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, February 13, 2014

Better beerfests and Big bears in Battersea

Following my comments the other day about Batemans brewery making some great strides forward, I should probably conserve some of the same breath to mention last weeks Battersea Beer Festival, another once sickly patient showing great signs of life and strength.

Because it was the closest one to where I grew up, Battersea was one of the first beer festivals I ever attended, and consequently became one of the first I got a bit disillusioned with.

OK, a lot disillusioned with. And probably with due cause.

Set in a small space within the Battersea Arts Centre, it would often fill to capacity, meaning a lengthy queue outside. And when you got inside there would only be a few beers on, mostly bland, boring, mainstream stuff that you could drink in greater comfort in a pub just down the road anyway.

Sometimes you wouldn't even get in - turned away after 45 minutes standing outside in the cold, because they'd run out of beer. I remember one occasion when they let people in for free because the only beers on were Young's Ordinary and Winter Warmer or something. It really wasn't much of a festival.

And so some years I wouldn't bother with Battersea at all.

This is all going back a few years, mind. I don't know if CAMRA's National Executive put them on special measures or something, but, last week's fest suggested that Battersea have completely turned things around.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Chocolate digestives and black pepper - in beer

When I first started properly drinking beer, Batemans were one of my very favourite breweries. Valiant, XXXB and Salem Porter were all music to my teenaged tastebuds, and the one-off Jawbreaker, brewed with hard toffee, was my favourite beer of 1996.

I even immortalised Batemans XB in a rather ghastly poem I wrote as a student:

"'Quintuple rum and black', said she.
It came to twelve pounds twenty-three
Including, of course, a pint for me
(of Batemans XB)"

The only other verse I remember is:

"Said he, 'this bird's with me tonight.
We'll settle this outside - ALRIGHT?!?'
And out of me he kicked the shite
(I lost the fight)"

I like to think that the quality of both my writing and my nights out have improved since then!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Pepys' cheese on toast

One of the loveliest foodie images of all time is that of Samuel Pepys burying his cheese when the Great Fire of London started.

I'm sure he did his bit helping to evacuate the women and children or whatever, but I just love the idea that his hunk of Parmesan was of such profound importance to him that he was damned if he'd allow it to melt away in some nasty fire.

Truly a man of high principle and considered priority!

Anchovy-fried Crostini with Parmesan shavings
Nobody really knows why Parmesan was so significant in Pepys' day, just that it was. Experts have theorised that Parmesan may have been used as a generic seasoning in place of salt, and added to meals to make them taste, well, nicer.

Our Sammy wouldn't have been sprinkling it on Spag Bol or Risotto which were still centuries away from London's menus, but clearly it was one of the most valuable and treasured imports at the time (some say more expensive than gold).

You can imagine the men of the late Renaissance tucking into big hunks of meat with some gently melting Parmesan on top, giving the flavour an umami boost. I'd hazard that they also whacked a bit in when making soups and stews.

Improved import channels with Parma mean that it's not so expensive these days and possibly not worth burying in the event of fire, but it's remarkable how Parmesan has stood the test of time.

We're still finding new things to sprinkle it on to make them taste even better - and here's a brand new recipe that does just that.