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!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent Adjuncts and Minimalist Meals

It's one of the world's great culinary ironies that spices harvested in the hottest countries find their starring role during Winter months on the opposite side of the world. Indeed, it wouldn't feel like Christmas in England without the products of Sri-Lankan and Madagascan Summers.

I have a slightly dichotomic view of cinnamon, nutmeg and their spicy, Wintery bedfellows - I suppose I quite like the novelty value afforded in small doses but probably wouldn't want them in my food all year round.

As an example, this time last year I cooked a festive beef stew (essentially 'mulled beef'), which was interesting and very seasonal, but I haven't been tempted to make it since.

And at this time of year a hot steaming glass of mulled wine full of cloves and fruit is just the ticket, but by January I suspect I shall probably not want any more. (Indeed a couple of Januarys ago I concocted mulled white wine as an alternative).

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The German Invasion

Well, baste my roasting fowl, Christmas - yes, Christmas! - is just two weeks - yes, two weeks! - away.

What the festive fuck?!?

I suppose that means I'd better start thinking about presents and merrymaking and food and drink'n'shit.

Now, for reasons outlined earlier in the year, I'm not particularly looking forward to the Yuletide season. It's going to be a bit strange and different and not especially welcome. 'Twould be nice to put Christmas off until June or something, like they do in Australia.

But, nevertheless, it doth cometh apace, and so I'd better put on my best brave face.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Feeding Tube

Maybe one of the reasons I've been so slack at this blogposting lark lately is that I have an imperial tonne of interests besides food and drink.

Folk music, for example. And philosophy. And cartography and comedy and travel and psephology and poker and football and building my own computers.

Oh, and railway systems. Particularly the London Underground. When I was 13 I visited every station in one day in an attempt to get into the Guinness Book of Records, don't you know.

Planning my route took a fair bit of poring over the iconic diagrammatic map, and since my childhood it's been one of my single favourite visual things.

As colleagues of mine well know, sometimes in meetings I doodle incessantly. And quite often I'm doodling railway maps, with ticks for stations and circles for interchanges. I don't even know I'm doing it half the time!

There have been a raft of 'alternative' tube maps over the last few years, some interesting, some stupid, and some that would make Harry Beck turn in his grave. At a perfect 45 degree angle.

But back on the subject of food, I'm rather tickled by this recent effort from the Cheese and Biscuits blog - a tube map that purportedly shows the best places to eat in London. Well, in Zones 1 and 2 anyway.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Battle of the blands

In the 1936 German parlimentary 'election', the National Socialist German Workers Party polled 98.8%.

A similarly skewfucked democracy was evident across the internet this week as over 98% of the views on the US Presidential election were pro-Obama (or anti-Romney). That's quite a staggering statistic and the deep, institutionalised conformity saddens me a little.

Admittedly this is based on my own Facebook friends and Twitter feeds, but you'd think that there might be a little more balance, wouldn't you? Especially given that I'm not instinctively sympathetic to the Democratic Party.

The actual result was - as I predicted - a routine Obama win with only a couple of States changing colour but some of the shit people were coming out with was quite baffling.

'If you don't vote for Obama you shouldn't be allowed to vote!11one1'

'Don't let that dangerous nutter get his finger on the nuclear button!11republicanseatbabies11'...

'Well done America, you made the right decision!11fourmoreyears1'... 

And so on.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Spoonsfest hit for six!

I was expecting to spend this evening travelling around London pubs, often walking in and then coming straight out again in a state of increasing exasperation.

Instead I've been able to stay in and relax while listening to coverage of Coventry's victory over Crawley Town, and I'll probably tune in to the US Election Coverage in a minute (prediction: as I've been saying for many months now, an uneventful Obama win with the GOP only gaining one or two states they didn't win in 2008).

The reason I've been able to take things easy is mainly thanks to Tim Martin and his pubs not being frustrating for once.

I criticised Mr. Wetherspoon the other day for the quality of his burgers - quite rightly, because they are substandard shite - but probably the best thing about our glorious nation's favourite pub chain is the bi-annual 'beer festivals'.

For a couple of weeks every Spring and Autumn, beer tickers of the UK play 'Spoons Bingo' and try to get through the 50 different beers available, some of which are always very elusive, and some of which appear all the time, all over the place. Believe me, you grow to despise some of these beers...

But this year, something very special happened, for last night, I scooped the last six beers I required in a single evening!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Second chance saloons

I like to think of myself as a fair and reasonable man, and not the sort of person to deny folks a second chance. Sometimes even a third chance.

Hell, sometimes I'm so soft I give fourth, fifth and sixth chances to shit that I ought to have emotionally written off years ago.

I'm probably the only person who still harbours hope that Sir Jimmy might actually be innocent and it's all been a terrible mistake.

And I might even go and see the new Bond film, even though the last one, Quantity of Suckedcocks, or whatever it was called, was a tragic waste of celluloid and there hasn't been a proper James Bond since Roger Moore.

'Go on Ben, give it another go', my persistent inner voice will say, 'everyone deserves a second chance, right?'

And so, in that spirit of generosity I decided to try eating a Wetherspoons burger the other day.

I hadn't had one for ages because they're so fucking awful and I'm terribly fussy about my burgers, but it had been over two years since I described them (in the very first BV post, in fact) as 'tasteless, gristly and lipid-lumped', so maybe things had improved.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

10 things you may not have known about Switzerland and York

I know, I know. I’ve not done a whole lot of blogging lately. Been out and about you see. Riding panthers, slaying  dragonflies, tormenting chickens, that sort of thing.

Actually that’s all a shower of vicious lies, apart from that last one, but last week we were in fact in York, watching the mighty Sky Blues winning 4-0, and the week before we took a little trip to Switzerland (no, not to the Dignitas clinic – things aren’t that bad!)

I’d never been to either Switzerland or York before and there was plenty to do and see and eat and drink. But given that I’m lacking the time and inclination to carefully sculpt vast blogs about either of these places, I’ll just shower you with a dixtet of factoids:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Save the CBT!

Like the Renegade Master, I'm back once again - this time from a short trip to Switzerland (and, briefly, Liechtenstein).

I ate some interesting things there, but my review thereof will have to wait for another day as there are markedly more important matters to deal with closer to home.

Like saving the Catford Bridge Tavern.

I'm sorry, Heidi Country, your sausage platters, Röschti and Raclette will all have to wait for another day.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Meat Market

One of the perks of working close to Borough Market is that there's no shortage of options when the clock turns lunchtime.

So many eateries, so little time, and fasting two days a week as part of my diet means that it will take me a while to try everywhere - but given my penchant for the market, I was familiar with a fair few places in the area anyway.

