. Arggh.

Chocolate Orange Stout

I should explain at this point that for a beer to count, I feel I need to drink at least one pint, or whatever the largest available measure is, so without the rest of my drink, I couldn't count it as a tick. I'd been waiting a full year to enjoy the chocolatey, orangey goodness again and finally be able to say I've had full measure.

Yeah, I know. I'm a sad, anal twat who gets hung up on self-imposed rules'n'shit. The beer is delicious though.

As a 'ticker', the event for me is largely about drinking as many new beers as I possibly can, so I hit the CAMRA member's lounge to enjoy the stout and check the festival programme against my records to identify beers I fancied and make sure I hadn't had them before. A Tweet from Fuller's brewery gave me some food for thought too.

I tried Sadler's 'The Spig' which is another tasty and easy-drinking blonde ale, and grabbed some of the legendary pork scratchings from the crusty pie company - surely the best-tasting and most natural pig fat snacks in the world (and their pies are damn good too).

My fourth beer was a bit special, not least because it's extremely rare and very strong. As the tweet explained, Fuller's 'Brewer's Reserve No. 3 - Whisky cask' was only available for a limited period of an hour or so, and was only sold in third-of-a-pint measures, which means I only had to drink a third to count it, but I'd have happily drunk more - the whisky notes were incredible.


One of my plans this year was also to check out as much of the huge range of food as I possibly could, and the seafood stall intrigued me, offering a range of cockles, mussels, prawns, squid etc. with seafood sauce - the kind of stuff that you used to get from a van outside pubs but now hardly ever see, except by the seaside.

I had a little snack-sized tub of the mixed seafood cocktail and it brought back memories of eating seafood and drinking beer in old Leigh on Sea. Obviously, it had to be a dark beer to accompany this, and White Dog 'Born to be Mild' didn't disappoint. 

Interestingly though, the White Dog brewery is actually in Italy, and is the only Italian brewery that regularly produces real ales - another rarity on the tick list. Roasty and strong (for a mild) it drank more like a stout, which made it a natural bedfellow for the seafood.

Brewdog might have lost their brewery stand, but nobody would have noticed - and one of the more intriguing brewery stands was for 'William Worthington' - the Worthington's brand that was run into the ground by Bass during the 90s and 00s but which seems to be set for a revival under the Coors group who have brought Worthington home to Burton on Trent, using the old Bass Museum brewery. 

Some of the beers on the stand haven't existed for many years - Worthington 'E', famous in the 1960s, and a cask version of the famous bottled 'White Shield'. I'll be trying these later in the week, but I went for the Mild, last available regularly in cask form in the 70s I believe.   

It certainly isn't as tasty and complex as the Italian take on the style, or indeed Dark Star's excellent Victorian Ruby Mild (6%) which I had in Wetherspoons the other day, but as a snapshot of the kind of milds our fathers and grandfathers might have drunk in the middle of the last century, it's a classic example.

Wanting something more substantial to eat, I tried the intriguing 'Beef and Scrumpy' pastie from 'Proper Cornish Pasties' and, unlike most of the food and drink at the festival, it was, it has to be said, pretty awful.

Beef and Cider DOES NOT WORK. I've yet to try a single dish in which those flavours have successfully gone together. Beef and Ale, yes. Pork and Cider, yes. But beef just doesn't complement cider any more than it complements white wine.

So I left half my pasty, and though I quite felt like another beer or two, I decided to call it quits and pace myself, knowing that there is a whole week of drinking ahead of me.

That was last night, I'm now off to begin a second day of drinking. and realising that I didn't get around to trying a single American beer last night, I think I know which bar I'll be mostly hanging around today.

So, snipers, come to Earls Court and take your pop shots at me. Just wait until the end of the week so I can down a few more beers, OK? 

The Great British Beer Festival runs until Saturday

Where to find it...

Earls Court Exhibition Centre,