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, April 12, 2012

Doing stuff in the wrong order

When I was a child, my primary hobby was probably collecting Star Wars figures. Han, Luke, Leia; Ree Yees, Bib Fortuna, The Gamorrean Guard. I had them all. Well, most of them.

The hunt to find them all excited me to such an extent that until relatively recently I still purchased vintage figures on Ebay in an attempt to complete my collection, and even now I occasionally have dreams that I’ve found a shop with a rare, new figure I haven’t seen before.

Yeah, I know. Victim of commercialism. At such a tender age. Tragic.

All my childhood hopes and dreams!
What is surprising though is that I was a bit of a late arrival on the scene, only having been born in 1977.

That was the year that the first of the three Star Wars films was released (there are only three Star Wars films and if you think otherwise you are a Stormtrooper's cock) and the first that I saw 
was actually the final part of the trilogy: Return of the Jedi.

This was 1983. In the Streatham Odeon back when it had three proper, big auditoria instead of 138 micro screens. Good times.

It opens with the resolution of a cliffhanger from Empire Strikes Back, but, being six, this didn’t bother me in the slightest. I got to see Ree Yees, Bib Fortuna and the Gamorrean Guard brought to life and so, to me, ROTJ was Star Wars, at least until we rented the first and second instalments from the video shop and I got to see the earlier portion of the trilogy.

I was also fascinated by the first series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus by virtue of not having seen it. When I was about eight they showed series 2 and 3 on TV and I was addicted. Utterly.

But in those days there was a very strange policy that the BBC could or would not repeat programmes more than three times, which is why the first series wasn’t shown in my lifetime until the rules were relaxed in the late 1980s, by which time I was 12 and Python was 20!

It’s hard to imagine this kind of reality these days, when channels like UK Gold and Dave show the same episodes of the same programmes ad infinitium, and you can watch them on Youtube whenever you feel like it.

I swear, every time I notice that an episode of Fawlty Towers is on, it’s always The Anniversary – Series 2, Episode 5 – which includes memorable appearances from the late Ken Campbell, and strident comic actress Pat Keen who used to live in the flat above me in Ipswich!

Why am I banging on about this shit?

Anyway, one thing I concluded from all this is that there isn’t necessarily any harm in ‘doing stuff in the wrong order’. Except when there is, obviously.

This lunchtime - following a pint or three in the consistently excellent Craft Beer Company - I finally made it to Daddy Donkey in Leather Lane. And given my enthusiasm for the Craft, I must have walked past the self-styled 'Kick Ass Mexican Grill' more times than I've seen Polly pretending to be Sybil Fawlty. Which, UK Gold and Dave, is a lot of times!

There are perhaps two reasons why the order of events could be said to be 'wrong' in this instance:

a) I’d already been a couple of times to their spin-off Burger van, ‘Boom’, which appeared on the scene far more recently and;
b) Daddy Donkey actually pre-empted all the other conveyer-belt Mexican food chains, like Tortilla, which I’ve previously favourably reviewed.

The twin towers of takeaway street
Boom Burger was never going to win any prizes in my search for the best burger in London.

It's fast and cheap (£4.95 for a burger with a couple of toppings and £6.50 for the deluxe version with fries and 'slaw - toppings extra) but the quality of beef just isn't up to the mark, and the char-grilled meat has a strange, burnt, shish-kebab-like flavour.

Whack that in a bog-standard toasted sesame bun and you've got a burger that tastes like it's come from a kebab shop late at night, and if you were in a kebab shop late at night you would, surely, have a kebab, no?

Also, food that might be acceptable late at night, when everywhere else is closed and you're staggering pissed, seldom hits the spot in the cold light of lunchtime, which is the only time that Boom is open.


But I can probably forgive Daddy Donkey his lacklustre beef offspring for the simple reason that the 'Kick Ass Mexican Grill' does indeed kick ass and I really wish I'd sampled it earlier.

The formula is the same as that which has been copied by Tortilla. You choose your meat and rice and veg and salsa and they wrap it up in a big, err, wrap, and you're tucking in within seconds. Simple.

Fresh, fresh, fresh
It's classic street food and fairly good value at £5.95 - certainly given the choice between a substandard burger and a good buritto at a similar price, I know which one I'd plump for, and that might explain why Daddy Donkey typically sports a lengthy queue, while Boom Burger can serve you straight away.

Sometimes when things are assembled 'fresh', the components taste anything but, having been lying around all day, but this isn't the case here. The charcoally flavour in the burgers is nowhere to be found, and the grilled beef here is lean, tender and nicely seasoned. 

It would be tasty enough on it's own, but it's even better with the accoutrements of sour cream and salsa - which comes at a temperature of your choosing, though even the 'medium' version is actually fairly hot. 

While the beef is probably best, you can also choose from pork or chicken, and the number of possible combinations available, depending on what exactly you want on it, is almost beyond calculation.

Beany Breakfast burritos are available from 7 to 11 AM, when the lunch service takes over. They pack up at 4 PM, sometimes earlier.

That'll do, Donkey, that'll do
For my money the quality of the food is superior to the Tortilla chain and the portion is a tad more generous. Then again, Boom burger is a one off, run by the same people, and yet it's notably inferior to chains like Byron and Haché, so there are no hard and fast rules.

I could admit now that 'Jedi' is actually my favourite Star Wars film, but then I'd probably get beaten up by somebody, or force-fed Boom Burgers or something...

Where to find it

Daddy Donkey
Leather Lane
Boom Burger
Leather Lane

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