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!

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Battle of Quality Street

Christmas always seems more Christmassy when viewed through the prism of nostalgia. For me, that'll be mainly Christmases of the 1980s and possibly early 90s, though the magic was beginning to wane by then. 
"Ooh, I got a blank E-180 VHS cassette in my stocking! Thank you, that'll come in handy for recording Juliet Bravo." That sort of thing.

Things aren't the way they used to be. Even Quality Street isn't the same any more. But is it really demonstrably worse, or just different?

A big jar or tin of QS has been a part of my family's Christmas since long before I was born, and I have fond memories of eating them. And asking sheepishly 'Can I have another one please, Grandma?'

So, on what would've been Grandma's 90th birthday, I'm going to rank the current Quality Streets from worst to best. Here we go...

Why does this always happen?

Chocs away!

12. The Strawberry Delight. Why, oh why are there always more of these bastards than anything else? Why are these never 'swapped out' from the assortment to give new varieties a chance? Too sweet and synthetic without any kind of flavour that even remotely resembles an actual strawberry, and they're sticky as fuck - little tiny bits of foil always seem to get stuck to the chocolate and have to be either picked off or spat out. Ick.

Some people like them, mind. Grandma, for one.

11. The Milk Choc Block. Sorry, but it's the most pointless Quality Street ever. It's not like it's nice rich chocolate either. Bland and boring.

10. The Orange Creme. It's better than the Strawberry version in every way, but at the end of the Boxing Day, I just can't get excited about 'fruity' soft centres. Still, chocolate and orange is always a winning combination.

9. The Toffee Penny. Once you get chewing it, it's just like the other toffees in the tub, but lacking the chocolate coating, I know Christmas is probably the only time of year I'll actually feel like eating a piece of non-chocolate-coated toffee, but even so, I can't get excited about the penny.

8. The Fudge. Yes, it's fudge. Next.

7. The Coconut Eclair. This one has gone up slightly in my estimation over the past few Christmases. A nice bluey wrapper, and like a sort of chewy bounty, it's a good choice when you feel like something a bit different.

6. The Toffee Finger. It ain't that unique or interesting, but a reliable sweet that may be few folks' favourite but nobody loathes them either. You'll never see a QS tin in the middle of January with these left at the end.

5. The Caramel Swirl. When I was young, the Toffee Cup - a direct predecessor to this sweet - was amongst my favourites, but it's not as good these days. Either it has changed, or I have. Probably both. For a start, the modern day caramel doesn't look as attractive - there was something appealing about taking the band of paper off the old Toffee Cup - and it's just a bit dull. But we all eat them.

4. The Orange Crunch. One of the few relatively recent introductions that has actually lasted the course. Chocolatey, orangey and crunchy. What's not to like? Unless you don't like orangey, crunchy things? Or chocolate, obviously.

3. The Toffee Deluxe. My favourite of the toffees, with the right sort of texture and a good chocolate/toffee ratio. No messing about. These tend to go early.

Some of these are much missed...
2. The Purple One. Who doesn't want a mouthful of caramel and Hazelnut? Mmm. I reckon, on a National scale, if we exclude people with nut allergies and brain injuries, this is probably the most popular one. And 'popular' in ancient Hebrew is 'Purple'. OK, it isn't, but everyone agrees that these are good. Just not quite as good as...

1. The Noisette Triangle. Obviously. It's the best one. It's one of only a few that still looks, feels and tastes like it did when I was a kid. Ground-up nuts are good in chocolate. Maybe it's a poor man's praline; a grubby interpretation of a gianduja. But by Jove, it's the Qualitiest of Quality Street, and they should put at least twice as many in. At the expense of all those fruit cremes. Obviously.

Now then, where other QS rankings might call it a day after counting them down, I've got a little something else for you in my notably-smaller-than-it-used-to-be tin...

Yay, nostalgia!

Over the years a number of sweets have been removed from Quality Street - here's where some of them might've fitted into the rankings today:

The Honeycomb Crunch would go somewhere around 5th-6th place, I reckon. They brought it in a couple of years ago when the Toffee Deluxe was ditched, but now they've pulled a reverse switcheroo. It's a shame because it wasn't a bad sweet.

