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, 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...