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, September 6, 2021

EO2HO: The sequel

With the various flavours of lockdown now looking like they might just be retreating into history, it's time to get out there and support 'the industry'.

OK, I won't say it again because I fucking hate that term, but it's not rocket surgery: Drink in as many pubs as you can, eat in restaurants, go to cafes and coffee shops and anywhere else you can eat and drink. Revisit old favourites, try new places, and generally enjoy it all while the experience is possible. (Just in case the worst should happen yet again.)

I recently checked out a couple of places that were new to me, and both are well worth visiting if you're ever in the Camden or Tooting areas, or don't mind going to places on the Northern Line!

Eating out to help out - let's do it!

The really real Greek?

Andy's Taverna has been serving up Greek Mezedes in Camden since the 1960s and - having moved location across the road at some point during the intervening years - has expanded into the adjoining premises and out onto the pavement to create a sense of life and bustle, which is exactly what a Greek Taverna should do. 

And that's just for starters...
It's almost opposite a building I used to work in, and consequently I have a nagging feeling I might've been here once about 20 years ago, but if I didn't, the question would be: why didn't I?!?

The menu is exactly what you'd expect - name a classic Greek dish that you enjoyed on a beach holiday in Scaramangos or Polyhedron and it'll be on there. No experimental fusion going on here, and nor should there be. There aren't enough Greek eateries around, so those that do exist probably shouldn't be shagged about with.

We tried a Meat sharing Mezedes for two (£38), and the Seafood version of the same (£42), and for that you get one hell of a lot of food for four people, with an extensive range of cold dips followed by hot starters and then a big tasting platter of various main courses.

A particular highlight for me was the Melitzanesalata - zippy, light and fresh, and not as smoky or gunky as Aubergine-based dips sometimes are. The cold bean salad was also a joy, as was the creamy cheese dip with a little hint of chili.

Something Fishy
Traditional Mediterranean classics Taramasalata, Tzatziki and of course a nice garlicky Hummous mean that there will be something for everyone on the table. (I mean, someone has to love Taramasalata, right?)

Hot starters include Calamari and fried Halloumi cheese, and I think the idea is that the exact dishes you get on any given day will vary somewhat, depending on what's available and in season. This is not something with which I have a problem. 

The Seafood main course included salmon, tuna steak and juicy king prawns, while carnivores can enjoy various meaty chunks of lamb, chicken and sausage souvlaki. Well cooked; well spiced. No surprises, but all pretty good.

There is also, of course, the obligatory Greek Salad included, though fully-Vegan options might be a little thin on the ground. Frankly I don't particularly care about that. 

Something Meaty
Retsina (£18/bottle) is one of the best accompaniments to Greek food, and is becoming increasingly rare these days so it was a joy to have a couple of leisurely glasses with the meal. 

The problem with this sort of food is that when there are delicious dips on the table and the fresh bread keeps coming, it's easy to get fairly full before the main courses arrive - I was absolutely stuffed when the Lamb Kleftico turned up, and didn't do it justice. Gutted. Or de-gutted. Or whatever the clever word is for feeling full and disappointed.

But that's not a criticism of the restaurant, and the tender, succulent lamb was falling from the bone into the tangy tomato sauce. There were even a couple of very large potatoes, but that was the last thing I felt like by then!

Too full to enjoy this...
The only actual food issue I had with this place was the calamari - the same thing is served as both a hot starter and as part of the main course platter on the fishy set menu, which feels a bit confused, and, maybe it was an off day, but I've had far, far better calamari, and I can't remember the last time I had some that was this bad.

Yes, squid rings have a reputation for being rubbery, but these days most places can cook them so that they aren't. This was a bit of a throwback to 1980s package holiday stereotypes.

But everything else tasted good, and - based on the dozen or more Greek islands I've visited - pretty damn authentic, up to and including some digestifs on the house at the end of the meal.

A long Mezedes-type meal for two at Andy's Taverna will cost around £60-80, and you'll need to arrive hungry and allow a decent amount of time to enjoy it.

Freedom for Italy

On the other side of London, Tooting has caught up with Camden in the trendiness stakes over the past few years to some extent, and has been a bit of a destination for eating out for some time now.

I grew up in the area, and the relatively new Dolce Vita is an authentic Italian place with an outdoor dining space that replaced a Polish restaurant, which itself replaced a Tandoori that I used to go to many, many years ago.

It's probably fair to say that this is an improvement on either - simple pizza and pasta dishes done well, alongside a few specials (like chicken in a creamy sauce with potatoes that is better than it sounds).

The Tagliolini ai frutti di mare brings together mussels, prawns, clams and (non rubbery!) squid in a delicate sauce with garlic and cherry tomatoes, and makes for a perfectly tasty light lunch.

I really enjoyed a saucisse/funghi Tagliatelle, which was perfectly al dente, with strong truffle oil notes, and woody mushrooms complementing big chunks of meaty Italian sausage. 

Main/pasta dishes are in the £9-13 price range, and if you're looking for Gluten-free or Vegan options, these seem to be pretty well catered for.

And I wouldn't normally rave about salad, obviously, but the mixed side salad here really was very pleasant, with a delightfully tangy dressing that complemented the leaves and grated carrot.

Portions here aren't vast, so if you're hungry, you might want pasta, salad and garlic bread. 

And then some gelato, obviously. In recent years I've developed a taste for Affogato - hot Espresso poured over a scoop of gelato, because it's an ideal way to conclude a light meal - or indeed a heavy one. 

(In fact one day I'm going to fucking well come back here and have a separate portion of ice cream and then an Affogato, and then a separate double Espresso. Because I'm like that, me.)

This time I went for the toffee gelato because I thought it would work nicely with the coffee and it didn't disappoint.

I can't comment on the pizza range, but I'll be sure to try some of that at some point in the not too distant future. 

A meal for two here is in the £50-60ish ballpark - if you have a really big appetite bear in mind that it's possibly better suited as a light-lunch sort of place, and you can head North and go to Andy's Taverna for your big meal.

So, two very different eating experiences, but both proper decent in their own respective ways and both textbook examples of Italellenic(?) cuisine. I shall be back. To both.

Where to find it...

Andy's Greek Taverna

23 Pratt Street,



Dolce Vita

178 Mitcham Road,
SW17 9NJ (MAP)



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