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!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Overcooked, Overpriced and overspiced

Since it opened a few months ago I have enjoyed drinking at the Craft Beer Company - and working just down the road from it makes it very convenient indeed.

But I hadn't, until yesterday, visited the sister pub - which actually came first, and by a couple of years at that.

Quite why I never made it to the Cask Pub and Kitchen until now is a bit of a mystery. In Pimlico, not far from Victoria station, it's not exactly remote. I guess it was just one of those 'keep meaning to do sometime' things that just never seemed to happen - like writing my screenplay about the time-travelling bicycle or finishing that song I started in 1999. 

It's famous not only for a big range of ales but also it's burger-oriented food menu, so it should have been an early stop on my quest to find the finest burger in London - if I'd actually stuck to that quest with any serious intent.

The time is now

Anyway, yesterday I finally made it. And maybe my delay in going there was borne out of some kind of sixth sense.

I won't beat around the bush: The beer choice is about half that of the craft beer company, and the burgers are disappointing and, well, just a bit weird.

10 handpumps is good, and the four ales I tried were all in near-flawless condition - but then they have beers from the same brewers at the Craft (only about 20 of them) and that's more convenient to get to. The only trump card the Cask can realistically play is the Ace of Burgers, and they fail horribly.

£11-12 can get you a good burger in London these days. In the Cask it gets you a thick, half-pounder, but one so horribly overcooked there's not a trace of pink (and nobody asks you how you'd like it cooked - a deeply worrying sign in itself).

Looks better than it tastes...
The meat should do the talking, but the Cask's patties are so over-seasoned (I detected a lot of pepper and, bizarrely, cumin) that it could easily have been fashioned from a portion of chilli.

They actually do a chilli burger, but this was meant to be Stilton and bacon, both of which came in barely perceptable quantities and were outmuscled by the burger - surely a world's first.

(It certainly wasn't like Buster's Burger Van in mid-Naughties Ipswich, where the Stilton burger memorably came with a thick wedge, freshly cut from the truckle!)

It was hard to ascertain the quality of the meat, but let's just say that if it were Aberdeen Angus hung for six weeks, you'd think they wouldn't be prone to disguising it thus!

Strangely the bun, so often the weak link in the, err, burger chain, was actually pretty good - a toasted sesame brioche - and the chunky chips were reasonable, though few in number.

The meal is completed with a tiny pot of sweet barbecue sauce, some extremely salty, stale-tasting coleslaw that completely misses the point, and a couple of perfectly acceptable onion rings.

Food is available until 9:30 PM which is still quite good by pub standards in this country, but I really wouldn't recommend eating here.

They do Coan's Black Country pork scratchings which are among the tastiest, so you'd be better off snacking on these while you drink, and then moving on elsewhere to eat.

The beers change constantly, and they tend to focus on a couple of breweries at any given time. Last night there were several beers from Mallinsons (West Yorks) and Dark Star (West Sussex).

The pick of the bunch was Mallinson's Kiwi Classic, a light bitter with floral hop character. The Acorn Gorlovka Imperial Russian Stout (6%) was hard work but rewarding and had an uncompromising roastiness about it.

I was hoping to try Dark Star's new Black Coffee Pilsner, but it was just running out as we arrived. Ho hum.

Then again, I was hoping to try a really good burger too...

Where to find it...
Cask Pub & Kitchen
6 Charlwood Street,
SW1V 6EE (map)
(The stars are mostly for the beer!)

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