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, November 29, 2023

The Heart and Soul of England

Some time ago my father posited the concept of the relationship between pub and church as embodying 'the Heart and Soul of England' (I forget exactly how long ago, but given the rate at which time now passes it might be as long as 30 years!) with the pub being the 'heart' of this country, and the church its 'soul'.

We would occasionally revisit the topic and sometimes even consider the 'expanded universe', so a butchers shop would perhaps be 'the Loin of England' and the great universities the Brain, but the core of the idea - and indeed the core of any traditional English village - was very much Heart and Soul; Pub and Church. Perhaps located tangentally across the road from one another, inextricably linked through generations of the worshipful and the thirsty.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

BV London Pub of the Year 2022-23 - the results

What combines the anticipatory excitement of a gender-reveal party with the hoppy aroma of a cool, fresh pint, and the excited anticipation of a different gender-reveal party?

That's right - the BV London Pub of the Year contest. And the hour is hand for the winner to be revealed, so let's crack on with our top five for 2022-23.

So, here we go...

(Oh yeah, read the actual content of parts one and two first, otherwise none of this will make any sense.)

So, here we go. For real this time...

Friday, August 11, 2023

GBBF 2023: A Call to (Volunteer) Arms

I've been attending the Great British Beer Festival for 29 years now, and have long been a staunch supporter of the event. 

Typically I'd get a Season Ticket, attend most or even all of the sessions, and drink lots of beers during the week, which would be one of the highlights of my year. I've seen it grow in size from the mid-90s onwards; the evolution as it moved from Olympia to Earl's Court and then back again. And I sorely missed it in 2020 and 2021, when it didn't take place. Its return in 2022 brought a sense of purpose back to my life. Well, back to my first week in August, at any rate.

But despite being a GBBF Superfan, I'd never volunteered - until this year - and it's only right that I now give you my honest assessment of how I got on last week.

Monday, July 31, 2023

BV London Pub of the Year 2022-23 - part two

Whenever there's a part one, there's always a part two. The second course. The revenge of the killer sequel, if you will.

And this is it - the second half of the 2022-23 London Pub of the Year contest, where five new contenders join the competition and go up against last year's Top Five.

This year sees a mix of complete newcomers and pubs that have been absent from the contest for a few years, so let's crack on...

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

BV London Pub of the Year 2022-23 - part one

It's that time of year again when I think about whether I should give up doing a London Pub of the Year award, and then go ahead and do it anyway. 

With another full year of no lockdowns and freedom-of-drinking under our belt, this year's contest should be a cracker. God only knows I've made enough visits to 'That London', as I'm now obligated to call it, in search of the capitals best pub. 

So here we go. This post will cover last years top five and part two will reveal five brand new challengers. Well, 'new' in the sense that they weren't in the 2021-22 contest.

Enjoy. Or don't.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Waiter, there's chips in my kebab!

I first tried a genuine 'Gyros' kebab when I was 13, on the first of many family holidays to Greece. Like the pornographic playing cards on sale in every souvenir shop, it blew my young and impressionable mind.

Of course, I was already very familiar with the sort of doner kebabs we had in London, lurking at the seedy and disreputable end of the food chain. Dodgy meat of unknown origin, with the same 'elephant leg' sometimes going around and around for days; tired salads; bland and slightly stale pitta breads; often run by Turkish Cypriots or their descendents, reliant on an undiscerning late-night customer base.

I should say that I actually didn't mind them as an occasional dubious treat, even as a non-inebriated 13 year old. But this was a whole world apart from the kebabs I knew. It looked similar - the meat came from a vertical spit, there was bread and salad - and yet it was so very different. And I can still remember that day.

Chips with everything

Hellenic goodness in every bite
The bread was round and puffy, delicate and soft, yet crispy from the press and it tasted oh so fresh. The meat was way tastier than any doner I'd ever had and mixed up with finely chopped salad and yoghurt and garlic. Oh, and there were chips in it! A few random fries poking out of my meat wrap. It was truly a handheld delight.

