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!
ʼʼ

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.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Where have all the anchovies gone?

Let me tell you the story of Umberto the whale:

Umberto was a great big whale who lived in the sea. He was a happy whale, swimming about all day and getting bigger and bigger all the time.

Umberto the whale loved to eat, but unlike other whales who eat krill and plankton, Umberto liked to eat anchovies. Absolutely loved the things, so he did.

Every day he would eat more and more anchovies and grow bigger and bigger, and while this made him very happy, all the people in the world were sad because there were no anchovies left for them to put on their pizzas.

Umberto lived happily ever after, at least until last week when the anchovies were all gone and he died.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Beauty, Nespresso and the reluctant coffee convert

I have a friend of a friend who I see maybe once a year.

Every time I see him he asks me, without fail, 'where are the best places to go to see lots of fit girls?' as if I'm some kind of authority on the topic.

This always amuses me. I was never in contention to be the editor of FHM, Nuts or Zoo, and it's not an issue that frequently crosses my mind. But he listens earnestly and attentively and I usually say something about the security line at the airport.

(This is true. At airports all over the world you will likely encounter a broad spectrum of stunningly beautiful people of all nationalities in just a few minutes waiting to put your clear plastic bags on the conveyor belt. If such things matter to you. And, indeed, if they do not.)


Nespresso store - pic from Retail Focus
My friend of a friend takes in this information with a vague sense of awe. I don't think he is widely traveled and quite possibly doesn't even hold a passport, which may heighten his interest.

Anyway, I do worry that one day he will cotton on to the fact that I always give the same answer - even though it's his fault for always asking the same slightly weird question - so next time I see him and he asks the inevitable question, I shall say 'working in Nespresso stores'. He may even get to visit one of those to see if the story checks out.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Perry, Pear Cider and Pedantry

If there's one thing worse than petty pedantry, it's petty pedantry that isn't even fucking correct.

We don't hide behind snowflake protection screens around here. Some people are Complete Fucking Retards. Some people are Insufferable Pedants. And some manage to be both a CFR and an IP concurrently.

Especially when the discussion involves the words 'pear' and 'cider'. And usually a defiant 'perry'.

I'm talking about the sort of really annoying IP who, if you ask them at a quarter past midnight how their evening is going, will point out that 'it's actually the morning now'

At least, they would, if they weren't safely ensconced at home at that time posting on social media, lurking, waiting for someone to talk about 'pear cider'. At which point they can triumphantly chime in with 'Perry! you mean Perry! There's no such thing as Pear Cider!!!1one11'

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lost Breweries: F is for Freeminer

One of the plus points of writing this series is that for every letter of the alphabet I get to indulge in a big bath of beery nostalgia.

I had to think fairly deeply to come up with my 'F', not because breweries whose names begin with the letter have proven immune from closure by quirk of fate, but because the obvious names that sprang to mind haven't really played a significant role in my drinking career, at least when I started thinking about it.

For example, when I was a small child, Fremlin's bitter seemed to be held in extremely high regard by my parents and everyone else who drank beer. It might well have been the first brewery name I ever learned. Possibly even the first beer I ever tasted.

But Fremlin's had been owned by Whitbread since the 1960s, the original Maidstone brewery site had closed in the early 70s and the Faversham brewery that had made the beer the adults raved about also went in 1990. So by the time I started drinking, Fremlin's had become a niche, hard-to-find brand from a ghost brewery that in all honesty never meant anything to me, even if it was beloved of the previous generation.

Then there is Flowers of Cheltenham, another bolted horse from the erstwhile Whitbread stable. In the mid-90s Flowers Original was the staple cask beer in my student union bar, but I hardly ever drank it because it was fucking awful. Warm, soupy goop that largely ensured everyone drank Stella or Guinness instead.

Even in good condition it was an entirely unspectacular beer. That brewery closed in 1998, probably wasn't missed by too many people, and while Flowers beers are still contract-brewed for Whitbread's successor AB-Inbev, it's not really something you'd actively seek out; Again, a brewery that ultimately means very little to me.

And that's why I've gone with Freeminer, whose beers I did at least drink and occasionally even enjoy!