The old Toffee Square was probably a toffee too far, which is why it disappeared about 30 years ago and, unlike the Toffee Deluxe, it has never come back. From what I can remember, this particular toffee was extremely hard and brittle but always looked rather attractive and regal in a shiny crimson wrapping. I'd probably rate it near the bottom of the top ten.

The Truffle Chunk, or whatever it was called, disappeared around the same time. And this one was actually brilliant. Unwrapping the little brown-gold treasure chest was a joy. It's a long time gone and I can barely remember it, but I'd rank it firmly above everything else, Green Triangle included. There was another one which was similar in appearance that I seem to recall was pretty good too. Possibly coffee, possibly another soft caramel, but this is going way back to when I was a tiny tot. 

At the other end of the scale, the Apricot Delight was a short-lived mystery. And not so much a 'delight' as an abomination. Supposedly apricot-based, yet the wrapping was inexplicably blue while the actual colour of the filling was a sort of minty jizz. With a texture to match. It would rank near the bottom of the league - I didn't like it at all and I'm not sure anybody else ever did.

The Montelimar - now, this would probably be top five. Chocolate-coated Nougat, a bit like a Marathon bar. The texture was not unlike the modern Coconut Eclair which I guess must've eventually replaced it.

And finally, the Cracknel, which has come and gone a couple of times in my lifetime, in various different colour wrappages to boot. I liked it. A bit like a Dime bar, a bit like a Butterfinger, and, crucially, very different from everything else in the tin. I'd rate it top three, possibly even top two. If it were still with us.

So readers, what is your favourite? Which ones would you bring back? What do you completely fucking hate about Christmas these days?

Oh, and Merry Christmas, obviously!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Yes, I think they probably know it's Christmas by now

If, like me, you grew up in the 1980s, you probably have a view of Ethiopia that is pretty hard to shake off, defined largely by the media and celebrities of the day.

As impressionable children we witnessed Band Aid, Live Aid, Sport Aid (Remember that one -  'Everybody wants to Run the World'?) and the inaugural Comic Relief. Loads of money raised for a good cause. A cause that was relentlessly branded upon our collective conscience, pretty much all the time. For some years.

Ethiopia was deserts, flies and starving children. Ethiopian food? Well it wasn't anything was it? There was a famine. OK, maybe the diet consisted of the contents of those food packages paid for with the moneys raised by Bob, Midge and Lenny.

And that was the virtually intractable image we all had in our minds. That was Ethiopia.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A pot that is hot (6)

Forget Bodyguard or Strictly or Grumbleton Glump, or whatever it is you people are watching these days.

The best programmes on British TV at the moment are 1986 episodes of Top of the Pops on BBC4, and old Coronation Street on ITV3. No arguments, please, this really is as good as it gets.

Yes, it's a Hotpot!
If you haven't caught up with Old Corrie, we're in about mid-1990 now, a few months after Alan Bradley got killed by the tram, and probably a year or so before Alec Gilroy's fit granddaughter shows up and is sullied by Andy McDonald.

But we get two episodes every day from a era when they were broadcast at a rate of two per week, so that 'year' will pass by pretty quickly. And there's still a long, long way to go before it descends into an unwatchable retirement home for actors who can't get any other work.

Be transported back to a simpler time. A better time. A time when people were still with us.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Is cask ale going the way of vinyl?

I have considerable admiration for vinyl collectors.

Obviously it was once the dominant format for releasing music, but when the CD came along it was largely usurped from the marketplace over several years. Sales of CDs themselves then went into decline with the emergence of downloads and subsequently streaming - us audiophiles know that this hasn't necessarily represented progress and are increasingly frustrated that most modern-day music consumers don't really seem to care.

Vinyl lovers stuck with their records against the tide, and, I think, have been proven largely right in their instincts. (Personally I went down the very niche route of super hi-fidelity digital music on DVD-A, a format which never took off and is now considered pretty much dead, despite sounding superb!)

But vinyl is now a specialist niche. It will, in all likelihood, never be truly mainstream ever again. No matter how good it sounds, what if the music you happen to like simply doesn't get released on vinyl? A lot of music isn't. (Yes, I think you can already see where the comparison with real ale is coming from...)

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

BV London Pub of the Year 2017-18 - the results

When I was a child, records used to rise up the hit parade over several weeks - if you topped the charts it was often the result of a lengthy climb. A song going 'straight in at No. 1' was almost unheard of.

During my teens, the music industry gradually changed, and with better marketing and more aggressive promotion in the first week of sale, it was an increasingly common occurrence. Eventually it became the norm for all No. 1 records to go straight in. A song actually climbing up the charts became the rarity.

This isn't some nostalgic music blog though, it's the much-anticipated Pub of the Year winner announcement. Last years top five vs five new- and re-entries. We've crunched the numbers and reached a final decision.

Mind you, talking of going straight in at No. 1...

Thursday, August 16, 2018

GBBF is officially Great again

This time last year, I begged the question: Has the GBBF lost its G?

CAMRA's flagship beer festival was, I felt, in the doldrums. A victim of both its own success and the younger, more exciting competition. Many agreed with me. Long-time GBBF volunteer Tandleman asked 'How was GBBF for you?', stimulating further debate.

(I like debate. Though possibly not as much as I like good beer.)

Well, we've had another one since then. So how was the Great British Beer Festival 2018?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

We need to talk about beer temperature

As you probably know from my myriad PotY assessments over the years, or indeed if you've ever been on the same table as me on a tasting panel, I have pretty strong opinions when it comes to beer temperature. Opinions that perhaps get stronger on a boiling hot day.

Specifically, I think that certain beers are best served at certain temperatures - and whether they come from a cask or a keg or a hog's bladder should be far less of a factor than the style of the beer itself. Is that really so unreasonable?

In the past week, I've attended two beer festivals, both in South London. One at my 2016-17 Pub of the Year, the Hope, and the other at Beckenham Rugby Club, the home of Bromley CAMRA's annual festival - both boasting lengthy lists of pale, hoppy beers. Last week, of course, was pretty fucking hot. The hottest day of the hottest year since records began, or something. I believe on Friday, the second circle of Hell was actually a couple of degrees cooler than Beckenham.

Anyway, the beer...

Monday, July 23, 2018

BV London Pub of the Year 2017-18 - part two

So, this is it. Five new Pub of the Year contenders. If you haven't read the first part, it's probably better to check that out first, otherwise you'll have to wear your trousers backwards and go to bed in the morning.

If you're already up to date, then let's go...

Thursday, July 19, 2018

BV London Pub of the Year 2017-18 - part one

Yes, it's that time of year once again. The lazy Summer days of trying to decide which pub has been the best in London over the past 12 months.

Almost unbelievably, this is the seventh year of the competition, and three different pubs have won the accolade - but who will it be this time? Which prestigious pub will attain the additional prestige of having their prestigious name on the most prestigious trophy - the trophy of prestige?

As usual we'll start by returning to last year's top five, and then, in part two, we'll look at five 'New Entries' that weren't in the contest last time. After that's it's as simple as picking out a worthy winner - and by 'simple' I mean 'actually rather painstakingly difficult', obviously...

So, here we go! Prestige!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Final Meal 2018 - L'Escargot Risotto Noir

It's coming home, it's coming home, it's coming; Football's coming home...

Well, it was until Wednesday evening anyway. But England can take heart from the fact that this time nobody expected them to do a whole lot, and a valiant semi-final exit is a decent achievement. (Indeed their pair of losses to Belgium in the Group stage and 3rd place play-off suggest that, perhaps 'overachievement' might be a better word!)

Black risotto with snails

What it does mean is that this years 'Final Meal' now has to be a fusion of French and Croatian dishes, which is a shame because after Trippier's free kick I was planning for a Bouillabaisse Pie with Roquefort mash. Surely a future classic, no?

But we'll make the best of the situation with a bit of cuttlefish ink and a few snails and, who knows, it might even be vaguely edible.

(If you haven't been keeping up with the tradition, the 2014 World Cup saw the creation of Black Forest Churrasco, while Euro 2016 - Portugal vs France, of course - lent itself to the Peri Peri Croque Monsieur. This lark began back in the 2012 Euro finals when Spain took on Italy and I gave you Gnocchi Bravas.)

So, here we go then.  2018's 'Final Meal'...

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Can't cook; won't cook; can barely raise a glass

Firstly, relatively sincere apologies for the radio silence on the old blogging front recently. And to those expecting to see me out and about in various places and didn't - yes, unfortunately I've been pretty quiet lately.

There is a reason, mind.

