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, July 27, 2016

BV London Pub of the Year 2015-16 - part two

The other day we revisited the top five pubs from last year's competition. Now comes the arguably more interesting list of the five new challengers on the 2015-16 shortlist.

Narrowing it down to five was a challenge. Trying to ensure all parts of Greater London are represented is borderline impossible, while there is always a strong temptation to include more pubs that are undeniably great but similar to those already in the competition - such as another Craft Beer Company outlet.

I've tried to pick pubs that I think are worthy of entry in the competition whilst retaining a bit of variety, and this is what I've come up with:

Friday, July 22, 2016

BV London Pub of the Year 2015-16 - part one

So, it's that time of the year again. That half-way point in the calendar when I pick my Pub of the Year, which is probably the same as it was last year. You know the drill by now.

Except that things are a bit different this time.

Rather foolishly I committed myself at the start of 2016 to visiting every single brewery in London, with a view to putting out a book on the subject. That's going alright. Sort of. I've done just about half of the current total, so I'm just about on schedule.

The thing is, once you've one brewery (ok, a few) you really have seen them all. You start to see sacks of malt in your dreams. You try to find something that makes this fermentation vessel different from those fermentation vessels you saw last Saturday. All those American Pale Ales start to blur into one continuous stream of golden hoppiness. Another day. Another railway arch. Another industrial estate...

Friday, July 15, 2016

I should Cocoro

Pokémonimania, or whatever the fuck we should call the phenomenon, doesn't really interest me. I wasn't into it the first time around, and I have so much of a 'collector' mindset that if I ever started trying to 'catch em all' I'd literally be unable to stop until I did. And I've got better things to collect, like beers.

What this fad does afford me, however, is a rather tenuous angle with which to introduce a blog. Take that, Pikachu! I'm the one exploiting you!

Anyway, I've never been to Japan, and could be completely and utterly wrong, but my view of Japanese culture is that it's more insanely polarised than Brexit Britain.

On one hand you have a younger generation that is creative, exciting and spontaneous, leading the world in innovation, technology and brightly-lit things, and then behind the scenes there is an older Japan with very conservative values - family-oriented with a stereotypically strong work ethic. Quite the contradiction.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Final Meal 2016 - Piri piri Croque Monsieur

It's an interesting feature of life that we often blame our own failures and shortcomings on bad luck, while simultaneously failing to acknowledge the huge role that the hand of fate plays in things beyond our control.

I'm not going to play the 'yet another disgruntled Remainer banging on about Brexit' card, given that I felt the campaign waged by both sides was pretty appalling and have no strong views either way. But, hubris aside, if we've learned one thing from this sorry referendum malarkey it is that wholesale, irreversible constitutional change should not be determined by a one-off poll requiring only a simple majority to pass.

It just shouldn't. Because it really is a fucking fucktarded way of doing things.

52:48 is hardly a clear mandate at the best of times, but several of the 52% expressed remorse almost immediately, and several more claimed they only voted Leave because they didn't think they'd win. Duh. Then you have this 'ere London. The strongest area in the country for Remain, with turnout badly affected by the weather and transport issues preventing folks from getting to the polls.

Piri piri Croque Monsieur - the dish of the Euro 2016 final
You could've held the EURef a week later and got a different result. Hold it five times, and it might end up 3-2 one way or t'other. It's effectively so close as to be a coin-flip, and the fact that we could easily have a different result simply because a few people changed their minds on a whim or couldn’t get to the polling station because their train home was cancelled simply proves that this is no way to decide the future of the country.

I'd be saying the same thing if Remain had won by such a small margin too, though obviously the status quo would've had less impact on the economy'n'shit. I was always more concerned that a close result either way would cause chaos in the Conservative Party, and so it's proven to be - I'm sorry to see David Cameron go, but lack of attention to detail has been arguably his biggest weakness in office, and so it's proven again with his failure to think properly about the rules of the Referendum and the part that luck can play if we don't take steps to ensure against it. Insist on a 60% majority - robust enough so as not to vulnerable to human whim, hailing storms or cancelled trains.

Anyway, having said I wouldn't play the disgruntled Remainer card (honestly I'm not!) I'll shut up in case people think I am.

Let's talk about football instead

It isn't just politics either. Euro 2016 has shown how fortune can have a massive and long-lasting impact on outcomes.

Two deserving finalists?
Hosts France might just about be one of the two best teams in the tournament, though they were very lucky to get past Germany.

But also in the final we have a desperately average Portugal side who struggled to finish third in their group, and didn't even win a game in regulation time until their semi-final win over Wales.

England were universally slated after losing to Iceland in the last 16, with Roy Hodgson going the same way as Cameron - but lets not forget that in the past year, England have beaten Wales, Portugal, Germany and France - all four semi-finalists. Again, it just illustrates how the fickle hand of fate makes a mockery of sport just as it does politics.

Will the winner of tomorrows Euro 2016 final be the best team in Europe in 2016? It's possible but tournament football is scarcely better at determining this than picking straws.

'Piri piri' is Portuguese for 'scraping through by drawing every game'
Anyway, a major final means that I create a recipe that combines the respective cuisines of the two finalists. There's a bit of luck in this too, as you never know quite how it's going to turn out.

I've done this a couple of times before though, with Black Forest Churrasco the dish of the 2014 World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina and Gnocchi Bravas when Spain took on Italy in the Final of Euro 2012.

This time we're going for a lunchtime classic, with a bit of a kick (how much will depend on how hot your Piri piri spice mix is, I go with good old reliable Swchwarz, tasty but not overpowering with chilli heat).

Piri piri Croque Monsieur

A French classic with a Portuguese twist!

Ingredients - serves two:

Bread, four slices, ideally French rustic style
Cheese, four generous but slender slices - I used French Comte
Ham, decent quality, four slices or so
French butter, you'd be surprised just how much! 
A shallot, very finely chopped/blitzed 
Piri piri spice mix
Tomato puree


The first step is make the hot sauce - melt a little butter in a small saucepan and fry off the shallots until very soft, then throw in a generous pinch of the Piri piri mix and a squirt of tomato puree.

I know which side my bread is buttered - both!
Finish with a dash of Madeira to achieve the desired liquidity, and leave on a low heat - you might want to taste it, add a little salt to taste and maybe more Piri piri if desired. Obviously for this project we want some robust, though not overwhelming heat and a bit of sweetness from the Madeira too.

The sauce should take about half an hour to reduce to where we want it to be - it's basically a sort of warm chutney.

In the meantime we can start prepping the rest of the meal - slicing the bread and cheese and so on. (If we had weeks of preparation we'd commission a specially-cured ham with Piri piri spices, but we'll make do with a normal Wiltshire cure for now.)

Toast the bread to sub-toast toastedness, if that makes sense - basically don't toast it for too long - and then butter on both sides. That's right, both sides. Like you used to have to do in those old Breville sandwich toasters back in 1989 before your mum married Biff Tannen.

Looking good...
Whack the slices of semi-toast in a hot griddle pan, flipping them over periodically to ensure they achieve a golden colour and crispy texture.

Layer a slice of cheese on top of each slice of toast - if the residual heat isn't enough to turn them gooey, knock them off momentarily with a spatula until they start to gooify, then slide them back on. Finally, add the ham to each slice, just allowing it to warm slightly atop the squidgy cheese.

Plate up immediately before serving, assembling the two halves of toasted bread, ham and cheese into sandwiches, with a good dollop of your Piri piri sauce spread inside.

Bon Appetit / Vamos a Comer!