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!

Monday, May 6, 2013

You can't overdose on beef, right?

Another day, another great burger...

I'll resist the temptation to make a cheap bus-related pun, but having had my faith in burgers thoroughly restored by Lucky Chip, I've been on something of a beef spree lately.

Like all those dodgy beef products with traces of Horse DNA, I'd probably test positive for beef if I was minced up and flogged on the cannibal market.

But it's a testimony to the great choice of quality burger places we now have in London - something I'd personally longed for for a very, very long time. Probably since my first visit to the USA.

There's Haché, there's MEATliquor, there's Lucky Chip. And there's always somewhere new to get a credible beef fix. For all the horsey furore around bad beef, there's actually never been a better time to eat the good stuff.

Honest to Goodness

The Honest menu
Honest Burgers gained a strong reputation after setting up in Brixton last year, though the combination of tiny premises, limited opening hours, and a 'no bookings' policy meant that eating there (or, more typically, not being able to eat there) became a bit of a lottery.

Happily this isn't an issue if you turn up opportunistically at their new Soho branch in the middle of the afternoon having been to a meeting where you didn't fancy the sandwhiches.

Which is, fairly obviously, what happened to me the other day.

The menu - up on a large blackboard that you can't miss even from the street - is even more concise than Lucky Chip. You can have a plain burger with salad and onion relish, a choice of various cheeseburgers or the 'Honest' which has cheddar and bacon, plus a couple of seasonal specials. And that's pretty much it, unless you want the token chicken or veggie option.

You can't tell...
I went for one of the specials - a 'Double American', which comes with two patties, American cheese, mustard, burger sauce, pickles, onion and lettuce. The combination isn't a million miles away from the burger I had a few days earlier at Lucky Chip and does indeed deliver the taste of classic Americana in a steamed bun.

The guy asked if I wanted it cooked as standard 'medium rare with a bit of pink'. I said 'rare?' and he completed the bidding war by offering to do it blue, which, of course, I accepted.

And it was certainly blue! Fuck me, it was blue!

Bluer than watching a Blue Movie starring the Rabbi Lionel Blue and every member of Blue, while suffering from hypothermia.

Honesty is the best policy

In fact, if I'm really, ahem, honest, the beef was actually cooked just a tad too blue even for my liking, but that's not the fault of Honest Burgers. It's great that they offer the full spectrum of doneness. And I've long maintained that if beef is really good you can eat it raw and still enjoy the stuff.

...but it's seriously fucking blue!
With gherkins and raw onion on the plate, the middle of the burger was more like steak tartare than a burger, which is no bad thing. The quality of the beef was stunning. Could you eat a McDonald's burger raw? I shudder at the very thought. But this was great.

If I had this burger again - which I would in a heartbeat - I'd go for 'rare', just so it still felt  like a burger and did justice to the briochey bun and salty, sticky cheese, both of which were rather stunning. And I'm always a sucker for that gherkin-mustard-cheese combination with me beef.

The skin-on fries are super-crunchy without being too oily and come slightly seasoned - there are plenty of them in the portion that comes as standard with the burger and despite being hungry I couldn't quite finish them all off.

While Honest can't boast the frothing awesomeness of being in a pub that Lucky Chip currently benefits from, they've got a few well-chosen bottled beers on their drinks list. Simple enough, but a lot of burger places don't bother.

I went for a Redchurch IPA (7.4% and hoppy) which is exactly the sort of thing you should be drinking with an American-style burger.

A few years ago you wouldn't have found a decent proper American-style IPA brewed in London either.We're living in the best of times, folks, the very best of times.

Honest Soho is open 12-4 and 5:30-11 Monday to Thursday, with all day opening (from midday) Friday thru Sunday.

Burgers are in the £8-10 range for singles and £12-15 for doubles, including a portion of fries. Given the quality of the beef, I consider this pretty good value, especially for central London.

I'll definitely be back!

Back to Byron

The Byron appeared came on the scene a few years ago and undeniably raised the bar for burgers in London. I certainly sang their praises at the time.

Byron Roquefort burger
Things change, and I think we all know that they're no longer king of the beefcastle, but is this because their quality has slipped as they've expanded, or have they simply been overtaken by better, smaller competitors like Honest?

Not having been to a Byron for well over a year we decided to check out their Islington branch, located, helpfully, just around the corner from the Islington Craft Beer Company.

I tried their limited edition Roquefort burger, being a huge fan of the stuff, and as burger toppings go, a modest slathering of melty blue ewes' cheese and rather a lot of extremely crispy fried onions is a strong concept.

It is good, but the Byron beef doesn't make me go 'WOWFUCK!' any more and this is probably because the competition has re-raised the bar several notches while they rested on their laurels and focussed on expanding their empire.

Byron are now in the position GBK were in a few years ago and GBK are... well... probably where the Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood were when people first realised that having an American name and a bunch of flags hanging is no substitute for quality beef.

Not what it used to be - or is it?
The fries are still alright, if slightly oily. The big lettuce wedge salad with blue cheese dressing and bacon bits is very American Brewpub, and the lightly battered courgette fries are another aweome way to kid yourself that you're getting one of your five a day.

Ditto the onion rings. Another classic side and another thing that they do well.

And Byron's beer list has also developed nicely. Their house pale ale from the Camden Brewery is another good burger beer.

In a way everything is still sorta good at Byron, except that the beef doesn't thrill in the way it once did, and the beef, surely, should be the most important thing.

It's not bad by any means (apart from perhaps the honeycomb ice cream dessert which was just lazy and uninspiring like something you'd be served at a Harvester!) but these days Byron is definitely the upper end of mainstream rather than something special... and maybe it never was?

If I do overdose, you're far more likely to find me in Honest Burger lying in a pool of blood and beef!

Where to find it

Honest Burgers
4A Meard Street,

W1F 0EF (map


Byron Islington
341 Upper Street,
N1 0PB (map


Byron now have more than 30 locations across London and the South East

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