For the past six months or so I've been suffering increasingly from a frozen shoulder, complicated with hyper-mobility. I realise that sounds like a piss-poor excuse for inactivity and reclusiveness and being on a bit of a downer.

Until recently I too would have summarily dismissed 'frozen shoulder' as a minor condition, probably unworthy of complaint. But, the truth is, it's extremely life-limiting and bloody painful.

I'm having treatment - physio, acupuncture, painkillers, whatever might alleviate the bloody thing - and I'll try to blog more and be a bit more sociable, but I might be in for another year or two of this crap before it really gets better.

The pain isn't just confined to the shoulder - it radiates down the arm to the elbow, wrist and fingers. Simple food-prep tasks, like getting something down from a shelf, taking a casserole out of the oven or sprinkling herbs have become difficult or even impossible, as the muscles in my arm start to atrophy from lack of use. Even lifting a pint glass to my mouth is a challenge!

Of course, it had to be in my right arm, didn't it? The more important, dominant one. You don't appreciate the full range of movement of your rotator cuff until it's taken away. I've forgotten what it's like to wave my hand in the air, or put it behind my back or use a mouse for an extended period of time. Conveying three pints from bar to table in one movement? A mere dream now.

There's a psychological element too; a couple of months ago a sort of dull, depressed sense of fatigue really set in, after not being able to find a position to sleep in properly. And I have a constant feeling of uncertain restlessness and not knowing what to do - a feeling I usually only get immediately after somebody dies.

OK, that's enough whinging about my suffering. I just wanted to explain my general absence and indeed, why my mood probably hasn't been top-drawer when I have been around.

I'll keep going with my prescribed exercises and try to be back to my creative peak soon, OK?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Mostly on the side of the dinosaurs

It's sometimes easy to over-obsess about things, so this will be my last word on the seemingly unending CAMRA Revitalisation plans - at least until after next month's AGM when the train will either be diverted on to the fast lines or stopped in its tracks.

I've already cast my votes online and, after much consideration, I have mostly voted against the proposals for change. Which may surprise some people.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Transitional Lamb

If you were planning to check some news site or other after reading this post, I'll save you the trouble.


Snow. Snow. Snow. 

Lots of snow. It's cold out there, the schools are closed, the footies off and some opticians are trapped on the M75 for 137 hours in an Austin Princess with no heating, blankets or wine. That sort of thing. And there's absoluely fuck-all else going on in the news. Trust me on this one.
I think we're on an 'Amber' weather warning right now - Red basically means that you and everyone you ever cared about are already dead, while the Yellow warning just means you have to watch out for uriney snow. so Amber is probably about right.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Where were you when the Colonel died?

February the 19th, 2018 will forever go down in history as 'the day KFC ran out of chicken'.

Years from now, folks will idly ask 'do you remember that day when KFC ran out of chicken?' and their friend Martha will reply 'Yes, Gerald, it was February the 19th, 2018'. And then they'll reminisce about how the Double Down really wasn't all that, and argue about exactly which 11 herbs and spices made up the Colonel's original recipe.

The Kennedy assassination it may not be, but it's the kind of story that almost defies belief. Chicken isn't just their core product, it's pretty much their only product - and that's why more than half their 900-odd outlets are closed today. How can such a large chain - presumably with robust operations and logistics processes in place - allow something like to ever come close to happening?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

CAMRA Revitalisation - much ado about nothing?

Last week, CAMRA finally revealed a set of recommendations resulting from their 'Revitalisation' consultation.

I say 'finally', not because there is even a remote sense of finality about this, but because this process has dragged on for absolutely fucking ages, as if swimming against a tide of treacle. I attended one of the very first consultation meetings (in April 2016, which really does seem a hell of a long time ago now) and once the series had concluded, I was invited as a beer writer to a sort of beer media briefing which went into more detail about what they'd learned.

That was about a year ago. They've had a long time to get their shit together following the consultation process, but finally the cat is out of the bag.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Golden Pints: BV's best beers of 2017

Well done you - you made it through another year!

And so, it seems did I, staggering on, from one pint to the next like some sort of thirsty animal. But with better taste in beer, presumably.

As beer-years go, 2017 was a pretty good one (there's scope for a Tori Amos cover there) and the standard of brewing in this country remains at an all time high.