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, 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)