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!

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Will it be COVID that finally kills off cask beer?

With Christmas done and dusted, probably with Arsenic, we're rapidly approaching the death throes of 2020 and at this time of the year, I would usually be thinking 'Golden Pints' and telling you all about my favourite beers.

This time around I shan't bother because I've drunk so little beer this year, what with the pubs having been closed for so much of it and my strong preference being for drinking beer on cask while sitting comfortably in a pub.

But this year, visits to the pub have been - shock, horror! - somewhat thin on the ground (and beer festivals absolutely nonexistent). For what little its worth, my favourite cask pints of the year were Arbor's You may say I'm a dreamer and Mallinson's Shift, but there wasn't a whole lot of competition as there wasn't a whole lot of drinking going on.

I know it's not the same for everyone. I know plenty of people are happy enough drinking cans and bottles at home and given the opportunity to spend more time there, might have actually drunk more than in a typical year.

But that's not me.

And so, I come to the question that's been bothering me for a while now: Is this the end, more or less, of cask beer?!?

Monday, December 14, 2020

The Deacon Centre

OK, so this is, if you like, the BV 2020 Christmas Charity Appeal.

I want you to donate to The Deacon Centre. And if you can't do that, please Like, Follow, Share, Forward and all of that other stuff. LocalGiving for donations. Our Facebook page for general support and sharing.

The Deacon Centre, Caterham
Believe. Achieve.
This has been a shit year, right? Very little socialising, very little eating out, hardly any going to the pub and beer festivals have been non-existent. We've all had a terrible time.

One of the few positive things that actually happened this year is that a new charity, The Deacon Centre has been established, and things have worked out in such a way that I find myself Chair of the Board of Trustees.

Named after Joey Deacon, we'll be running creative spaces for Service Users with Physical, Learning and Communication disabilities and those who support them. Creative writing. Music. Art and Crafts. Drama. Giving people opportunities to express themselves creatively; a chance to really 'live' rather than to merely 'exist'. (We might even offer some food-related sessions at some point!)

We have some great ideas and big plans for when the pandemic is finished, and a determination to make a difference. It's very early days so we need all the support we can get.

So, if you do one thing this Christmas, do it for Joey.


Monday, December 7, 2020

Where is the substance?

On Friday I went to the pub - for the first time since Lockdown II 'ended' - for a few pints and, of course, a substantial meal as is now required by law.

These are profitable times for Britain's Scotch Egg industry. Pasty bakers too, I shouldn't wonder. But possibly not such great days for our wet-led pubs and their customers who have suffered more than most from the fucklery that is COVID-management legislation.

The industry is doing its utmost to cope with a frankly ridiculous situation - we've seen ultra-basic pasta-based meals sold for just 1p with no obligation to consume it. 'Meal replacement' protein drinks on sale, and of course, several seasonal ales named 'substantial meal'. Then there is the ingenious trick of telling everyone when they arrive that 'unfortunately the kitchen is very slow today and it might be a long time before your food arrives.' What a wheeze...

Friday, September 25, 2020

10,000 pints later

On New Years Day 1996, I sat in the William Morris pub in Merton Abbey Mills, drinking a pint of Draught Bass

A callow youth with a few months of teenagehood still remaining on the clock, I had no idea that this was the start of something that would stay with me for the next two and a half decades.

It wasn't - don't be disappointed now, internet - a lifelong love of Bass. But it has been a journey through a further 9999 different beers.

The Bass was quickly followed by Gale's Christmas Ale, back when Gale's was actually a brewery in Hampshire, and the following day I enjoyed a Burtonwood James Forshaw, and a Hopback Summer Lightning


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Burgers in the rain

With the Government 'Eat Out to Help Out' scheme about to come to an end, I wanted to make sure I availed myself of the discount at least once, having been let down in this department by the Real Jerk last week.

So a trip to Bleecker Burger Victoria was very much in order as Bleecker had been marketing themselves on the back of the scheme fairly aggressively on Social Media, and I'd wanted to try their burgers for some time anyway.

So here's a quick-fire review of a pretty decent no-frills burger joint. We haven't done one of them for a while...

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Who's the real jerk?

Compared to many foodie blogsters, I'm not usually all that bothered about 'service' in restaurants.

Most of the time, if the food is good it'll take a lot to make me notice that other departments are lacking and even when I do, I tend to take a pretty relaxed and forgiving view.

So this review of The Real Jerk on Streatham Hill is going to be a bit of a strange one, because stuff other than the food has actually been bad enough for me to notice and indeed care about it!

Monday, August 3, 2020

BV London Pub of the Year 2019-20 - a special award

The past few months have seen the pub and brewing industry hit spectacularly hard. It's almost spitefully trivial to even be thinking about a best pub competition at this time.

But my London Pub of the Year award has been going for quite a few years now, and it feels right to do something this year, for continuity and because no virus can stop me recognising a fucking good pub when I see one!

Can you tell where it is yet?
The award 'year' runs from July to June, which means that most of the serious decision-making inevitably takes place during the months of March, April, May and June... when of course everything was locked down tighter than a locksmiths chastity belt.

Therefore a full and fair contest just wouldn't be possible. However, a few weeks ago I came to a couple of decisions.

  1. Assuming everything gets back to normal, the competition will make a full return for the year 20-21, and will include the five finalists from last year, plus a further five pubs. It will be open to all e.g. the five long-listed non-finalists from last year will not be excluded.
  2. A 'special award' will be given out for 2019-2020, to a pub that went the extra mile during lockdown.

And that special award goes to...

Monday, July 27, 2020

Eating out for the first time since lockdown!

Yesterday I had my first proper meal out since #LOCKDOWN® , the only thing that had previously come close being a Wetherbreakfast the previous weekend.

I know you're all desperate to learn where I went, what I ate and what it was like. So here goes:

Monday, July 6, 2020

It's back...

So, I went to the pub on Saturday. Actually I went to three.

I broke my lockdown with a few at two-time London Pub of the Year The Hope, then checked out the newly refurbished bar at the Cryer Theatre, before finishing up at Wallington's Wetherspoons.

I drank several pints over the course of the afternoon, the sky didn't cave in, nobody died, and I'm fairly confident that nobody is going to die as a result of my actions. I don't think I actually came within a metre of another human being, without there being a giant plastic shield between us.

So, the pub is back. Sort of.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

What next for the pub?

So, it's official. We have a date.

July 4. Independence Day. The day everything goes back to normal and we can all go to the pub again...

Well, maybe. If your definition of 'back to normal' includes a bunch of rules and conditions that will, at best, make things different from how they used to be, and in a worst case scenario could sap all the enjoyment out of going for a pint.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Lockdown Lunches #3: Chicken & Chorizo Fusilli

Happy May 19 everybody!

Yes, it's still May. Yes, it's still 2020. I know, I know. Time has slowed down to the pace of a snail that has been told by Dr. Limax to take things easy.

C&C Fusilli
But, happily, I've come up with tonnes of new recipes during Lockdown, as well as tweaking and refining a great many more from my extensive back catalogue.

(Well, the pubs aren't open and I've not had all that much else to be getting on with, so where better to spend my time than in the kitchen?)

What with me being the kind of person I am'n'shit, I've no idea if I'll get round to sharing absolutely all these delicious dishes with you chaps, but here's another one to be getting on with.

I hope you like it. I hope you'll try it, and I hope you're keeping safe during these difficult times.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Lockdown Lunches #2: 24 Hour Carnitas

My birthday last week was the first one for 20 years in which I haven't been to the pub.

And even in 2000 I did manage a quick birthday pint with my Sports coverage colleagues in the BBC Club at Television Centre, where I was working at the time.

I used to commute there every day - imagine that! On buses and tubes! To work in a big, doughnutty building with hundreds of people!

Anyway, as promised, here a few further thoughts on Lockdown and this whole COVID-19 thing. Some of these opinions will be controversial. If you can't handle that, skip straight to the Carnitas recipe, or fuck off back to your videos of kittens or whatever you're doing to pass the time.

So, this rather peculiar, locked-down birthday reminded me of how much I miss going to the pub. Going to the pub to socialise and drink cask beer is one of my things. Like going to church to sing in the choir, going to football matches to support the mighty CCFC, going to gigs to complain that the band isn't as good as they used to be, and so on.

All gone from my life.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Lockdown Lunches #1: Ratatouille

These really are the strangest of times, aren't they?

What have you been up to lately? Been anywhere interesting? I'm guessing not. We're in #LOCKDOWN and it sucks.

The highlight of my day now is updating my COVID-19 spreadsheet, deciding I can't be bothered to Zoom various people, and putting off learning to play the trumpet for a further day.


Monday, January 27, 2020

Lost Breweries: K is for Kitchen

I was all set to write about King & Barnes of Horsham.

After all, this was one of the biggish names to disappear from the brewing map when, in 2000, it was taken over by Hall & Woodhouse and closed, bringing an end to almost 200 years of brewing there.

Until the 1990s K&B Sussex really was considered one of The classic English bitters, though I could never really see the appeal, having only caught the back end of it, and I've been distinctly underwhelmed by the revived 'WJ King' brewery.

But that's about all I'd ever really have to say on the subject of King & Barnes, and that being the case - and I appreciate that this may be heretical to the ears of traditionalists - it's probably better all round if I use my letter 'K' to honour, instead, the Kitchen brewery.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Platinum Pints: BV's best beers of the 2010s

This year hasn't started well. I've consumed more pints of Lemsip than of beer, and wallowed in so much self pity and so little alcohol that I might as well be doing Dry Fucking January.

But it's not just a new year, it's a whole new decade... or is it?!?

There's a compelling mathematical case that 2020 is actually the last year of the 2010s and therefore the new decade won't commence until January 1, 2021. The problem is that if you accept that logic then you also have to believe that the Millennium didn't begin until 2001.

And that is an argument I had a problem with at the time, because going from 1999 to 2000 felt like an absolutely massive psychological shift, whereas 2000 to 2001 was a teensy little incremental feather that you'd barely notice. And given that time is ultimately an abstract concept, measured against fairly arbitrary starting points, the psychological effect - the way we feel about it - is arguably the only thing that matters.

So, there's my working out in the margins of the page. 2000 was the start of the new millennium, and therefore 2020 is indeed the start of the new decade, like it or not.

Which all means I can now pick my 10 favourite beers of the 2010s. Or, more specifically, of the 6850 new-to-me cask beers, because that's how I do these things. That's a lot of beer records to trawl through. But let's Lemsip up, open the spreadsheet and get the fuck on with it...

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Golden Pints: BV's best beers of 2019

Another year has ended and a new one just begun. Forgive me if I'm unenthusiastic - 2019 was a generalised pigfuck of a year for reasons I shan't bore you with. (And, yes, I know I haven't blogged anywhere near as much, anywhere near as eloquently or anywhere near as entertainingly as I should. Sorry about that.)

Will 2020 be any better? Is there any Hope left in Pandora's old box? Well there's The Hope - my current Pub of the Year, of course, and there will always be beer. I wasn't even particularly positive about beer last year, such was the depths of my mood, but looking at it objectively, it was a good year for beer.

I ticked 736 new cask beers during the year, which has put me within a couple of hundred of reaching the mystical 10,000 figure. This was the most I'd managed in a year since 2014, and 23 of them managed to score 8/9 on the BV Beer scale.

2019 was notably cask-centric. I drank so little kegged, bottled or canned beer during the year to dish out any awards for that this time around, but here, in no particularly order, are my favourite six cask beers of 2019: