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!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Possibly the greatest idea of all time

About 20 years ago, my Father was organising a Barn Dance. 

Tickets were to cost £5 or something and would include food, with beer available for £1 a pint (if memory serves, he was going to be ordering firkins of Ringwood Best). 

But there would also be a £10 ticket available which included, wait for it, unlimited beer. What a brilliant idea.

I can't remember if the Barn Dance ever took place or if I went to it, but the concept of 'pay once and drink all you can' so aroused my teenage pysche that I began to think the unthinkable... what if there were a beer festival where I could have unlimited beer?!?

Monday, March 26, 2012

In support of Shisha

Like a lot of people I’ve started taking ‘x is bad for you’ and ‘a increases your chances of developing b by c%’ stories with a dangerously generous pinch of salt.

I'm sceptical because if you do the maths and calculate the purported compound effects based on real life it soon becomes farcical, with scenarios giving you a greater than 100% chance of dying before the age you've already reached.

And that's because even if the conclusions are technically correct, they’re only correct within an isolated study and reflect averages rather than realistic expectation. Like how nobody has exactly 2.4 children, I guess.

But the media loves this shit, and the latest doomsdayish revelation is that smoking a shisha pipe is the equivalent of 100 cigarettes, apparently.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The cachet of Haché

Trying to find really good burgers in London like those you get in the States has been a quest of mine for a good while now, albeit one I haven’t been pursuing as vigorously as I perhaps might've.

The other night I found myself in Camden again, with half a mind to return to Brewdog to see if they were at least doing real burgers, having abandoned real beer.

But that research project will have to wait for another day: Wetherspoons met my beer needs with beers from their Spring beerfest available a couple of days ahead of schedule, and just around the corner from the Ice Wharf is the original branch of upmarket burger chain Haché, which had been on my ‘would like to try sometime’ list for a while.

Not your typical burger bar
Now with outlets in Clapham and Chelsea, they’re pitching to the high end of the market and the low-key décor feels more like an intimate French bistro than the sort of New-Worldly brashness you get at a Byron Burger or GBK.

But I prefer to let the burger do the talking, and have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised here. It might not feel like you’re in America but it certainly tasted like it!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Is there anything left for me to eat?!?

So, Lent lasted approximately two weeks this year, as opposed to the more traditional 40 days and nights.

I started eating chocolate again, and that was that. Been eating quite a bit over the last few days too - since my monthly Hotel Chocolat Tasting Club selection arrived in the post.

Mind you, they are amongst the best chocolates money – lots of money! – can buy. My willpower and resolve are no match for the cocoa masterpieces crafted by the likes of Kiri Kalenko and Eric Desmet. I broke my Lenten fast with a rum glorious truffle-gianduja hybrid combination. It was worth it. Our Lord would probably have done the same.

Now, I know it’s probably not the best food choice for a newly-diagnosed diabetic and being a food blogger, there’s little point trying to hide things from the various doctors, nurses and dieticians who try telling me what I should and shouldn’t be eating.

I joked with an unsympathetic nurse the other day, ‘I don’t need to keep a food diary - just go and read Ben Viveur’. Well, I say ‘joked’…

The problem is that once you factor in all my ailments, the ‘eat’ list seems to be almost empty, while the ‘don’t eat’ list would fill ten trolleys and scoop the grand prize on Supermarket Sweep.

It’s an absolute minefield of contraindication upon contraindication. Probably with some co-morbidity if we’re doing medical-speak.

See, if I just suffered from, say, gout with no diabetes or high blood pressure or arrhythmia, it would be simple enough – though probably annoying at times – to try and stick to a low purine diet. And if it was just my BP that needed to be kept in check, there would be obvious rules to observe there too.

But having several interrelated conditions – and, not to ignore the big fat elephant in the room – being a bit of a, err, big fat elephant in room, makes it tough to know what I really should be eating. If anything.

And I don’t think my diet was really all that unhealthy to start off with – I avoid processed, instant and junk foods and always get plenty of fresh vegetables into my cooking. People don't think it to look at me, but I know for a fact my diet is healthier than that of people I know who are about half my weight and my cholesterol level is actually relatively low for a fatso.

Atkins is dead

A widely-held view these days is eating lots of carbohydratesisn’t brilliant unless you’re a pro athlete or some kind of narcissistic gym tosser. Or possibly a recovering anorexic. Carbs raise blood sugar levels and turn to fat in the body which isn’t something most people want to happen.

This is particularly true for diabetics – apparently a baked potato is the single worst thing to eat, worse even than pure sugar, because it turns quickly into glucose and opens a veritable sweetshop in your veins within seconds.

Carbohydrates are absorbed less quickly, however, and are therefore less likely to spike you’re blood sugar if they are eaten with fat, making chocolate and croissants seem like a healthier alternative, in a way. And a pain au chocolat would be even better, presumably...

I've never completely accepted the scientific classification of carbs anyway. I can just about buy the idea that chips, rice, bread and pasta are all the same type of food, but never that beer and chocolate are also both members of the family.

But, if we accept that having too much is bad, and lots of mine are going to come from beer, the alternative is eating a higher proportion of protein… only eating lots of protein is said to be bad for gout. Too much meat, seafood or mushrooms can trigger an attack – though I’ve never particularly noticed a correlation between my diet and the throbbing bastard pain that occasionally immobilises my joints. 

Mind you, I didn’t have any symptoms of diabetes either, even when stuffing my face with potatoes.

Fresh fruit, traditionally promoted as ‘healthy’, is very high in natural sugar which is bad from a diabetic perspective. Bananas are the most carby fruit of all, making them particularly bad, except that they also happen to be the best foodstuff for potassium, of which I’m trying to eat more because that can have a positive effect on the irregular heartbeat… What to do, what to do?

I’ve been told to avoid caffeine, because it could make my irregular heartbeat even less regular or something, but there are theories that caffeine stimulates the metabolism and promotes activity, which leads to weight loss, which is meant to be good for your heart.

Super? Yes! Food? Yes! Superfood?
So is oily fish, apparently, only that’s very bad for uric acid levels, which causes gout. And the oiliest fish, the anchovy, is also the saltiest and high sodium is bad for my blood pressure. We’ve come full circle.

Acai berries or pigskin?

A theory doing the rounds in the last year or two is that pork scratchings are some kind of superfood. No, really. Pretty much zero carbohydrate, and most of the fat – of which there is undeniably rather a lot in your average pigskin – is the ‘good’ type of fat rather than the bad, saturated kind.

But scratchings, delicious as they are, are also very high in salt, and the only time I’d want to eat them is while drinking lots of beer, something else I should probably cut down on.

Pound-for-pound they’re also somewhat calorific, which means I won’t lose weight, and being overweight makes me more likely to suffer from things like, ooh, I don’t know, diabetes, gout, high blood pressure… Full circle agian.

So, I’ve concluded that almost all foods are bad for something and good for something else, which will probably pretty much even itself out, so I’m tempted to carry on more or less as before but without any 'good for nothing' foods, if indeed there are any.

*Waves to the doctors, nurses and dieticians reading*

Not that I was really eating 'good for nothing' foods in large quantities anyway. As least not since I was a teenager. Oh welly-woo...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

B-V on (whistle-stop) Tour

Question: How many of you have eaten or drank in four different countries in the same day? Possibly not many.

I have, obviously, or I wouldn't be asking. I don’t think I’d managed more than two in a day until last week, and certainly didn’t intend to achieve this unlikely feat. It just sorta happened.

And here’s how:

With a few days to kill and an impulsive desire to visit a part of the world I hadn’t hitherto seen, I booked us a last-minute trip to the Cote d’Azur. Just one night, but two long days – plenty of time to explore the region and enjoy some top-notch food.