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, December 2, 2011

Strange Days

Well, it’s been a tough few weeks in the B-V household, one way or another - Family bereavements coupled with major shakeups at work immediately following the move to Holborn have made life feel a whole lot less stable and normal.

I can’t calculate which is lower – my level of job security or the number of relatives I have left. Both must be down to single digits by now.

Anyway, things haven't been easy, hence the lack of blogging recently, and in the kitchen this means I’ve retreated into my culinary comfort zone, rustling up old winter favourites like my famous Boston baked beans and a nice chilli, rather than trying to create new masterpieces. Which isn't to say that my beans and chilli aren't masterpieces in their own right, obviously.

And having said goodbye to Canary Wharf (and the sense of job security that seemed to go with it) I’ve been uncharacteristically slow to explore my new territory – possibly because it might not be mine to explore for very long!

OK, so my tongue has wandered a tad: There’s the Leather Lane burger van where the burgers taste strangely like kofte kebabs, a plethora of good pubs offering decent lunch menus (Venison and prune pie and Black Cab stout at the Melton Mowbray!), and a fair few independent sandwich and coffee shops, all of which are potentially good news for this blogpipe.

But despite my deliberately saying that I wouldn’t be buying all my lunches from the Sainsbury’s opposite the new office, I’ve been buying most of my lunches from the Sainsbury’s opposite the office. Ho hum.

Supermarket Sweep

It’s just been the sort of period where even the effort of thinking ‘what shall I try today?’ was often too much, and having lived and work in places dominated by Tescos for the last couple of years, it has to be said that Sainsbury’s £3 lunch deal absolutely pisses sloppy wet shit over Tesco’s £2.50 lunch deal.

For a start, you can choose any of their sandwiches (even premium ones like the BLT in a rustic torpedo, or the Ham hock and cheddar which cost more than three quid on their own) whereas at Tesco one is limited to a sandwich from the basic range. And Sainsbury's stuff is a notch up from Tesco's to begin with, frankly.

The crisp selection is about the same, but your drink options include proper fruit juices rather than manky concentrated versions, so for an extra 50p, you’re getting a way better experience than you would at Tesco.

I realise that this is bit mundane by my standards, but I'll assume forgiveness and try to do better in the future!

Ooh, colourful...
Curry and Fireworks

One rare moment of sanctuary in the last few weeks that I've been meaning to write about was our trip to the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden for Diwali.

I have to admit that I’d not properly been inside a Hindu temple since a disturbing experience as a young child, and things seem to have moved on since then.

I’m told it’s a bit different during the rest of the year, but Diwali here is run as an industro-commercial operation – much like almost every cathedral seems to be these days, with their donation boxes and gift shops and refectories.

The atmosphere in the surrounding area was very much like an evening football match - for London's Hindu population Diwali is still a very big deal, and it's hard to imagine anything remotely comparable in the Church of England!

You get to walk through the temple itself as if it’s a tourist attraction, but only a very few stopped to pray before the icons; the emphasis is not so much on anything obviously spiritual, but on the vast, crowded food tent and the equally massive firework display which was probably the most spectacular I’ve ever seen.

Back when I was a child, in those carefree days of long Summer holidays, actually liking cola cubes, and getting disturbed in Hindu temples, I loved fireworks and wanted to be a pyrotechnics designer when I grew up. 

Hungry Hungry Hindus
I still like fireworks, but not as much as I like food and so the real highlight for me was the veritable food festival, with stalls offering many and varied Indian delights - plus, slightly incongruously, pizza and chips, which seemed particularly popular!

The food was primarily from the Shayona restaurant and catering company which apparently is permanently based within the Temple complex. It's all vegetarian, but it's good.

The tent was jam-packed, and the lines for every stall were long and meandering, like an orgy of snakes. You'd join a queue with little idea of what you were going to get, and then eat it while standing in the next queue - but that was all part of the fun somehow.

We tried the Puna Kachori - little vegetable frittery things, all mixed up with vermicelli, yoghurt and tons of fresh coriander and chillis.

And then there was the Channa and Puri stall - at the end of the longest, twistiest snake of all in the nest of queues - but well worth it.

The only real disappointment was the Jalebi, which I've never liked. It's basically sticky and super-sweet deep fried radioactive batter. We took one bite each, then gave our portion to a guy near the front of the queue, saving him several days. He thought he was actually queuing for the Dabeli rather than the Jalebi, but it didn't matter.

As deep religious experiences go, it's unlikely Diwali in Neasden will satisfy too many people, as it must surely be too commercial for the truly devoted and too lightweight to convert outsiders, but if you like eating and watching firework displays and don't mind crowds, it's a blast!

1 comment:

  1. I once when to a 'Windu' Temple.

    It was very windy.


Comments are always welcomed and encouraged, especially interesting, thought-provoking contributions and outrageous suggestions.