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!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Reindeer Love

OK, something a bit different. Nothing to do with food, nothing to do with restaurants, nothing to do with recipes, nothing, even, to do with pubs and beer, unless you count the several pints I enjoyed at the Radius Arms following a long, hard day in the studio.

You still with me? Good. Now, what I need you to do today is to go and download Reindeer Love by Adam Antler. Yes, it's me. All me. I sing and play all the instruments. And I'd really like to have a Christmas No. 1.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

20 minute recipes - Leek & Stilton Carbonara

Oh, hello there.

How are you? How's your mother? Yes, it's getting a bit nippy out, isn't it? Little bit parky, yes. Getting dark early. Still, soon be Christmas, eh?

Better than going out in the cold
Anyway, someone pointed out to me recently that I haven't actually posted a recipe for absolutelyfuckingages so here's something new I've been working on for the Winter season.

A warming and hearty pasta sauce that's quick and easy to make; sort of Italian with an Anglo-Welsh twist.

Perfect comfort food for an evening in. After all, you don't want to go outside, do you?

And, yes, I'll try to post recipes more often. I know you like them.

Leek & Stilton Carbonara

Ingredients: (makes enough sauce to coat four generous portions of pasta)

Pancetta cubes (or Guanicale if you can get it), about 1/3 lb
Leeks, 2-3, topped and tailed
Stilton, about 1/4 lb, crumbled
Garlic, 2-3 cloves, finely diced
White Wine, about 2 glasses
It's cheesy...
Butter, a very large knob, as it were 
Single cream, about 1/4 pint
Olive oil, a little for frying

To serve:

Tagliatelle, or other fresh pasta of your choice

Black pepper
Fresh Parmesan


Set a pan on a medium-high heat, and fry off the pancetta and garlic in a little oil for 4-5 minutes while finely slicing the leeks - it's best to use a high-sided saute pan if you're going to be making a decent quantity of sauce.

...and, err, Leeky
Add the leeks and cook for a few more minutes until they soften and start to disintegrate, before turning down the heat a bit. Whack in the crumbled Stilton and a little butter, and stir it about as the cheese melts and begins to coat the meat and leeks.

Pour in the wine a little at a time - if the cheese starts to burn or turn brown, the temperature is too high. It's also perfectly acceptable to add more butter at this point. Because we like butter.

Leave it to simmer for a few minutes while you cook your pasta, but, importantly don't add the cream until a couple of minutes before you're ready to serve.

Almost done!
Once you've added the cream, stir it in, and maybe turn up the heat a notch - you're looking for a consistency that is deliciously creamy but not too thick as it's got to coat the pasta easily.

With plenty of already-salty ingredients in the mix, you shouldn't need to add any further seasoning, but tasting the sauce will do no harm.

Finally add your cooked, drained pasta, ensure it's all well coated and serve right away with a healthy sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper and a little parmesan.

An Italian White will go well with this

Ben Appetit!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Cultural learnings of St Johns Wood for make benefit dubious sense of nostalgia

These days we're all told to 'check our privilege' - I must never lose sight of all the advantages in life I get simply from being a white, middle-class male, some of them so covertly advantageous that I won't even consciously be aware of them.

My gut reaction to this is that there's probably a fair amount of truth in the narrative, but it's far from universal and things are not that straightforward or simplistic.

One of the more nuanced downsides of being a person like me can be the lack of any sense of cultural belonging when it comes to food and drink. We'll never properly know or understand the 'homecoming' that others experience. We don't get to 'feel' aloo gobi deep in our bones.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Lost breweries: H is for Hoskins (and Oldfield)

When I was a very young child, my Godparents had a cat named 'Hoskin'. I can't remember an awful lot about him, assuming he was indeed a 'him'. He was probably a tabby, and must be at least 30 years dead by now. (Or he's still alive and kicking Creme Puff's sorry arse out of the Guinness Book of Records!)

In fact the only thing I actually know for certain is that Hoskin was named after Hoskins brewery, which itself has had a fairly confusing and obfuscated history. Indeed when I drank their beers, there were at least two different Hoskins to choose from, though of course now there are none.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Why nostalgia ain't what it used to be

We all know that things aren't as good as they used to be. Wagon Wheels have been getting smaller for years and must now be viewed under a microscope. Coca-cola doesn't taste as good as it did when we were hyperactive toddlers. And British Saturday night television was the finest on earth in the days when we still had 'good old-fashioned variety'.

