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!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Back to my roots

It was three years ago that I first began to think about writing this blog.

I was eating my lunch in Singapore Sam, in the little food courty bit above the Tescos next to Canary Wharf DLR station. I think it was beef in black bean sauce. Maybe sweet and sour chicken.

Anyway, Singapore Sam (and indeed the little food courty bit above the Tescos next to Canary Wharf DLR station) has long since gone the way of all flesh... but the blog liveth on!

Back then, I had no idea I'd last for three years, or that I'd be awarding a Pub of the Year trophy, or that I'd find myself being recognised in restaurants from time to time. Indeed, I first conceived the blog as a modest guide to navigate a world of bustling anonymity.

It started out, in my mind, as a simple and fairly unambitious idea - go around reviewing all the places to eat lunch on the Wharf; Where to get the best sandwiches, the best coffee, why you should avoid Bene Bene because it's a pile of cheap shit and the sandwiches are slimy. That sort of thing.

Oh, and why Birley is one of the best things about Canary Wharf, obviously.

I hadn't come up with the masterstrokingly brilliant 'Ben Viveur' pun at that point, and was thinking of calling the blog 'The Wharf Foodie' or something equally mundane.

My strapline could've been 'Where the Financial Services Industry go to read about places they might like to get their lunch'.

Or maybe not.

Nelson - Man deli

Of course, life had other plans, as life so often does. I left the Wharf when my day job moved me to Holborn, and for more than a year now I've been based in Borough.

And in many ways, these changes of path have been a blessing of Brahman proportions in that Ben Viveur has became so much more than just a guide to lunch in soulless banker-ville.

Today's lunch!
Writing a varied, successful blog is better than writing a boring, repetitious one, that's for sure.

But people still have to eat lunch. I still have to eat lunch. And sometimes I still feel like  the sort of big, satisfying man-size sandwiches that I used to get from Birley's - who still dominate the Wharf but who have yet to expand much beyond it.

And when I feel like such a sandwich, I head - as people in Borough generally do - for Nelson's cafe. Been going there about once a week on average since last Summer, so I have.

I haven't reviewed it because this blog sorta moved beyond that sort of stuff, but today's Salt Beef melt was so tasty I came over all 'Back to Basics'.

And why not? Why the fuck not?

Not hard to find

Located just a few paces north of Borough tube station on the high street, Nelson's is open from the early morning through to the early evening, though the peak times are the coffee-and-a-pastry-for-breakfast/elevenses people, followed by the lunchtime sandwich trade.

Sometimes the queue goes out the door and into the street, which is a good sign.

Did Borough resident Bridget Jones ever come here, I wonder
It's an Italian, family-run joint that relies largely on word of mouth for trade and has built up legions of fans over the years.

From the front it looks like just another sandwich shop that hasn't been redecorated in many a year, but one look at the display counter inside tells you that it's a bit more special than that.

You can have a freshly made cold sandwich - BLT on brown, coronation chicken on foccacia with lettuce and cucumber, that sort of thing - but the real attraction at Nelson are the hot melts.

The salt beef is a classic example of the style. Thin slices of meat, gooey swiss cheese, slices of gherkin in all the right places and just the right amount of mild mustard.

All compressed into a flat ciabatta and grilled to perfection, it's a real treat and at about £4.50 a pop, their hot sandwiches really aren't bad value, given the quality. (Sometimes luncheon deals are on offer like any hot sandwich, a bag of crisps and a drink from the fridge for a special price).

I've also enjoyed their Italian salami melt, ham and cheese and various other combinations, all built to a winning formula. Meaty, cheesy, toasty with a bit of a kick. You can't go wrong.

Sweetness and light

Today's lunch - part II
They do some lovely pastries and cakes too. Today I tried a large, sticky florentine, filled with bits of candied cherry and angelica, balanced by the bitter dark chocolate.

And the custard tarts with their sweet, vanillary goo and flaky pastry are amongst the best I've tried - probably on a par with the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs.

Strangely, the machine coffee doesn't taste particularly Italian, though it is pretty good, with a nutty, ever so slightly savoury character that makes it more like something you'd find a in a Coffeeshop in New England.

It's another reason to go to Nelson's - large coffees for £1.80-£2 are quite reasonable and it's your best bet for a caffeine fix in the area.

There are other dimensions that I've not even begun to explore. Out the back is a sit-down cafe area where you can have pizza and pasta dishes. The only reason I haven't tried these yet is that I don't usually feel like sitting down and eating pizza or pasta until at least 10 at night, by which time the place has been shut for three hours!

In the Summer they have an ice cream / gelato cart outside. Being Italian, I'd expect that to be a bit bloody good too.

As I've discovered in the (almost) three years I've been writing this blog, life is but a flowing brook and moments of stability are fleeting, but while I'm in Borough, I'll keep coming to Nelson's because the hot melts are delicious, the coffee is decent, and the custard tarts can put a smile on anybody's face.

And when I do stop working in this part of town, I'll make sure I take some of them in for everybody in my final Stakeholder Board meeting!

Where to find it

Nelson's Cafe
168 Borough High Street,

SE1 1LB (map


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