ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create 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. Likewise, 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, August 14, 2017

Has the GBBF lost its G?

Right, that's another Great British Beer Festival over for another year.

And, to be honest, at the end of the week, I've come away feeling a tad, well, underwhelmed. Meh.

Normally, I'd put that down to mid-life-crisisism, post binge-drinking comedown and my generally bleak outlook on life. But a few conversations with other attendees seem to confirm a pretty widespread view that this really was the most lacklustre GBBF for some time.

I don't yet know how it worked out from CAMRA's perspective, but here are few collated thoughts - not just mine but those of my friends, drinking buddies, random strangers and - of course - teh interwebz: 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why does everything have to have a 'quarter' these days?

Whatever claim BoxPark Croydon stakes to being South London's premier nightlife hub, it was always going to have a little local competition in the form of the stuff that was there already.

Croydon may still be short of a genuinely world-class pub, but it doesn't lack restuarants. Indeed the stretch of road south of Croydon Flyover has a concentration of eateries of just about every nationality and the area is now branded officially as the 'Restaurant Quarter'.

Honestly there are so many here, I do wonder if the area can sustain that much food. Especially overpriced, indifferent dining experiences of dubious quality.

Beer Circus used to be round these parts too, a small continental style bar that was one of the first in London to offer genuinely interesting imported beers on draught. It's long gone though, so you'll have to make do with the two Wetherspoons that top and tail the Restaurant Quarter (and the Milan Bar, at the Northern end of the stretch, is up for sale and won't be there much longer.)

Whenever places boast a 'French Quarter', or indeed a Restaurant Quarter, I'm always slightly bemused by the expression. What if it takes up more than 25% of the available space? What if you have French, Italian, Baroque, Chinese and Bohemian Quarters, shouldn't they technically be Quinters or something?

It annoys me.

Anyway, not particularly good restaurants in Croydon. Let's go!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

BV London Pub of the Year 2016-17 - part two

Here we go with the second part of this year's Pub of the Year contest. And in many ways, it's far more exciting than the first because it's the turn of the new contenders. In Top of the Pops parlance we have one New Entry and four Re-Entries this year.

So let's get right onto it, Pop-Pickers...

Monday, July 17, 2017

BV London Pub of the Year 2016-17 - part one

It's that time of the year again: The excitement! The suspense! The engraving of a trophy with the name of the same pub that won last year, probably!

Yep, we're back for the 2016-17 London Pub of the Year contest. And this time it's a bit strange because this is the first contest since I moved out of London.

I've not gone far away and still drink regularly enough in the capital, but before we get started, I really ought to mention my new local, the Radius Arms micropub in Whyteleafe.

It's not in Greater London so it's not eligible for the contest, but if it were, it'd have a serious shout of winning. Landlord Vince keeps a constantly-changing range of both cask and keykeg beers from Premier League breweries and an unrivaled cider selection.

What the Radius understands - and what so many pubs consistently fail to get - is that to be a serious drinking pub you need to offer variety, and variety isn't just about the names on the pumpclips, it's about offering real choice: light and dark; sessionable and strong; supermalt and hyper-hopped and everything in between.

So, whichever pub wins this years contest, I'll probably be drinking there less than I will at the Radius. Sorry, guys!

That said, there are of course several seriously stunning places to drink across all corners of the capital, so let's get cracking:

Friday, July 14, 2017

Lost Breweries: G is for Gibbs Mew

It's hard to believe, given the relative ease with which we can enjoy 8-10%+ DIPAs and Imperial Stouts these days, but there was a time, specifically the time when I started drinking, when almost all beer was in the 3.7-4.6% ABV range.

4.8% beers were, without a trace of irony, branded as 'Strong Ale' and if a beer was a whole 5 per cent, well, you'd genuinely have people shaking their heads, making a 'fwhooosh' noise, and saying things like 'Better not have too many of those!', 'Watch out for brain damage!', and 'Rather you than me, you criminally insane spazzbucket of derangement!'

No, really. They said things like this about 5% ABV beers in the early 1990s. Yeah, technically we had the 9% 'super strength' lager in cans, apparently consumed only by vagrants, and there were a few bottled exceptions like Whitbread Gold Label Barley wine and Thomas Hardy's Ale, but in a pub you'd struggle to find strong beers on draught, and if you inquired as to their existence, you'd be viewed with deep suspicion. You want a strong ale, have this one. 4.7%. Go easy on it there, boy.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Croydon boxes clever

Since we moved out of London into more rural pastures, our nearest 'town centre' for 'doing stuff' has become Croydon (which, technically involves venturing back into London, but you can't have everything.)

Oft maligned as a humdrum 1960s concrete jungle in the same vein as Coventry or Slough, Croydon is nevertheless an important hub for South London and indeed substantial parts of Surrey and Kent. East Croydon station is actually the busiest in all of Greater London apart from the central termini, which - if you don't know the area - gives you some idea of its prominence.

Following this months thunderingly calamitous election result, which was even worse than my pessimistic prediction, Croydon Central is also our nearest Labour seat. As I say, can't have everything.

Eat. Drink. Play. Apparently.
One thing we do have now in Croydon, right bang in the centre, immediately next door to East Croydon station and therefore impossible to miss, is a shiny new BOXPARK. Which means eating, drinking, socialising, and general happeningness. The sort of 'contemporary space' that you really wouldn't ever associate with Croydon. Until now.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Probably an example of why you should never talk politics on a food blog

This has been, without doubt, the most depressing Election Campaign in history.

Not necessarily the most depressing Election - that was 1997, obviously - but back then defeat was entirely expected and the scale of it surprising, so these things in equal measure lent themselves to a campaign of numb resignation.

(Oh yeah, I should've said feel free to completely ignore this post if you don't care about politics'n'shit. There's not much about food or drink in here unless I mention how I woke up the day after the '97 Election covered in Merlot vomit with no memory of having been thrown out of the count in Mitcham!)

Theresa May has had a disastrous campaign. Whatever her credentials for actually running a country, winning voters over is clearly not her strong suit. Her brand of Conservatism is rather distant from my own Libertarianism, but I was willing to let this go when it looked like she might deliver a landslide. With hours to go, it doesn't look like that will happen.

And I want a landslide. I want something like a 180 seat Tory majority. I want us to have disproportionate representation far beyond our vote share. I want other parties ganging up against the opposition rather than against us. I want high-profile entertainers and musicians and comedians to come out for us. I want Labour supporters to feel as despondent and dejected and desperate as they made me feel in 1997 and 2001. For me, it's about revenge. It's about jealousy. It's about having what they had. I want them to wake up covered in sick feeling like the end of humanity.

Godmother Theresa doesn't really look like giving me much of that now, and given the ebb and flow of politics and my generally not-brilliant health, I shall probably be dead before such a Tory landslide is ever achieved. That's right. Dead. You cunts win.

Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, has enjoyed a hugely impressive campaign. I might disagree with much of what he stands for and despise the bullying, debate-stifling way in which some of his supporters conduct themselves, but he has stuck to the task, is a dogged and resiliant campaigner, and has apparently closed the gap in a way that nobody thought possible.

There is a lot of speculation that the tightening polls don't account for our strategic game on the ground and that we are out-performing a national picture that isn't as rosy for Labour. That's as maybe, but it's still no landslide.

For what it's worth, here's my prediction for Thursday:

  • A very modest Tory majority of about 36 or 40, possibly even less.
  • Several strange results as different seats do radically different things to one another.
  • Some very good MPs on both sides lose out unfairly as marginal seats change hands. I'm particularly worried for Gavin Barwell in Croydon Central.
  • Labour vote share holds up reasonably well and Corbyn pisses off most of his MPs by staying on as leader.
  • Social media, already sickeningly one-sided, becomes utterly intolerable.
  • SNP retain about 50 seats in Scotland, most occupied by, basically, children.
  • UKIP wiped out, and Lib Dems fail to launch any kind of comeback, winning only six or seven seats.
  • I try to have a good time helping out the excellent candidate Dan Watkins in Tooting, and avoiding anger and Merlot.

Very, very few people will be genuinely happy on June 9. Nobody will feel they've made much progress.

I will be drinking beer and hopefully punching the air.