We also 'all know' that this is mostly bollocks. As humans we view the past through nostalgic spectacles so heavily tinted with rose petals that we can't see the newly planted trees for the pile of aged wood. We have a keen sense of nuance and self-awareness, enough to understand things on the second level. We only think that stuff used to be bigger and better.

Or do we?

What if there is a third level of thinking to analyse? What if the revealed truth is that food, drink, entertainment and everything else really can get away with dumbing itself down, because people who are going to complain about it not being as good as it used to be will complain that it's not as good to be whatever happens, and everyone else will think that it probably is just as good as it used to be and we only think it isn't because of all that rose-tinted nostalgia stuff that blinds us. Except that it isn't actually blinding us and stuff really isn't as good as it used to be?

Does this make sense?

Monday, September 4, 2017

BV London Pub of the Year 2016-17 - the results

It's that time again. A little later than usual, but then it was a particularly difficult decision this year.

We've reviewed last year's top five and five spanking new entries, and it's all change. (Quite literally as last year's No. 3, the Clapham Craft Beer Co has now ceased to be!)

Pints have been quaffed, menus sampled, atmospheres taken in, and all for that noblest of causes -  picking out the best damn pub in all of London.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Has the GBBF lost its G?

Right, that's another Great British Beer Festival over for another year.

And, to be honest, at the end of the week, I've come away feeling a tad, well, underwhelmed. Meh.

Normally, I'd put that down to mid-life-crisisism, post binge-drinking comedown and my generally bleak outlook on life. But a few conversations with other attendees seem to confirm a pretty widespread view that this really was the most lacklustre GBBF for some time.

I don't yet know how it worked out from CAMRA's perspective, but here are few collated thoughts - not just mine but those of my friends, drinking buddies, random strangers and - of course - teh interwebz: 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why does everything have to have a 'quarter' these days?

Whatever claim BoxPark Croydon stakes to being South London's premier nightlife hub, it was always going to have a little local competition in the form of the stuff that was there already.

Croydon may still be short of a genuinely world-class pub, but it doesn't lack restuarants. Indeed the stretch of road south of Croydon Flyover has a concentration of eateries of just about every nationality and the area is now branded officially as the 'Restaurant Quarter'.

Honestly there are so many here, I do wonder if the area can sustain that much food. Especially overpriced, indifferent dining experiences of dubious quality.

Beer Circus used to be round these parts too, a small continental style bar that was one of the first in London to offer genuinely interesting imported beers on draught. It's long gone though, so you'll have to make do with the two Wetherspoons that top and tail the Restaurant Quarter (and the Milan Bar, at the Northern end of the stretch, is up for sale and won't be there much longer.)

Whenever places boast a 'French Quarter', or indeed a Restaurant Quarter, I'm always slightly bemused by the expression. What if it takes up more than 25% of the available space? What if you have French, Italian, Baroque, Chinese and Bohemian Quarters, shouldn't they technically be Quinters or something?

It annoys me.

Anyway, not particularly good restaurants in Croydon. Let's go!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

BV London Pub of the Year 2016-17 - part two

Here we go with the second part of this year's Pub of the Year contest. And in many ways, it's far more exciting than the first because it's the turn of the new contenders. In Top of the Pops parlance we have one New Entry and four Re-Entries this year.

So let's get right onto it, Pop-Pickers...

Monday, July 17, 2017

BV London Pub of the Year 2016-17 - part one

It's that time of the year again: The excitement! The suspense! The engraving of a trophy with the name of the same pub that won last year, probably!

Yep, we're back for the 2016-17 London Pub of the Year contest. And this time it's a bit strange because this is the first contest since I moved out of London.

I've not gone far away and still drink regularly enough in the capital, but before we get started, I really ought to mention my new local, the Radius Arms micropub in Whyteleafe.

It's not in Greater London so it's not eligible for the contest, but if it were, it'd have a serious shout of winning. Landlord Vince keeps a constantly-changing range of both cask and keykeg beers from Premier League breweries and an unrivaled cider selection.

What the Radius understands - and what so many pubs consistently fail to get - is that to be a serious drinking pub you need to offer variety, and variety isn't just about the names on the pumpclips, it's about offering real choice: light and dark; sessionable and strong; supermalt and hyper-hopped and everything in between.

So, whichever pub wins this years contest, I'll probably be drinking there less than I will at the Radius. Sorry, guys!

