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 4, 2015

Food fit for Commoners

You probably haven't failed to notice that there's an Election coming up this week.

Who are you voting for?
Actually, if you live round here, you might very well have failed to notice. In this ultra-safe Labour seat they could, and often do, stick a red rosette on a steaming dogturd and it would still romp home with a huge majority, so nobody is bothering to make much of an effort.

As far as the wider electoral picture goes I shall, of course, be rooting for the Tories and hoping for the best, but I'm not at all confident now. We're almost certainly heading for abject constitutional carnage for various regrettable reasons that I won't go into here - I'm well aware that the stuff that fascinates politicos like myself is more of a turn-off to most people than the sight and aroma of a steaming dogturd with a red rosette on it.

Anyway, one of the advantages of an Election campaign is that the house isn't sitting, and that means that ordinary folk like you and I get a rare opportunity to see a bit more of the innards of our parliament than we normally would.

Places like the Members' Dining Room, which I visited last week, fulfilling a long-held wish.

The most exclusive restaurant in London?

It's actually not that difficult to get in - you typically need to reserve a few months in advance, but whenever parliament is in recess they open up the place for a few days and offer the public a set menu via Bookatable.

Keep an eye out, and in all likelihood you'll be able to get a table for the Summer recess. It's also apparently available for private hire.

Not bad for a starter!
Given the traditional - though not quite as opulent as one might expect - surroundings, I was expecting a fairly safe, old-fashioned menu, but the food is as creative and exciting as I've eaten in a long time with a distinctly modern take on the classics.

Take the confit guinea fowl starter; tender, flaky and flecked with subtle herbs, it's almost like a warm paté and the swish of caramelised cauliflower purée across the stylish plate is very contemporary; very MasterChef if you like.

It's a generous portion for a starter and it comes with a red pepper ketchup, crispy guinea fowl skin (yum) and charred romanesco. I know. It really does sound exactly like something a MasterChef contestent would serve up, but it's none the worse for that.

We also tried the Rare beef loin, an interesting choice to offer as a starter, and it's delicious and tender, with a salty, onion crust and crispy, unctious chunks of pancetta on the side.

Pig. Snout. Trough. Parliament. Or something 'clever'.
There were less meaty options available - on this occasion smoked halibut and an intriguing goat's cheese concoction with a maple onion beignet - but I'd heard about Parliaments reputation for sourcing truly great British meat, so there was no decision to be made really!

Onto the main courses and the farmyard again took a feature role.

Pork loin fillet came served with potato croquettes with a deliciously creamy filling, blobs of apple sauce and a sage jus. It sort of had the elements of traditional roast pork, but assembled in the 21st century fashion.

Completing the plate were a sticky braised pig's cheek which was quite divine, and creamed cabbage studded with little gems of black pudding - while the quality of the ingredients were never going to be in doubt, the way in which they were assembled was surprising and delightful.

The wine that once ran the country
The Romney Marsh Lamb rump came up nicely pink, with crispy fat, wild mushrooms and a truffley sauce, along with a lovely buttery potato stack, sea asparagus and roasted squash. Again, it was a thing of substance and elegance that I couldn't really fault.

The world-famous House of Commons Claret (2012) is definitely a classy accompanist for meat rather than a drinking performer in its own right, but you wouldn't be able to buy a Bordeaux of this calibre for 20 quid a bottle in a restaurant. And we were eating plenty of meat.

And the rest of the wine list is priced keenly enough to make me worry that it might all be subsidised by the tax payer a little! Or maybe the legendary Commons cellar is so full (now that MP's liquid lunches are almost history) that they have sell bottles at below cost just to free up some space!

Not Just Desserts

The formula of modern takes on classic dishes continued with the desserts.

Just look at that!
The Commons Bread and Butter pudding is the perfect combo of sticky, squishy and crispy, but the brioche pud is only half the story, with sticky glazed figs, macadamia nuts and a sweetly fruity Sauternes ice cream completing another accomplished plate.

For me the real star was the Cherry 'Tiramisu', which was a deconstructed, reconstructed work of modern art, with alcohol-soaked cherries, blobs of rich chocolate fondant, sponge cake slivers and mascarpone sorbet all propping up a dark chocolate cylinder which burst to release a river of coffee liqueur. 

Some very advanced techniques going on here, but more importantly it was bloody delicious with so many flavours and textures combining on the plate. Fucking hell, it's good!

The set menu offers four options for each course, at a very reasonable £35, and includes coffee and chocolate truffles, which we took in the rather comfy Pugin Room.

All in all, one of the finest lunches I've had in a long time and another reason to regret not going into politics myself.

As I've said, I'm not expecting too many good things to come out of the dissolution of the last parliament. But this meal was one of them!

Where to find it

Member's Dining Room
House of Commons
Palace of Westminster
SW1A 0AA (map


1 comment:

  1. They eat this when their are food banks. Get the tores out


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