If recollection serves, there was a little hut on the beach in Aegina that served them. We discovered it a couple of days in to the holiday - the perfect lunchtime snack.

And it turned out not to be a one-off. On a day trip to Athens we found a really dingy place in a side street behind a metro station selling them - the shop front didn't look much, but the gyros was probably even better than the ones on the beach.

That was 33 years ago. But for one reason or another, Gyros has never really become a widespread thing over here. We get the standard UK kebab takeaways where the elephant legs haven't improved much since 1990. More recently we've had more opportunities to eat Lebanese shawarma, which is generally much better, and a treat in its own right. Then Boxpark Croydon gave us a 'Greek on the Street' outlet that actually served gyros. Happy days.

And now, just a few miles down the road from me, is Santorini Gyro, in Purley. I've been going there for post-pub gyros quite a bit. It's very good.

As it happens

Santorini is one of the Greek islands I haven't actually visited (well, there are so many of them!) but if it's anything like the ones I have been to, you won't struggle to find good food. I've no idea if it's specifically known for its gyros, but even if it isn't, I'm willing to buy into the fantasy when I'm in Purley!

It's located right opposite the 'town centre' entrance to Purley rail station, making it easy to find and convenient. It's independent and family run, open every evening except Monday. Everything is prepared fresh to order, and you can see it before your eyes. What's not to like?

There are a couple of tables outside, which I suppose you could use for on-site dining, but it's essentially takeaway only. And that's fine. That's exactly how gyros places in Greece worked and it feeds into the nostalgia for me. (Though Purley isn't exactly a secluded bay on Lefkas, I'm sure it's picturesque in its own way...)

You spin me right round
The menu is pretty straightforward, and I'd really recommend choosing the chicken or lamb gyros, and have it the way Greeks do with the toppings that come as standard.

Don't expect fiery heat. Chilli sauce is not the norm on a gyros. Instead prepare yourself for the garlicky yoghurt tang of homemade tzatiki, which melds beautifully into the meat, the bread, the salad and even the crunchy fries.  It's a combination that just works so well.

It's good value too. At 6 quid a pop for a decent-sized lamb or chicken gyros, loaded with everything (including fries) you really can't argue with it. If you require extra, a box of fries (with oregano, Greek style) is only £2. 

We've also tried one of their mixed grill boxes, with different kinds of souvlaki, and the salad, sauces and bread all separate. It's tasty enough, but just lacks the wow factor of the gyros where the flavours all merge together, and it's not as good value.

They also do a cheesy thing, with two flatbreads sandwiched together, full of cheese and gyros meat. This didn't quite hit the mark for me, but would be great if you like melty cheese, I suppose.

Talking of cheese, if you're of the meat-free persuasion they do Haloumi and Falafel wraps, which, presumably, come with all the rest of the gubbins that makes the gyros so special. And if you're thirsty you can get a little bottle of a strange sour cherry drink that's really quite pleasant.

Overall it's a great addition to the area and really quite different from most of the takeaway kebab options you'll be used to. For about 20 English pounds (or whatever the equivalent is in Drachma) a couple can have a gyros each, extra chips and some pop. 

I wouldn't argue with that.


Where to find it...

Santorini Gyro
3 Whytecliffe Road South,
CR8 2AA (map)


Sunday, March 26, 2023

Happy Orval Day!

Today, 26 March, is apparently 'Orval Day', which is a happy coincidence as I'd been meaning to write a few words on the subject for a while.

Actually I've been meaning to drink some Orval for a while. It's been too long.

Now I've been a fan of Orval since I first sampled it on my 17th birthday, which was a worryingly long time ago. But here's the thing...

The greatest of all Trappist beers?
Beer aficionados tend to divide into two distinct camps. There are those who, like me, think Orval is the greatest of all the Belgian Trappist ales, but there are many who consider it second-rate in comparison to Chimay, Westmalle, Westvleteren; pretty much all the others. I've even heard it said that it's 'not really a proper Trappist beer'. And it's true that it's quite stylistically different to the others and a bit of an outlier.

I suspect that - amongst those informed enough to take a view - those of us who express a preference for Orval are in the minority, but there are a fair few of us.

And I think what it comes down to is whether one actually really likes the 'proper' Trappist ales or not. I have to admit that I don't, particularly. I've never enjoyed the spicy, herby, clovey, bananary sweetness of Dubbels, Tripels and Quads. I could happily get through life without ever having another bottle of Rochefort 8 or Chimay Gold. I can appreciate these beers being well made, while just not personally liking the features imparted by the yeast that helped make them.

But I like Orval because it has less of the characteristics of Trappst and Abbey beers that put me off. It's hoppier, livelier, more sessionable, more quenching and sports aromatics more in line with what you'd expect from the New World than an old monastery. 

I like that it's 'only' 6.2% ABV (though it's bottled-conditioned and may consequently strengthen over time). I like the freshness on the nose, like a subtle waft of incense. I like the dry hoppiness that comes through in the finish.

So that's an explanation of sorts - Orval is the Trappist beer for those who don't especially enjoy Trappist beers. Which sounds like damnage with faint praise, though that's really not my intention.

If you've never tried Orval, give it a go - particularly if you think you don't like Belgian strong ales. It's lighter and weaker and drier and less classically Belgian.

And it has possibly the coolest glass of any beer ever!

Friday, March 24, 2023

Half a dozen things that should definitely be a thing

A few ideas that have corrupted my thought processes of late: 

So good for you

  1. Late night samosa shops. Wouldn't that be just the best thing? After a few pints to be able to have a couple of hot samosas, served 'open' in paper and ready to eat, maybe with some spicy chips and mint sauce or chutney to go with. Yeah, I know you could technically go to an Indian restaurant and order a takeaway consisting solely of samosas, but you'd have to wait at least 15 minutes and it's not really the same thing as what I'm suggesting. 
  2. Bring back smoking indoors. I was watching the 1984 film version of 1984 the other day, and in the most oppressive, Authoritarian society ever conceived John Hurt's Winston is routinely allowed to smoke, pretty much wherever he goes. There should not be any measures whereby we are less free than the occupants of Oceania. But clearly there are.
  3. Real brands on TV. Come on, it's just not true to life that nobody in the world of televisual fiction ever asks for a product by name. The world isn't going to explode if somebody goes into the Queen Vic and asks for 'two pints of Landlord, a bottle of Peroni and a Blackcurrent J20', are they? They could even mention their plans to get a Colonel's Variety Bucket on the way home. A regular could remark that 'the Harvey's was drinking well that evening'. Yeah, I know it's 'Product Placement'. So fucking what? That's about the least intrusive form of advertising there is - compare it to trying to play a free game on your phone! The TV producers could recoup a little money from those who make the products and it would add to the realism. Win win win all round. 'Oh, and a packet of Scampi Fries please'. 
  4. Cask Orval. That is all.
  5. Talking of Scampi Fries, bring back Cheese Moments to complete the Holy Trinity, along with Bacon Fries. And Brannigans Beer Nuts while we're at it. And the original Phileas Fogg line. I get that regular crisps are probably a bit better than they were when I was a child, but so many good snacks from the 80s and 90s are gone. I'm sure I've banged on about this before, but they still haven't brought the fuckers back, have they?
  6. Deep fried cucumber sandwiches. Battered, obviously. Only the 'cucumber' is thin slices of gherkin. That would be amazing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Golden Pints: BV's best beers of 2022

Are 'Golden Pints' still a thing? Is beer blogging still a thing? Are things being a thing still a thing?

In my case, the answer to all these questions is 'just barely'. If that.

Indeed, it's probably not unreasonable to suggest that I fell somewhat out of love with beer during 2022 - a combination of beers being indifferent and me being clinically depressed.

I haven't blogged a whole lot either and even coming up with a handful of words to describe a beer for an Untappd check-in sometimes feels like too much effort. Again, it's probably the depression for the most part. Mopey old Ben, fishing for pity as usual.

But it's a new year and so I'll try to squeeze something out about my favourite brews of 2022. After all, with all the breweries that have shut up shop lately a positive word about beer might go a long way. Or it might not.