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, 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.