That said, there are of course several seriously stunning places to drink across all corners of the capital, so let's get cracking:

Friday, July 14, 2017

Lost Breweries: G is for Gibbs Mew

It's hard to believe, given the relative ease with which we can enjoy 8-10%+ DIPAs and Imperial Stouts these days, but there was a time, specifically the time when I started drinking, when almost all beer was in the 3.7-4.6% ABV range.

4.8% beers were, without a trace of irony, branded as 'Strong Ale' and if a beer was a whole 5 per cent, well, you'd genuinely have people shaking their heads, making a 'fwhooosh' noise, and saying things like 'Better not have too many of those!', 'Watch out for brain damage!', and 'Rather you than me, you criminally insane spazzbucket of derangement!'

No, really. They said things like this about 5% ABV beers in the early 1990s. Yeah, technically we had the 9% 'super strength' lager in cans, apparently consumed only by vagrants, and there were a few bottled exceptions like Whitbread Gold Label Barley wine and Thomas Hardy's Ale, but in a pub you'd struggle to find strong beers on draught, and if you inquired as to their existence, you'd be viewed with deep suspicion. You want a strong ale, have this one. 4.7%. Go easy on it there, boy.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Croydon boxes clever

Since we moved out of London into more rural pastures, our nearest 'town centre' for 'doing stuff' has become Croydon (which, technically involves venturing back into London, but you can't have everything.)

Oft maligned as a humdrum 1960s concrete jungle in the same vein as Coventry or Slough, Croydon is nevertheless an important hub for South London and indeed substantial parts of Surrey and Kent. East Croydon station is actually the busiest in all of Greater London apart from the central termini, which - if you don't know the area - gives you some idea of its prominence.

Following this months thunderingly calamitous election result, which was even worse than my pessimistic prediction, Croydon Central is also our nearest Labour seat. As I say, can't have everything.

Eat. Drink. Play. Apparently.
One thing we do have now in Croydon, right bang in the centre, immediately next door to East Croydon station and therefore impossible to miss, is a shiny new BOXPARK. Which means eating, drinking, socialising, and general happeningness. The sort of 'contemporary space' that you really wouldn't ever associate with Croydon. Until now.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Probably an example of why you should never talk politics on a food blog

This has been, without doubt, the most depressing Election Campaign in history.

Not necessarily the most depressing Election - that was 1997, obviously - but back then defeat was entirely expected and the scale of it surprising, so these things in equal measure lent themselves to a campaign of numb resignation.

(Oh yeah, I should've said feel free to completely ignore this post if you don't care about politics'n'shit. There's not much about food or drink in here unless I mention how I woke up the day after the '97 Election covered in Merlot vomit with no memory of having been thrown out of the count in Mitcham!)

Theresa May has had a disastrous campaign. Whatever her credentials for actually running a country, winning voters over is clearly not her strong suit. Her brand of Conservatism is rather distant from my own Libertarianism, but I was willing to let this go when it looked like she might deliver a landslide. With hours to go, it doesn't look like that will happen.

And I want a landslide. I want something like a 180 seat Tory majority. I want us to have disproportionate representation far beyond our vote share. I want other parties ganging up against the opposition rather than against us. I want high-profile entertainers and musicians and comedians to come out for us. I want Labour supporters to feel as despondent and dejected and desperate as they made me feel in 1997 and 2001. For me, it's about revenge. It's about jealousy. It's about having what they had. I want them to wake up covered in sick feeling like the end of humanity.

Godmother Theresa doesn't really look like giving me much of that now, and given the ebb and flow of politics and my generally not-brilliant health, I shall probably be dead before such a Tory landslide is ever achieved. That's right. Dead. You cunts win.

Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, has enjoyed a hugely impressive campaign. I might disagree with much of what he stands for and despise the bullying, debate-stifling way in which some of his supporters conduct themselves, but he has stuck to the task, is a dogged and resiliant campaigner, and has apparently closed the gap in a way that nobody thought possible.

There is a lot of speculation that the tightening polls don't account for our strategic game on the ground and that we are out-performing a national picture that isn't as rosy for Labour. That's as maybe, but it's still no landslide.

