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, 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!