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!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The delights of Leather Lane

Some people give up stuff for Lent. Alcohol… meat… wanking… whatever.

My Lenten fasting tactics usually involving giving up something but relapsing half-way through, thus showing myself to be a man of admirable intention but with no pretensions to divinity. To try nobly and fail with serenity is the human condition after all.

Either that or I’ll wait until Passiontide or thereabouts, figure out something I just happen to have failed to consume during Lent, and retrospectively decide to give that up, with the finishing line only being a matter of days away.

And that’s not cheating, it’s just being clever.

Anyway, it’s Advent, not Lent, but the wife and I have a little pact that during this year’s Advent season we shall eat no chocolate at all – apart from one chocolate per day from our chocolate Advent Calendars (which start on December 1 rather than Advent Sunday but then I suppose that would be too much to ask in today’s broken world…)

We're both partial to chocolatey goodness, especially after meals, so it’s been a bit of a challenge and we’re only a week in. Also I can use the fact that I did this as my fast for Lent 2012!

Yes. Yes, I can. Don't think I won't.

Why Starbucks and Costa can fuck right off

This morning I went to the excellent Department of Coffee and Social Affairs in Leather Lane market for the first time and was sorely tempted to accompany my double espresso with chocolate cake or one of the very fresh-looking pains au chocolat.

But I resisted, and made do with a mini custard tart instead, which fortunately just happened to be the best custard tart I’ve ever tasted; sweet and vanillary, with flakey homemade pastry.

The double espresso was strong and intense, with a good, thick crema. My only criticism is they don't seem to do pint-size Americanos for when I feel like a longer hot drink.

Worth the wait...
It’s a proper indie coffee shop, of the kind that exists in Leather Lane or somewhere like Brighton or Cambridge, but which you’d probably never find in Canary Wharf.

Coffee and a cake (sitting in) will set you back somewhere between £2.50 and £4 which isn’t terrible, and it’s a refreshing change from Starbucks. The cheesy filled croissants also looked delightful and they do sandwiches at lunchtime and a range of teas for the afternoon.

I shall be hosting meetings there again.

Good things happen in twos

And that's not all...

Just yards across the street from the DCSA is the ‘Lamb and Haloumi’ street food stand – another brilliant discovery since coming to Holborn.

If you watch from the window while drinking your coffee and eating your custard tart you can observe as they start cooking late in the morning, frying up minced lamb, peppers and onions on a huge stove, ready for a lunchtime service which lasts until they run out of food. And they usually do, because this place is extremely popular. Queues extending round the back past the dodgy DVD stall.

The menu is simple. You can have a wrap with Lamb (£4), a wrap with Haloumi (£4), or the obvious choice - a wrap with Lamb and Haloumi (£5). That’s it.

And it’s gorgeous. The meat is spicy and lemony and full of fresh coriander and onion. It comes with a lovely herby salad, yoghurt, hummus and slices of freshly toasted haloumi cheese. Mmm.

One drawback is that the simple paper and napkin they give you is inadequate, for such messy food and you'll need to be very careful to avoid lamb juice and yoghurt seeping out onto your fingers or shirt.

They offer a sprinkling of dried chilli as an optional extra, but to be honest there’s enough flavour already and no extra heat is required.

I'm sure it's frightfully far from the done thing, but if you wanted you could immediately follow your lunch with afternoon tea and cake at the DCSA. In fact, I think I'll try that some time when I have a long lunch break.

And don't forget that the Craft Beer Company is about two minutes further up the lane and rapidly becoming one of my favourite pubs. I have to admit that a pint of Thornbridge Pollards (a coffee stout) went down very nicely immediately before the lamb and haloumi.

I might not be in this part of London forever, but while I'm here it's nice to know that there are places around to which I can take an instant dislike.

No, wait, not dislike. Like. A lot.

In The Lane...

14-16 Leather Lane,


Lamb and Haloumi
Leather Lane, opposite DCSA,

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