For what it's worth, here's my prediction for Thursday:

  • A very modest Tory majority of about 36 or 40, possibly even less.
  • Several strange results as different seats do radically different things to one another.
  • Some very good MPs on both sides lose out unfairly as marginal seats change hands. I'm particularly worried for Gavin Barwell in Croydon Central.
  • Labour vote share holds up reasonably well and Corbyn pisses off most of his MPs by staying on as leader.
  • Social media, already sickeningly one-sided, becomes utterly intolerable.
  • SNP retain about 50 seats in Scotland, most occupied by, basically, children.
  • UKIP wiped out, and Lib Dems fail to launch any kind of comeback, winning only six or seven seats.
  • I try to have a good time helping out the excellent candidate Dan Watkins in Tooting, and avoiding anger and Merlot.

Very, very few people will be genuinely happy on June 9. Nobody will feel they've made much progress.

I will be drinking beer and hopefully punching the air.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Where have all the anchovies gone?

Let me tell you the story of Umberto the whale:

Umberto was a great big whale who lived in the sea. He was a happy whale, swimming about all day and getting bigger and bigger all the time.

Umberto the whale loved to eat, but unlike other whales who eat krill and plankton, Umberto liked to eat anchovies. Absolutely loved the things, so he did.

Every day he would eat more and more anchovies and grow bigger and bigger, and while this made him very happy, all the people in the world were sad because there were no anchovies left for them to put on their pizzas.

Umberto lived happily ever after, at least until last week when the anchovies were all gone and he died.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Beauty, Nespresso and the reluctant coffee convert

I have a friend of a friend who I see maybe once a year.

Every time I see him he asks me, without fail, 'where are the best places to go to see lots of fit girls?' as if I'm some kind of authority on the topic.

This always amuses me. I was never in contention to be the editor of FHM, Nuts or Zoo, and it's not an issue that frequently crosses my mind. But he listens earnestly and attentively and I usually say something about the security line at the airport.

(This is true. At airports all over the world you will likely encounter a broad spectrum of stunningly beautiful people of all nationalities in just a few minutes waiting to put your clear plastic bags on the conveyor belt. If such things matter to you. And, indeed, if they do not.)

Nespresso store - pic from Retail Focus
My friend of a friend takes in this information with a vague sense of awe. I don't think he is widely traveled and quite possibly doesn't even hold a passport, which may heighten his interest.

Anyway, I do worry that one day he will cotton on to the fact that I always give the same answer - even though it's his fault for always asking the same slightly weird question - so next time I see him and he asks the inevitable question, I shall say 'working in Nespresso stores'. He may even get to visit one of those to see if the story checks out.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Perry, Pear Cider and Pedantry

If there's one thing worse than petty pedantry, it's petty pedantry that isn't even fucking correct.

We don't hide behind snowflake protection screens around here. Some people are Complete Fucking Retards. Some people are Insufferable Pedants. And some manage to be both a CFR and an IP concurrently.

Especially when the discussion involves the words 'pear' and 'cider'. And usually a defiant 'perry'.

I'm talking about the sort of really annoying IP who, if you ask them at a quarter past midnight how their evening is going, will point out that 'it's actually the morning now'

At least, they would, if they weren't safely ensconced at home at that time posting on social media, lurking, waiting for someone to talk about 'pear cider'. At which point they can triumphantly chime in with 'Perry! you mean Perry! There's no such thing as Pear Cider!!!1one11'

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lost Breweries: F is for Freeminer

One of the plus points of writing this series is that for every letter of the alphabet I get to indulge in a big bath of beery nostalgia.

I had to think fairly deeply to come up with my 'F', not because breweries whose names begin with the letter have proven immune from closure by quirk of fate, but because the obvious names that sprang to mind haven't really played a significant role in my drinking career, at least when I started thinking about it.

For example, when I was a small child, Fremlin's bitter seemed to be held in extremely high regard by my parents and everyone else who drank beer. It might well have been the first brewery name I ever learned. Possibly even the first beer I ever tasted.

But Fremlin's had been owned by Whitbread since the 1960s, the original Maidstone brewery site had closed in the early 70s and the Faversham brewery that had made the beer the adults raved about also went in 1990. So by the time I started drinking, Fremlin's had become a niche, hard-to-find brand from a ghost brewery that in all honesty never meant anything to me, even if it was beloved of the previous generation.

Then there is Flowers of Cheltenham, another bolted horse from the erstwhile Whitbread stable. In the mid-90s Flowers Original was the staple cask beer in my student union bar, but I hardly ever drank it because it was fucking awful. Warm, soupy goop that largely ensured everyone drank Stella or Guinness instead.

