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, November 30, 2013

Hello, Goodbye?

All good things come to an end, and having been granted several stays of execution, the BV London Pub of the Year - the awesome Catford Bridge Tavern - finally closed its doors for the last time on Sunday night.

We laughed. We cried. We reminisced about old times. We looked to the future. We told old war stories and sang sad songs of lost loves and drowned kittens and the guy who got a death row pardon two minutes too late. Actually, some of that is just lies and Alanis Morrisette. Disregard.

A seamless transition from old to new
But, impressively, they were able to keep going for several weeks longer than expected after the pub was sold from underneath their feet. And this was no sad shell of its former self, staggering on waiting to die either: Whereas some pubs would be running down their stocks and taking it easy in this situation, the CBT continued to put on tasty new beers right up until the final hours.

The last pint I had in the place was perfectly alright, but the penultimate one... Oh Boy!

You know I'm a sucker for big, hoppy, American-style IPAs, and Wild Beer 'Fresh #1' (5.5%) will go down as one of most fantastic beers I've ever had the pleasure of drinking. Pale, refreshing and bursting with juicy, citrussy hops, it's every bit as good as the very best IPAs from the USA. And, as I've come to expect from the CBT, in absolutely flawless condition.

Perhaps even more impressively (OK, not to me - the beer is the most impressive thing to me! - but maybe to others?) the team were up and running in the CBT's replacement pub just four days later. Four fucking days, dude.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

MSG, Marinara and the magical fish

Way back in the long-long agos, when I were a wee sapling child and Feargal Sharkey was just launching his solo career, there was quite a lot of tooing and froing in the media about Monosodium Glutamate. MSG. Angel Dust.

These days it's all about Aspartame and how it makes Diet Coke actually more fattening than drinking melted butter because scientists on the internet proved it or something, but back in the late 1970s and early 80s the controversial food additive was MSG.

Worse than Heroin and Thalidomide, MSG was going to give us all cancer and turn us into Communists by the year 2000.

Thank fuck it's not around any more.

Although, in reality, it is. Probably more than ever, in fact. They just stopped calling it MSG and people stopped caring so much. People can be like that at times.

If you look closely at the ingredients, you can see that it turns up in loads of packaged savoury foods, from cheese and onion crisps to chicken wings to pizza to ready-made Marinara sauce. It's just called E621, or 'flavour enhancer'. these days 'Hydrolysed vegetable protein' is, I gather, almost identical too.

As rebranding exercises go, I think they can chalk it up as a success story. Bastards.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Borough market that isn't Borough Market

Every time I walk through it, there seems to be one or two fewer stalls than there were the previous week...

When it first appeared a couple of months ago, there was an intriguing array of vendors tempting me with ripe melons, hot meat sandwiches and chocolatey muffins, but many seem to have given up already.

And I think I have a pretty good idea why.

If you're not familiar with the area and haven't yet twigged what the flying buggery I'm banging on about, I'm talking London Bridge Farmers' Market, which runs every Tuesday between 9 AM and 2 PM. For the time being at least.

It's a relatively new cog in a larger wheel that rolls more or less all over London, operating farmers' markets in different areas on different days of the week. So far, so organic wholesome goodness.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The strongest beer in the world

One Easter, way back when I was but a callow and impressionable teenager, my father gave me, instead of an egg, a bottle of Kulmbacher EKU 28. 'The strongest beer in the world', he said, and it probably was back then.

At the time, I was very interested in world records and just beginning my journey of discovery into the beeriverse, so this was an item much revered and awed until the time came to drink it. The Robert Wadlow of beer.

Truth be told, I didn't enjoy it all that much, but at least I could say I'd tried the strongest beer in the world and wouldn't need to have it again. Ever.

Except that a couple of years later I found out about Schloss Eggenberg 'Samichlaus', which - at 14% ABV - was even stronger than EKU. Again, it was widely reckoned to be the strongest in the world at the time; again, I tried a single bottle, and, again, I wasn't very impressed.

That was nearly two decades ago, but I'm still not particularly keen on doppelbocks and other super-strength lager type beers. Too sweet, too malty, nowhere near enough hops for my liking.

And to the breweries producing weapons-grade beers these days, a piddling 14% is basically less alcoholic than water. Water, I say!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The food of Kings(meadow)

It's a little odd, but although I've been to over 100 different football grounds supporting the mighty Sky Blues, I'd never once experienced match day hospitality - until last night.

I know what you're thinking. 'B-but, you're a world-famous food blogger and Coventry City's highest profile fan after Richard Keys, Jon Gaunt and that guy from Westlife. Surely you get the red carpet treatment every time you attend a game, with only the very hottest of the players' spouses feeding you truffles, bare-breasted, from a golden plate?!?'

Sadly, while this probably should be the case, it isn't. And in any case I usually prefer to be in with the real fans and have a half-time pie. Directors' boxes always seemed bit stuffy and sterile and detached to me.

The closest I'd ever come to stroking the big Corporate Hospitality Cash-cock was one Christmas, about 8 or 9 years ago, when I was living and working in Ipswich and the office party was held at Portman Road stadium.

The FA Cup
As far as I can recall, the food was your standard overpriced, turkey-and-trimmings-and-house-red set menu, but the facilities looked quite impressive. A private dining room that led directly out onto an almost-as-private balcony overlooking the pitch where you could watch the game from the comfort of a leather armchair-style seat. Barely relevant, obviously, as this wasn't a match day, but I got the impression, such an experience would be pretty luxurious.

But that was Ipswich, who have a Premiership-quality ground even though they've been out of the top division almost as long as we have.

Last night, on the other hand, was a first round FA Cup tie against AFC Wimbledon, who currently groundshare with non-league Kingstonian FC. I was surprised that the Kingsmeadow stadium even had hospitality facilities, and given that it only cost about 20 quid more than a standard match ticket, I was interested to see exactly what you get for your money.

(Also, I have to admit I was just a little concerned that, given CCFC's current fine form, we wouldn't be able to get standard tickets in the away end and I'd miss out on ground no. 102!)

Monday, November 4, 2013

A rough guide to British beer festivals

The English language is an interesting beast.

Whereas some foreign tongues have rigidly prescriptive rules, grammatical genders and other shittingly complex stuff that I don't have a kitten's chance in Hades of ever getting my head around, colloquial English is rather more subtle and nuanced.

Which is good. I like subtle and nuanced.

So, some words and phrases take on subtly (or indeed completely) different meanings, depending on context, but, crucially, we don't need to explain them because we just 'get' the meaning because we get the context.

For example, if your seven year old son comes home from school and tells you he's been invited to Sanjay's party, you'll instinctively have vastly different expectations than those times when you pick up a guy in a bar in Soho and he asks you knowingly if you like to party.

Same word, but differently nuanced (unless Sanjay's birthday parties feature fisting and crystal meth instead of pass-the-parcel and ASDA Cola these days, obviously!)

Likewise, if your beloved suggests a trip to New York over Christmas to do some shopping, it's not the same as picking up some shopping on the way home from work. Not by a very long chalk. 

Not all beer festivals are this big
The same is true of a 'Beer Festival'. Yes, they always involve beer but the level of festivity one can expect varies wildly. As far as the format goes, a beerfest can mean almost all things to all beer drinking men.

But unlike a lot of the other nuanced phrases we use, the subtle detail isn't always widely understood yet outside the inner sanctum of beer geeks, so it's about time somebody wrote a guide to the subject.

Any volunteers?

Anybody want to identify and define the eight different kinds of Beer Festival we have in this country?

Alright then, I'll do it...