I already knew, for example, about the good value lunches at the recently-reopened Brew Wharf, and the stunning Spanish street food at Cafe Brood. And, frankly, an unmanageably huge number of other brilliant places.

What I can't get my head around though is what will happen once the Shard is fully open for business and full of office workers (plus a few residents and hotel guests). How many pubs and restaurants and food stalls will the area need to cope with that lot once they move in?!? 

Who wants pork? Get your hot pork here! £6.50 to you, guv
I guess they'll have to build another, even taller Shard next door to accomodate their eating and drinking requirements...

Talking of big, impressive things, everybody knows that I'm a bit of a sucker for a large hot meat sandwich for my lunch, but it has to be said that I've yet to find somewhere that does this anywhere near as consistently well as Birley Salt Beef in Canary Wharf.
There are a couple of contenders in Borough Market which needed checking out, even if it's hard to stand out with so much competition going on in the area.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Goats Cheese and Cherry Salad - the cure for gout?

It's probably a bit early for an update on how my new diet is going, but the good news is that I'm not finding the fast days too much of a struggle and, dare I say it, I quite like the feeling of getting really hungry and eagerly looking forward to the binge days.

Alright, the non-fasting days.

I never knew this combination worked either
Mrs B-V is now on board as well, and between us we're going to lose over 1000 lbs by the end of the month. Maybe.

Anyway, while the 5:2 diet might - if wild, unproven theories are to be believed - reverse my diabetes, I've not yet read any whimsical speculation that it can do the same for gout.

There is, however, plenty of  'evidence' that cherries are a miracle cure for 'the disease of kings', and that's a good enough excuse for me to come up with a simple cherry-centric recipe.

Dairy products are generally considered to be good for gout too, so the recipe more or less writes itself.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Fast track

It's day 2 of my 5:2 diet today.

Or maybe it's day 4?

Technically, I could argue that it might be day 7.

Confused? Good. But I know perfectly well what the fuck I'm talking about, which makes me feel superior, and being on a diet is all about feelings of superiority, obviously.

Yes, I've succumbed to the latest fad diet doing the rounds. I know - who'd have thought it? But I'm fully bandwagoned-up and ready to go.

Big news, no?

Monday, September 3, 2012

The mystery of the missing cheese

Of all the myriad, diverse parts of London, Hackney is one of the few areas that I really don't know very well.

It's partly because it's somewhat hard to get to, despite being relatively close to the centre, but also because I've never given it much of a chance, dismissing it in my mind as a pointless inner-city shithole swarming with assorted chavs, cunts and Labour voters.

Possibly a tad harsh, I know, but life's too short to be completely unprejudiced!

I am, however, open to evidence that changes my mind. In the last couple of years, the London Borough of Hackney has gained something like five new microbreweries which is rather astonishing.

And I've known for a while that the area also has it's fair share of Turkish restaurants, some of which are pretty good - I went to one somewhere near Dalston a few years ago where the pitta bread was toasted directly below the grill where they barbecued the kebabs, allowing it to absorb the meaty juices. Yum yum, and no namby-pamby warning signs for vegetarians.

(I've no idea where exactly this place is, and I'll probably never know, given that I was taken there on a date by a Turkish girl who I never saw again!)  

Anyway, this weekend we took our niece out for her birthday and she chose a Turkish restaurant in Hackney. Tad, on Mare Street to be precise.

I'm a big fan of this type of grilled, meaty food, and it afforded me the opportunity to check out the Howling Hops brewery's beer at the Cock Tavern beforehand, so it seemed an admirable choice...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Back in the Kitchen

It's been absolutely ages since I posted a recipe, hasn't it?

NOT MY FAULT, mind. In the last few weeks I've lost a job and started a new one, and lost a grandmother - and you don't get new ones.

As a result, I've not been spending as much time in the kitchen as I normally do (which, I'm sure is a mighty relief to the kitchen which has pretty much been my submissive foodbitch since we moved in).

It really is a simple dish
Also, this little blogette has been dominated by my search for the London Pub of the Year, but now that the award has been won, I think we can vary things a tad. After all, some crazy people aren't actually interested in reading about pubs and beer!

Whilst I was musing poetically on the origins of the Cobb salad, I promised I'd share my 'thrown together from whatever happened to be in the fridge' for Salami & Aubergine Tagliatelle, and given that I finally got around to cooking it again this week, it's a promise on which I can actually make good.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

BV London Pub of the Year - the results

It's time to whip out my trusty old bugle and start practising fanfares in earnest.

Yep, the moment has come when I reveal the winner of the first ever Ben Viveur London Pub of the Year competition. I'm sure everyone involved is quite literally tumescent with excitement.

What I find rather fascinating is that just two years ago, I hadn't been to a single one of these pubs. Indeed most of them didn't exist in their current guises. Even six months ago I hadn't visited three of them. The London beer scene is improving with an almost frightening rapidity!

There are, of course, some very good pubs that haven't made the top five and which won't be in the 2012-13 competition next Summer, but this is the business end of things and we're only interested in the very, very best now.

Friday, August 17, 2012

BV London Pub of the Year - part six

And so, the BV London Pub of the Year 2011-12 competition hurtles towards the finishing line like an inebriated Mo Farah.

For this, the final batch of shortlistees, we're heading to the deep South... of London.

Before I come on to the pubs, I'd just like to say that I completely and utterly regret the decision to put 16 pubs on what is supposed to be a 'short' list, which has made for bloody hard work. I'm a fucking idiot, especially given that some of the 16 haven't even been that good.

It has, however, clarified my thinking as far as next year's competition goes.

Next Summer, the 2012-13 BV Pub of the Year shortlist will be limited to 10 pubs - this years top five, plus five new entries, nominated by readers over the next few months, or CAMRA award winners or whatever. Maybe even just pubs I happen to like a lot.

Hopefully then the competition can continue in this format for years and years and years until, well, either I die or I get bored of blogging.

It does mean that there will be 11 pubs who are guaranteed not to be in the hat next year though, so the pressure is on...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

BV London Pub of the Year - part five

When I visited last year's Great British Beer festival I gave it eight stars out of nine, which is about as high a rating as I ever give anything (on the basis that a maximum score signifies absolute perfection and there's always room for improvement).

Having enjoyed a couple of sessions at GBBF 2012 this past week, I've started to wonder if this is a little unfair of me.

Back at Olympia after several years at Earls Court (which was full of Olympic handballers or something), the GBBF layout felt a bit alien to me, and it seemed noticably smaller. What's more, none of the 15 beers I sampled were truly great - the relative highlights being Chiltern 'Wheelpower', a good session bitter, and Fuller's 'Brewers Reserve No. 4' - 8.5% Barley Wine aged in Armangnac casks.

Oh, and Des Geants 'Ducassis' - an eminantly quaffable Belgian blackcurrent beer, in my view all the better for not being pumped full of co2. The ever-increasing number of foreign beers available in cask form at the GBBF is hugely, hugely encouraging, even if, ironically, the people who live in the country of origin often don't get to try them.

GBBF 2012
So, it wasn't quite as good as last year, but I'd still probably have to give it eight stars, and if this is worth eight, why wasn't last years worth nine? (Which of course, it wasn't, because it could always have been improved by being even bigger, having a lower entry fee, cheaper beer, more seating and so on...)

But what if I surrender this idea that 9=perfection to the gods of Fallible Logic and apply some other criteria?

What if the GBBF were a pub, open all year round? How would it fare in my search to find the best pub in London?

Monday, August 6, 2012

The unanswered question

Re-reading that article I wrote for a doomed airline, and indeed my first ever foodie blog post reveals a theme. A theme about which I've been jabbering on for many years.

I love pubs and I love burgers.

Or, rather, I love good pubs and I love good burgers.

But there is one question to which I've never really found the answer: Why can't pubs do decent burgers?

Maybe the question is actually why don't pubs do decent burgers, but the underlying point remains.

It should be simple. They should be able to do it. The fact that they can't or don't bothers me. A lot.

See, in the good ol' US of A, any reasonable pub or bar - not even especially good ones - will probably serve you a perfectly good burger and fries for just a few bucks.

Here you can get such a burger in a few dedicated specialist burger restaurants and pop-ups. Byron,  Haché, and the MeatLiquor/wagon/easy chain. And there are several others on my 'to-do' list with burgertastic reputations.

But in our pubs the quality of burgers is pretty lamentable.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Could this have been my big break?

It's been a surreal few days, what with losing my Grandma, and then starting a new job today - the day after leaving the previous one! And going back for a meeting at the place I just left on my first day!

Our family seem to have suffered rather a lot of bereavements over the past year, and coupled with the stresses of job insecurity for much of that time, it's been a bit of a rough ride. But, hey, I can cope with pretty much anything, me.

Anyway, in preparation for leaving my old job I had to allocate several hours to 'digital tidy-up', sorting out anything I wanted to copy off my work laptop before I had to give it back.

For some, this task is inconvenient and tiresome, but I actually find it quite cathartic, not just because of the whole 'putting stuff in order' therapy, but also because I'm constantly finding little bits and bobs that I forgot about. Humourous jpgs, revealing and salacious emails, 'To Do' lists of stuff that never got done, that sort of thing.

All flights grounded...
The exercise also turned up a little gem about which I'd completely forgotten - a copy of a foodie article I'd written for Maxjet's in-flight magazine in 2007, just weeks, or possibly even days before they went bust.

The funny thing is, I actually got paid for the piece, but was never sent a proof (or indeed a final copy) and to this date I've no idea if this issue of the magazine ever made it onto a flight. I suspect it didn't.

I'd rather have not had the money but got the article into the skies though - and if Maxjet had survived, there would have been a series of these fuckers, which might possibly have propelled me to minor stardom, but alas this was not to be.

And so, I've reprinted the article below in all it's glory - hopefully not violating copyright legislation in the process - for all to see.

I've not edited it, and there are some concessions to contractual obligation in the copy, but overall I think it's a decent piece and one that Maxjet passengers would have enjoyed, if only they'd ever got to read it...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The reason I've never cooked a Christmas Dinner

My earliest memory is of December 3, 1979.

I was only about two-and-a-half, but can distinctly remember waking up in the morning and realising that my Mummy wasn't there. Instead, I awoke to Grandma gently explaining that Mummy and Daddy had gone to the hospital, and that I had a new baby brother.

Then came the long walk with Grandma down Longley Road to St George's Hospital to see Mummy and the tiny new family member. That was over 32 years ago.

Yesterday lunchtime I went to that very same hospital - where Grandma had just passed away, aged 83.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

BV London Pub of the Year - part four

There has been plenty of interest in my search to find the best pub in London, so I shall push the fuck on with the latest installment.

This trio of contenders are all in the heart of the capital, and we kick off with a real belter that took me by surprise. And I'm not easily surprised - except when I am, obviously.

Could there even be an unexpected victor lurking on the mean streets of the West End?

Friday, July 20, 2012

BV London Pub of the Year - part three

OK, so with a week to go, this Olympics shit is starting to annoy me just a little now.

It's not just the overcrowding (which is going to get a hell of a lot worse with every passing day) or the nonsensical changes to bus routes and train timetables, but the fact that most of us Londoners who will have to contend with weeks of hell haven't even managed to get decent tickets ourselves thanks to a ridulous ticketing system.

Having spent hours selecting stuff and submitting forms on their website at various times over the past year, I've ended up with the brilliant footballing spectable that is Gabon vs North Korea at Wembley, and one session of Paralympics athletics. Pfft.

And then there's the beer. Or, rather, there's the lack of beer. That's making me angry too.

The corporate sponsorship monster has decreed that our national drink, real ale, will not be served at any of the Olympic venues because the only food and drink that may be consumed must come from one of the tiny number of grotesquely massive corporations that have paid megabucks for 'exclusivity', namely Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Heinekin. Fuck that.

So London 2012 will be as lacking in London beer as it will be lacking in Londoners. It could have been a great platform to showcase some of the many excellent breweries that have sprung up throughout the capital in recent years, but, no, everybody will have to drink fizzy Dutch lager instead. For shame, you cunts, for shame!

Furthermore, despite being several miles away from the games, Brew Wharf is going to be closed for many months with the site given over to some sundry Olympian purpose. Will it reopen, and if it does, will it ever be the same again?

I've no idea, but it's yet another Olympics-related thing that's pissing me off, and while I'm sure the owners have been handsomely paid off, the uncertainty means that they miss out on a BV Pub of the year nomination. Hah, take that!

It's a shame because they do excellent food and agreeably hoppy beers, but an award from us will have to wait.

There are, however, two other pubs in the Borough Market area on the shortlist, and indeed one that is very close to the Olympic Park. How will they fare against the other contenders? Let's find the fuck out...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Krishna versus Krishna

A few weeks ago, when talking about a few of my favourite restaurants, I mentioned in passing that Tooting was pretty much the place in London to go for authentic South Indian food. No, you wouldn't have gleaned that impression from watching Citizen Smith, but it's true nonetheless.

And having dangled that carrot bhaji in front of your noses for a while, it's probably about time I backed up this assertion with a couple of reviews; As it happens I've eaten in a couple of the area's South Indian restaurants recently with a view to comparing the twain, so here goes!

Beware of the Goddess
If you're not used to South Indian food, it can come as quite a surprise, being substantially different from the more common Tandoori cuisine, which is of North Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin.

And indeed British.

See, pretty much all 'foreign' food in this country has inevitably been Anglicised over the past few decades. However, I suspect that most of the stuff on the menus of the Vijaya Krishna and Radha Krishna Bhavan in Tooting has a more credible ethnic provenance than, say, the Chicken Tikka Masalas and King Prawn Baltis you'll find in your average Tandoori house.

One thing you'll notice is that there are relatively few meat and chicken dishes on the menu, and plenty of fish and vegetarian options, as is typical of the diet in Goa and Kerala. And while the majority of North Indian restaurants seem to be Muslim-owned and run, both these places have a distinctly Hindu flavour, specifically a dedication to Krishna (though the Radha Krishna Bhavan actually has a huge statue of the Goddess Kali in the corner, watching over all who eat there!)

But this head-to-head contest is strictly Krishna vs Krishna with no interference from other God(ess)s permitted, and there can, of course, be only one winner...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cobb Salad - a lesson in history and irony

Neccessity, so it's oft said, is the mother of invention.

It's certainly the father of improvisation, the great-uncle of creativity, and perhaps a distant second-cousin of genius.

Everybody who likes to cook will be instantly familiar with the following scenario:

It's late, you're hungry, you've had too many takeaways lately, and you feel like cooking something. But all the shops are closed, so you have to throw something together based on the ingredients you happen to have in the house...

So, what do you end up eating? Fuck knows. It's different every time. Sausage omelette. Herring on toast. Quince and Clam pie. Sometimes it's bad, sometimes it's good. Sometimes it's actually so unbelievably good that you turn it into a proper recipe and make it again and again and again for the remainder of your days.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

BV London Pub of the Year - part two

Visiting lots of pubs and drinking pint after pint of beer can be gruelling work.

Why, oh why did I ever come up with the idea of the Ben Viveur London Pub of the Year? I must have been mad. Or just very, very thirsty.

Oh well, mustn't grumble. Here's the first batch of contenders (apart from the Craft Beer Company, which started this whole silly business, obviously)...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

BV London Pub of the Year - part one

Around this time last year I was lamenting my employers decision to move from Canary Wharf to Holborn Circus. 'I'll miss all the places I go to eat on the Wharf', I cried, 'Whatever will become of me?!?'

As it happens, I needn’t have worried. In fact, I feel pretty stupid for having worried about it. I’ve spent the best part of a year enjoying the foodie and drinkie delights of this area, which are, on balance, a considerable upgrade from the utilitarian manufacturedness of the Wharf.  

But it's all change once again.

I start a new job next month, and will be working in Borough (which itself isn’t a bad thing, given the riches of the Borough market area) but I must admit that I’ve grown to really appreciate Leather Lane, and will miss being able to come here every lunchtime.

See, the Lane is full of quirky food stalls and takeaways, many of which I’ve still not got around to sampling. The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs is just about the finest coffee shop in the world, the battered sausage and chips from ‘Traditional Plaice’ is probably the heartiest lunch £3 can buy, and then there’s the Craft Beer Company...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Broody Spaniards

So it was all too easy in the end.

Anyone expecting a closely-fought Euro 2012 final was disappointed as Spain romped to another Championship in record-breaking fashion. (Oh, and anybody Italian. They were probably disappointed too, obviously).

Pavement cafes: not just for the French!
If you're gripped by Espanomania, you could do a lot worse than head to Borough market where Cafe Brood turns a little corner of the thoroughfare into a veritiable Paella fiesta that's sure to sate your hunger for all things Spanish.

I can bang on for days about why I love the market and it's pubs and restaurants, but it really does seem like the one place in London where you really can enjoy any food or drink you'd ever want. Albeit sometimes at a price.

For the full, elongated Spanish Tapas experience, there's the classy (and fairly pricey) Brindisa restaurant on the corner of Southwark street, but this is quite simply street food at it's best. A less-sung hero, like Iker Casillas, that is quietly but widely acknowledged as being damn good at what they do.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Live and let Liver!

There are plenty of outraged chefs and gourmands in California right now.

If you happen to be in Hollywood or San Francisco and feel like a spot of foie gras tonight, you’re in for bitter disappointment: As of couple of days ago, it’s been banned throughout the state.

(Although this is America, the land of prohibition and prohibition-evasion, so you’ll probably be able to find some somewhere. If you look around hard enough. But you’d be breaking the law.)

I'm so strong I can stop you eating Foie Gras! Nyaah!
California is a big place – if it were a country in its own right, it would be one of the most populous and prosperous in the world – and that’s what makes this newsworthy, I guess.

The ban was actually made law way back in 2004 (well done, Arnie. You really showed your Libertarian credentials there…) and reportedly came about following sustained lobbying by controversial Animal Welfare group PETA – who, as radical vegans are highly unlikely to have ever tasted foie gras.

Ah, I think we’ve found the elephant in the dining room.

Surely there’s something not quite right when people who have never eaten the stuff get to be instrumental in banning it?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Gnocchi Bravas - your Final meal

So, it's Spain vs Italy in tonight's Euro 2012 final, and so I'd better deliver on my recent promise to devise a recipe based on the respective cuisines of these nations.

Food of champions!
Both countries are centres of foodie excellence in their own ways, and there were lots of combinations that would have worked, some more obvious than others.

But in the end, I avoided the obvious pizza- and paella-based hybrids and decided to do something based on one of my favourite tapas dishes - Patatas Bravas.

Instead of the usual mini roast potatoes, I brought in the Italian connection by using gnocchi, and then added meaty representatives from both nations by topping it with seared chorizo and some Parma ham.

Eagle-eyed followers will realise that this preperation of the gnocchi also appears in my recipe for Gnocchi-stuffed peppers - and I shan't apologise for that as it's a great way to cook the stuff!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Montaguan Bicenquinquagenary

As many people predicted, England’s strategy of playing for penalties coupled with being quite bad at taking penalties means that we’ll have to wait a while longer for national sporting pride to be restored.

Maybe we'll do better in the Tennis? Or maybe we won't. Andy Murray's first round match at Wimbledon is a ridiculously tough one against Davydenko, and if he gets through that, the giant Croat Ivo Karlovic will likely await him in the second round. Two very strong opponents who in previous Championships would have been amongst the seeds.

So prepare for the crushing disappointment of an early Murray exit. Our best hope of getting a player into the second week might be Laura Robson who won the Jailbait singles a few years ago.

Murray's not even English, anyway.

But one thing we true Englishmen, women and children can – nay, must - celebrate this year is the 250th anniversary of our people inventing the sandwich. Go England! Go John Montagu! Hereditary Peerage is the mother of invention!

I've blogged about sandwiches before, of course, as like many people I often eat them for my lunch, but now there's a (relatively) new sandwich shop in town: 

The Earl of Sandwich on Ludgate Hill looks very nice on the outside, with a fairly classy branding that emphasises the heritage and history of stuffing bread with tasty fillings.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The official meal of Euro 2012?

The thing about Euro 2012 - and indeed many other major sporting events - is that you get used to having at least one match to watch every day.

Today is the first day with no game since the tournament started, and I feel at a bit of a loss, even though it's only one day without football and the Quarter-Finals begin tomorrow.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Restaurant staff to be given their cards

We've been upping the proverbial ante here at B-V HQ lately.

Not content with being my little Sous-Chef, Mrs B-V has added online marketing to her role profile and has been actively promoting my little blogette on Facebook and Twitter.

Consequently, recognition has been increasing: I took my father to Troy Barbecue for his birthday at the weekend, and was greeted with something vaguely approaching VIP treatment. Well - the waiters  knew who I was, and commented that they'd read my recent glowing review and were big fans of the blog.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Duke of Pork (and Beef)

I've been having a tough time lately - mostly work-related stuff, though there is an end in sight, but also my ongoing health issues - and so I frequently need cheering up.

Fortunately I'm quite easy to cheer up. Good food. Good beer. Indulgent treats. (Although these probably don't do anything for the health issues, admittedly - the doctors in their infinite medical wisdom have decided now that my calcium channels need blocking, as well as my ACEs inhibiting!)

So the other night we opted for one such indulgent treat. Several pints of excellent beer (including Arbor 'Goo Goo G'Joob' at a hefty 11%) and a few bags of Pitta Chips at the Craft Beer Company, and then on to Duke's Brew & Que.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Spaghetti Bolognese is boring.

It's the most boring type of pasta, coupled with the most boring type of pasta sauce. 

Boring, boring, boring. Fuck off.

Actually, don't. Because I've been having a lot of thoughts on this subject lately. Sort of.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Pitta Patter

I suppose I must have been about nine or ten when I was first introduced to the concept of the ‘acquired taste’.

It was breakfast time. I was staying with my paternal grandmother (‘Other Grandma’) down in Milford-on-Sea during the Summer holidays, and I was tentatively toying with the idea of trying some marmalade on my toast, which is what Other Grandma and Grandad Bob did.

Maybe they’d run out of the peanut butter they got in especially for me. I can’t remember. It was over 9000 breakfasts ago.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Thirsty Work

Banging on about it makes me sound like a grumpy old man, but the truth is that ever since I was a small child, I've generally disliked crowds.

As I've mentioned in the past, give me somewhere half-empty with plenty of space to move about any time, over heaving masses of sweaty bodies any day.

Honestly, I could be watching Cov City winning the Champions League Final amongst a crowd of 95,000, and still not really get this idea of 'atmosphere' that others seem to relish. Unlikely as this prospect is, I reckon I'd still be getting all annoyed at the restrictions on my personal space when I should be celebrating...

Anyway, I'll stop ranting.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Pasty Times

The humble, put-upon pasty has been in the news rather a lot lately and it's almost putting me off eating the damn things. It's second only to fucking Leveson now, and has been rambling on for weeks.

Whereas once, picking up a hot 'tradtional' or 'steak and stilton' at a railway station was just something you did because you were hungry, cold and a long way from home, these days it's more or less a political act.

Mind, in my view, it's definitely the petty, sniping media who are pretty much entirely to blame for this situation rather than those who make the pasties (or indeed those who pass the laws affecting those who make the pasties).

There's no such thing as the 'pasty tax'. Not really.

Anybody smart enough not be duped by media-created memes knows that it's simply a convenient (and salacious) narrative to rouse the rabble.

Unfortunately, but predictably, a significant proportion of people have played their part bang on cue, and seem to genuinely believe that there was actually a special new tax introduced on pasties (probably the same people who believe there is a 'granny tax' specifically introduced to take money from little old ladies purses). Sigh.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Unchained eateries - a treble-mega review

One of my faithful readers - as opposed to an unfaithful one, presumably - recently noted that I’ve been reviewing a fair few chain restaurants lately.

While she didn’t quite stray into ‘criticise the critic’ territory, I detected a hint of ‘you can do better and I’m ever-so-slightly disappointed’ in her general tone, as if she thought somebody as interesting and eccentric as I should be looking beyond the boring, everyday chains.

In my defence, there is a method to the blandness, if you will: I aim for most of my reviews to be relevant to a pretty wide audience, and a broader range of readers will be able to experience Café Rouge or Haché by simply locating their nearest branch, rather than having to trek somewhere a long way away.

But I do take the point that independent restaurants are generally – though not always – superior, and so today I give you three of my favourite independent, one-of-a-kind restaurants. My 'chain reaction', as it were.

(OK, I'll stop making the sort of bad pun that has to be followed by 'if you will' or 'as it were' now. I can't believe I did it in consecutive paragraphs. What the fuck was I thinking?)

You might have to travel further to check them out, but these are places worth going out of your way for. Even if that means going to Tooting.

I’m talking Curry. I’m talking Pizza. And I’m talking Kebabs. Three of the major food groups.

And if you happen to live locally to one of these undiscovered gems, you're in for a big fat bastard of a treat. I guarantee it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The B-V popularity contest

If I gave you three guesses as to what the most read post has been, since I started this little bloglet 18 months or so ago, you'd almost certainly fail.

Perhaps one of my insightful reviews of a top eatery such as Gaucho, or maybe a bold, experimental recipe like the Full English Breakfast Linguine?

Nope. Not even close.

So, what can people actually be arsed to read around here? How about the recent Cattle of Waterloo? Surely that deserves immeasurable popularity just for having such a brilliant title?

Apparently not. I hope you like surprises.

The winners

In fact, the most popular post according to Google Analytics (who, like the man in the pub, are never wrong about these things) consisted of a bit of faux-reactionary right-wing ranting and an indifferent review of a tiny, obscure hummus and falafel stand in Canary Wharf which might not even be there any more.

Organic Chickpeas. What. The. Fuck?

They'll be as surprised as I am!
Are you all fucking sandal-wearing hippies?

What's more, it's over 50% ahead of it's nearest rival. Astonishing.

While I had no idea that organic chickpeas were the single most important thing in the world to my readers, the second place is rather less surprising though.

My open letter to James Watt built on a piece I'd written in the London Drinker magazine, and given that Brewdog have been in the news an awful lot over the last couple of years, it's not that unlikely to imagine people stumbling upon my views thereon.

Indeed, I've blogged on subsequent occasions about them as my relationship with the company deteriorated before your very eyes, and that unrequited letter, written over a year ago, now seems eerily prophetic.

And bad news for drinkers is clearly something we're all interested in, as the third most-read article was last week's report on the tragic closure of St Jude's, proving that news does indeed travel fast in the Blogosphere. It's still gaining on the top two, not that this will bring any comfort to Frank or any of his ex-customers.

But a thrashing for Gaucho and the breakfast linguine, nonetheless, both of which are nowhere near the top three.

The losers

So, which posts have been read the least? What have you bastards been callously eschewing in favour of watching paint dry, or the One Show?

Well, there's this year's Shrove Tuesday blog about pancakes. Obviously nobody gives a fuck about them these days.

And my review of the food at last year's Lambeth Country Show which, ironically, featured chickpea dishes that were a lot tastier than the falafel and hummus from that wretchedly noteworthy place. Surely that deserved better?

But the least-read post of all was what I hope is actually a rather intelligent and considered opinion piece questioning why the government lowered duty on beers below 2.8% ABV when there were hardly any such beers available.

Obviously if the Organic Chickpeas stall did a low-alcohol Hummus Ale, people would be clamouring for a piece of that blog action like flies unto a turd...

None of this really means very much, of course, and all the posts that I've mentioned today will now benefit from the trackback links and will disproportionately gain, so we'll see Organic Chickpeas extend its lead and the bottom-feeders edge up slightly to be replaced by some other post that no cunt can be bothered to read.

Meanwhile, I'll send the falafel hippies a telegram of congratulation. On ethically-sourced recycled paper, obviously. Smug wankers.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Maple Shortbread Sandwich - the feelgood dessert

Following a busy Saturday of drinking and bidding a fond farewell to the St Jude's Brewery Tavern in Ipswich I felt I was due a nice restful Sunday.

While I was glad I made it there for the final night (the last of the beer, Blackfriars Yarmouth Bitter ran out at about 10 PM), my heart was heavy with sadness on the long train journey back to South London.

Big Frank's embittered goodbye speech at St Jude's
I'm certainly less enthused than I was about the prospect of starting my own brewery and pub than I was a few days ago. Seems like no matter how good your pub is, the bank can, as Frank eloquently puts it, 'fuck you over without warning' at any time.


And so, to the kitchen for some theraputic baking, which isn't something we do all that often, but it's a rewarding activity when we do. An indulgent dessert might cheer us up, mightn't it?

This is a simple but very tasty recipe. The secret is to use good quality butter (Beurre d'Isigny or something from the Channel Islands is usually ideal) and a proper maple syrup rather than a 'maple-flavoured' version made from carob or high-fructose corn syrup or some other crap.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Adieu, St Jude

I'm aware that I've blogged rather a lot about pubs and beer lately, and deviated a bit from my original intention to mix things up by alternately interspersing recipes and restaurant reviews'n'shit here and there, so as to ensure a constant stream of variety.

Well - sadly for those strange folks who aren't at all interested in beer - this is going to be yet another beery one because I heard some rather sad news last night.

The patron saint of lost caus
The St Jude's Brewery Tavern in Ipswich is closing. This Sunday.

And it's one of the best pubs you'll ever find.

It was the undoubted highlight of my last visit to Ipswich just over a year ago - shortly after the place opened - and I feel a bit like I've just lost a relative who I didn't visit as often as I perhaps should've.

A little bit of background: I lived on the west side of Ipswich for many years and moved away in 2009, before the tavern opened. But I was there when St Jude's started brewing, in tiny, quirky, backstreet premises and I got to know the owner/brewer/visionary Frank fairly well. And his appalling jokes. And his excellent beer.

Ironically I first met him in another truly great former pub on the west side of Ipswich - the Rose and Crown - to which he supplied beers like John Orford's Strong Chocolate Malt and St. Mary's Stout. He invited me round to see his brewery the following day and plied me with free beer. That's Frank. Always generous. Always cracking bad jokes.

The closure of the Rose and Crown felt like losing a limb, and the loss of St Jude's will hurt too, even though I don't live locally and thus haven't been able to make it my local. God knows what the regulars must be going through right now. It's ironic that Jude is the patron saint of lost causes.

Located just around the corner from where I once lived, I'd probably never have left the place had it opened while I was still there.

Although in a converted photographer's studio, it's styled after the taverns of old London town.

Wall of beer!
The philosphy is simple: a vast 'wall of beer' on gravity and kitch, gothic decor that makes the place feel like a ghost train or haunted fun house for adults. The staff all know their stuff and there are no handpumps and no keg beer at all.

There is plenty of space for some cracking guest ales in addition to regular beers from the St Jude's brewery and the pub is as friendly as it is quirky. Paradise.

So sad it ends

Unfortunately Frank is now suffering from health problems and the opening of a second St Jude's pub in Felixtowe didn't go as planned, closing just a couple of months after opening, adding financial problems to his health concerns.

Gloriously, Tastelessly Gothic!
The way I see it, Frank got pretty much everything right, which makes it all the more heartbreaking that somehow things haven't worked out. He certainly doesn't deserve this.

Despite being a justified success in it's own right, fate has conspired against the St Jude's brewery tavern, but it's got to be worth one last visit.

I've rearranged my weekend plans to make the trip up to Ipswich for a few beers, and to toast Frank and his wife Colleen who made this dream happen, if only for a short while. 

I might even offer up a prayer to St Jude.

If you're anywhere near the Ipswich area this weekend, I'd strongly recommend doing the same.

There might never be another pub like this! 

NOTE: photos here have been taken from the St Judes Brewery Tavern Facebook group.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Czech this out

The Tweetosphere can be a great thing

OK, so 99.9% of it consists of boring people telling the world stuff that they either know already or don't want to know, but occasionally it throws up nuggets of usefulness.

Earlier today the White Horse in Parson's Green (aka the Sloaney Pony) tweeted that this evening they would be featuring something very rare indeed, and a few hours later I was there, drinking the stuff.

It interested me as a beer ticker looking for rare scoops, but this wasn't just any old one-off, special beer. It was an unfiltered, unpasteurised cask version of Pilsner Urquell

While the vast majority of output from the Czech brewery for decades has been fizzy keg beer, at which I'd turn up my nose, I applaud them for at least making gentle movements in this direction. Let's not forget that they are a part of the International SABMiller group, which has hitherto done fuck-all for real beer. It's a bold step.

A bitter Pils to swallow...
About eight people in 'Pilsner Urquell' shirts turned up to set up the promotional stand and tap the cask with considerable fanfare. Perhaps overkill for what was essentially just a pint of lager, but it's a significant pint of lager nonetheless. Indeed a pint of lager capable of winning arguments and potentially turning the beer scene on it's head.

Nicely but not brain-freezingly chilled, naturally carbonated, and with that slightly spicy, bready character that Czech lagers often have, it was undoubtedly superior to the same beer from bottle, can or keg, which begs the question: why isn't real Continental lager more widely produced, either here or anywhere else on the planet? It's bloody good stuff.

Get Real!

I actually purchased a half of keg Pilsner Urquell just so I could compare the two side by side, and there was no contest. The cask version was fresher, hoppier, and just, well, infinitely superior in every way. I'm not known for being a huge fan of Czech lager, but I'd happily drink this all night. With a curry it would be quite magnificent.

Indeed, the experience assured me that I'm right in my point of view, and that the arrogant approach of 'craft' brewers like Brewdog and Camden Town who dropped cask beer altogether in favour of keg is so absolutely wrong-headed and misguided that there can be no excuses. No defence. No justification.

Surely they have to admit that they're not doing it because keg beer tastes better, but because it's easier to produce and manage and more profitable - the exact same reasons all the big breweries tried to eradicate real ale in the 1970s. The same big breweries that Brewdog love to criticise.

I've always argued that any beer of any style will taste better in cask form, and that all beer was 'real' before they started pasteurising and artifically carbonating in the middle of the last century.

Some folks - like beer writer Tim Webb in his rebuttal to a piece I wrote for London Drinker - take an opposing view, but I'd desperately urge anyone who thinks that cask isn't always best to try the beer I had tonight. Sample it side by side with the keg version as I did. I challenge you.

Here in Britain we were lucky enough to have CAMRA to stand up for, and preserve traditional conditioning and dispense. Just because other countries weren't so fortunate doesn't mean they shouldn't revive the old ways though, and people who claim otherwise are missing a trick.

It would also allow marketing departments to stop misleading the public so brazenly. Kronenbourg might actually resemble the way it really was back in 1664 if they did it in cask to an original recipe, rather than the result of a reboot 300 years later when keg dispense came along.

I'm a long-time CAMRA member, but one of my biggest criticisms of the organisation is the hypocrisy at our beer festivals where foreign keg beers are regularly featured. 

There are some who would like us to move further in that direction and who would have CAMRA condone or even promote British keg beers. 

And to these people I say: Fuck Off.

Fuck Off and start a new organisation if that's how you feel.

The whole purpose of CAMRA was to save cask beer from an encroaching tide of inferior keg. Without that focus, it's a subjective beast at best.

I've long acknowledged that, yes, a good beer in keg form is better than a bad beer in real form, and it doesn't matter one jot for the purposes of this argument. The point is that the same beer is always at it's best when in good condition from the cask.

I've tried Pilsner Urquell the way it would have been decades ago and it's better than the way it's usually served now. The fact that it's lager from the Czech Republic is irrelevant. The great truth is no less true than if we were talking about mild from Manchester or IPA from Aberdeenshire or anything else.

Meanwhile, I got the impression that quite a few casks have come over from Pilsen and the promotions team will be going around several pubs, so take the opportunity to try it if you possibly can.

It might be the best pint of lager you ever drink.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Ravensbourne Blandburger

I quite like Antic pubs.

From humble beginnings a few years ago they’ve slowly and quietly encroached on the South London drinking scene, with little fanfare, and have done so by being decent little individual pubs rather than a uniform chain.

They are probably a reminder of what Wetherspoons must have been like during their early years (not so much in their style and ethos, but in the fact that they have a style and ethos, if that makes sense).

In their dimly-lit, cluttery homeliness, Antic pubs are home to vast quantities of second-hand furniture, with old lampshades that look like the ones we had when I was a kid, and comfy, tatty sofas whose cushions once accomodated the tired arses of people now long-dead.

OK, so they’re completely different from Spoons. They have music playing, they don't have a chain newsletter or limited beer list, and they’re bringing bar billiards and jug glasses back into the mainstream.

Plus they always seem to take over existing pubs, whereas Wetherspoons like their shop-, bank- and church-conversions.

But there's a drive to turn each and every pub they own into something better - and they've taken over some right shitholes, like the Royal Albert in New Cross which is fast becoming my local (despite being a long walk away).

While the beaming, avuncular presence of Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin is decidedly visible at all times, Antic head honcho Anthony Thomas prefers to keep a low profile – at least for now - and uses Social Media effectively to build a loyal fan base without 'over-branding'. It's as though every one of his pubs is an individual child of his, free to develop in it's own way and largely do its own thing. And nobody has any idea what his views on the EU might be!

'The Antic Collective', as they call themselves, have brought decent beer back to pubs that had lost their way under previous management, and it’s usually interesting beer too. Some of their pubs might only have three or four real ales on but it’s an ever-changing range, and it’s far better for a pub to have four beers that change every couple of days than ten beers which remain the same ad infinitum, no?

A proper pub indeed!
I’ve also been impressed with their approach to food, having enjoyed a duck egg Welsh rarebit and some fried pigs cheeks in the Royal Albert in New Cross recently.

The menu changes every day and is concise but varied, with about 10 different dishes available, and the quality has always been good with everything seemingly cooked fresh, to order.

So, when we popped into the Ravensbourne Arms in Ladywell the other day for a lunchtime pint of Saltaire Rye Pale and a game of table football (in which I defeated Mrs B-V 11-2) I was intrigued by the Aberdeen Angus Burger on that day's menu.

I'd spent the morning having strange, diagnostic things done to my eyes at the hospital and my vision was a bit blurry, but I can see the word 'burger' from miles away, and my eyesight didn't stop me reading the menu any more than it stopped me winning at table football. Nah nah, na-nah nah!

Beef me up, Scottie

It's eight quid, or nine with the additions of Stilton and bacon which I went for, and for that you get a huge plate of food - more than I could comfortably manage at lunchtime.

There was a veritable mountain of chunky, skin-on wedge-chips which were excellent and nicely seasoned with just the right balance between softness and crunch. These went very well with the pot of house mayo, which has a hint of chilli and garlic.

Also eminantly eatable were the onion rings (although there were only two of these, on the plate - one medium and one large). The batter was thick and unctious, with a flavour of it's own and reminded me of the king prawn/chicken/pork balls you get from Chinese takeaways.

There was also a nicely dressed salad, which I like to have with a burger as it refreshes the palate between big gobs of dripping, cheesy meat.

So far, so calorifically good. But what about the actual burger?

Well, I'm sorry to report that it was the most disappointing thing on the plate. By far.

Actually, I'm not sorry to report this. That's why I spend literally minutes writing this blog, after all!

The patty was big and thick, and cooked medium-ish, with some pinkness and juice. It certainly looked alright on the plate (to my blurry eyes) but where was the flavour?

Appearances can be deceptive...
Seriously, it was blander than watching My Family, with the sound turned down whilst listening to Daniel O'Donnell. While heavily sedated.

Whereas high-end burgers these days often use flavoursome forerib and rump meat, this was definitely assembled from lesser cuts, with too much fat and gristle and an almost absolute lack of beefiness.

Oh dear

I suspect that decades of marketing wank has led consumers to believe that 'Aberdeen Angus' somehow always indicates the highest quality, when in reality it's just a breed of cow. And while I understand why they might do it, people who put the menus together really ought to know better. For fucks sake, guys, please just stop trying to exploit this misleading stereotype, and it might go away in a few years.

Before I get complaints from the Aberdeen Angus marketing board, yes, meat from Angus cattle can be very good indeed, but I'd rather eat the tastiest bits of another breed than the blandest Aberdeenshire has to offer, thank you.

The bun was of the everyday sesame variety, perhaps a little over-toasted, and did nothing to de-blandify the affair.

Worse still, the single rasher of back bacon and tiny quantity of Stilton inside also added remarkably little in the way of taste. It's like they took the least smokey bacon and the mildest Stilton they could find to top off their insipid burger, which is a great shame because the onion rings and chips were excellent.

OK, so compared to a burger at a Wetherspoons pub, or a fast food chain it's a modest improvement, mainly due to the other stuff on the plate, but in 2012 when London diners are used to the standards set by Byron, Haché and MeatLiquor, pub kitchens should at least be raising their game in the burger department.

They could start by researching where the superior burger vendors source their meat and buns and follow suit - if it costs a bit more, then charge us a bit more. Please!

I like Antic pubs for lots of reasons, and maybe one day I'll give the burger a go in another of their pubs, in case this was a one-off.

It reminded me of my experience a few weeks ago at the Cask Pub & Kitchen. Decent pub does decent food, but when it comes to the burger the clock strikes disappointment.

Where to find it

Ravensbourne Arms
323 Lewisham High Street

SE13 6NR (map) 

But, for the burger:

Antic pubs offer a changing daily menu and have pubs across London (though concentrated in the SE area)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wort Experience Boy

I've been thinking lately - semi-seriously, which is often as serious as my thinking gets – about a radical change of career direction.


Yep, full time drinker. Saw it in the Guardian jobs pages today. £120k plus car plus performance-related per-pint bonus.

That job doesn’t actually exist, mind, and even beer tasting and writing for a living is perhaps an unrealistic aim at the moment, much as I’d love to believe otherwise.

But what about starting up my own micro or brewpub?

It’s a growing market (even within a wider brewing industry in overall decline) and saturation doesn’t appear to have been an issue for all the new craft brewers that have popped up in the last few years, so it might be a good time to get into the microbrewing scene.

The trouble is, I’ve almost no experience, and that which I do have is worthless. I’ve only once attempted a home brew, about 15 years ago, and it was spectacularly unsuccessful. Sorcerer was intended to be a session bitter at around 3.8% and I decided to dry hop it because, well, almost all beers in that style are better dry-hopped in my view.

With my shiny new equipment that my father got me for my birthday that year, the brewing seemed to go well, but for whatever reason, it came out very thin and overly astringent. I’ve no idea what the final strength was (almost certainly sub-2%) but it was almost impossible to drink because of the intensity of the raw, unbalanced hoppiness.

Perhaps more telling is that, following this failure, I had little drive or desire to repeat the experience or try to improve upon it. I also lack an appetite for manual work and long, antisocial hours, so I might have my work cut out trying to make it as a brewer, given my general reluctance to brew and eagerness to quit.

So I, to coin a phrase, 'sux major donkee dix!1' when it comes to brewing, but I'm actually a pretty good digital producer. Seems like a strong argument for sticking with my current career, and keeping my relationship with beer in the 'drinking it and occasionally writing about it' zone, no? 

But… what if I were to collaborate with somebody with a skillset complementary to mine? Somebody to do all the stuff I don’t want to do!

OK, that sounds selfish, I know, but they wouldn’t be doing all the work for none of the credit. No, really. Hear me out, guys.

See, I’m highly creative with several years experience in design and marketing, and I have a fairly broad knowledge of beer styles from all over the world, as well as experience drinking in, and writing about, pubs and bars of all descriptions. And I’m not completely clueless when it comes to general business skills either. 

And, whatever I think of them right now, Brewdog have proved, by expanding faster than probably any brewery, that these kinds of marketing and design-y things aren’t completely worthless and superficial in the beer industry.

Help Wanted

If I was writing the spec for my dream new job at a dream new brewery it would say ‘Creative Director’ at the top. The creativity is the important thing for me (though like all creative people I live in the bottom-quaking fear that one day somebody will confront me with irrefutable proof that I've never actually had an original idea).

Maybe one day...
I’d design the beers (and the marketing collateral, pump-clips, website etc.) and lead the overall business strategy. 30% more Citra hops for the Yorks and Humber region; Change the logo to include an actual Ocelot; Quintuple Stout for Russian Independence Day! Let’s kick some brewing ass to fuck!

And if we were an American-style brewpub with a full menu, I’d take responsibility for the food as well – joining up the food, the ale and the overall ethos into a holistic, singular experience. OK, I’m starting to talk toss now, but you get the idea. I’d be good at this stuff. 

If I were recruiting for this role, I’d hire myself, and I have little doubt that with the ideal business partner, we could come up with some of the greatest beers in the world and, crucially, make a success of the venture.

But, back on earth, before any of this shit can possibly happen, I’ll need to find the Yin to my Yang; The Science to my Art; The Head Brewer to my Creative Director. 

So, if there’s anybody out there with commercial brewing experience, the requisite technical knowledge to bring ideas to life, and a vague itch to get involved in something like this but perhaps without wanting to go it alone, please feel free to drop me a message. Maybe we can meet for a pint to discuss the possible venture? 

Maybe it will go somewhere, maybe it won’t. Maybe I’m a pipedreamer rather than a visionary. Maybe we’ll just drink a load of somebody else’s beer and talk about the injustice of Coventry City getting relegated? 

Or maybe we'll bring untold joy to thousands of thirsty people? That's got to be worth a shot, right?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cattle of Waterloo - Browns vs Rouge

What do you lie awake at night wondering about?

(If indeed, you lie awake at night wondering about anything at all, obviously)

Perhaps you're a City tosser worrying that the FTSE is losing billions of pence at the expense of the Franc, whatever that means?

Perhaps you wonder whatever happened to Ringos crisps or the original entrance to the Louvre?

Or maybe you're just extremely curious about which mid-high-level 'smart-cas' chain restaurant does the best steaks: Is it the classic quintessentially English Browns or the cheeky French pretender Café Rouge?

I rather hope it's the latter, actually, because I've been doing a little research in this area by eating steaks at both places in the last week.