Even in good condition it was an entirely unspectacular beer. That brewery closed in 1998, probably wasn't missed by too many people, and while Flowers beers are still contract-brewed for Whitbread's successor AB-Inbev, it's not really something you'd actively seek out; Again, a brewery that ultimately means very little to me.

And that's why I've gone with Freeminer, whose beers I did at least drink and occasionally even enjoy!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Lost Breweries: E is for Eldridge Pope

I've no idea what I drank on my 18th birthday (other than 'too much') but I can still remember with considerable clarity what I drank the following day.

Way back in the Distant When, Thomas Hardy's Ale, brewed by Eldridge Pope of Dorchester, was one of the most famous bottled beers in the world. A Barley Wine, generally assumed to be around 12% ABV though with considerable flexibility, it came in little individually numbered bottles - tightly sealed as if to prevent inadvertent broachment.

It was a beer you'd hear folks talking about, but never see anybody drinking. People would buy cases and lay it down for years, sometimes decades. That was the point.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Possibly the best £30 you'll ever spend

Whatever you think of my views, I'd hope that one thing nobody can accuse me of is being a sell-out. I call stuff the way I see it, whether that means a glowing review, scathing criticism or something in the middle.

And I'm not a huge fan of food and drink blogs (or any other blogs for that matter) which are thinly-veiled affiliate sites; where the 'reviews' merely serve as effusive clickbait for syndicated advertising.

It's not really because such blogs cannot offer impartiality - it's that they stifle partiality! Robust, honest opinion is always sacrificed in favour of meek, uncontroversial positivity that usually needs to be pre-approved by their marketing twats. (I've refused to put my name to enough things like this to know just how much control these people want in exchange for a few pence per click-thru or booking!)

I also hold a fairly low view of 'deals' websites. Sometimes it's a no-brainer, like getting cashback from Quidco on stuff you're planning to buy anyway. But very often 'exclusive' deals are available in multiple places, cannot be combined with other offers, and result in almost everyone paying more or less the same price, with only the most stupid and lazy ever paying 'full fare'.

No raw deals here
What was that totally fucktarded site that was heavily advertised a couple of years ago? Something like 'the exclusive members-only club that anyone can join'?!? Christ, that really put the 'moronic' into 'oxymoronic'.

Thing is, the nonsense is actually true, which makes it more nonsensical. I used to have a very bad bank account, for which I paid a monthly fee, which offered 'online deals' for its customers. Only anybody could go to that deals page, click the links and get the deals. There was nothing to check that you were a customer of this shitty bank with its shitty packaged account. So what was the fucking point?

So, yeah, I hate all that kind of shit. But one thing I do like, and like a lot, is The Hawksmoor chain. And that's why, over the next few paragraphs, I'm going to sound like everything I hate.

Because I'm going to recommend an online offer, with no small degree of enthusiasm.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Chucking my two cents on the 'cask in crisis' bandwagon

For a relatively small and not long established brewer, Cloudwater have certainly got peoples attention. Since announcing at the start of the year that they are to cease all cask ale production, everyone and their maiden aunt has had something to say on the matter.

Cloudwater are somewhat highly regarded, particularly around their Manchester base and among 'craftier' drinkers and while I haven't had the opportunity to try all that many of their offerings, those that I have tried have always been consistently drinkable - one of them sneaked into my top five beers of 2016.

Rightly or wrongly, the debate has expanded to encompass the broader questions around the future of cask beer:

Friday, January 6, 2017

BV's best beers of 2016

Well, it's Twelfth Night and so 2016 is now well and truly gone; Banished to the hinterland of the past, and some might say rightly so.

Let me guess: Your favourite celebrities all died and some votes didn't go the way you wanted, right?

I won't shy meekly away from the fact that 2016 was a bit of an epic fail for me. You may recall I was planning to visit every brewery in London and then put it all into a hugely entertaining and informative book that would top the bestseller list across the globe for years to come.

I did spend a lot of the year visiting breweries
And I did visit a lot of breweries, drank a lot of awesome beer and talked to loads of interesting people. However, real life, real work and moving house kinda got in the way and by the end of the year I'd only done maybe two thirds of the capital's breweries. But I'll try to resurrect the project in 2017 as I still think it's worth doing, even if my proposed timescales were too much for me.

Anyway, as is traditional at this time of year, I'll be looking back upon my favourite beers of 2016 or, more specifically, my five favourite new cask beers of 2016. And here they are: