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!
Friday, December 30, 2011
The marketing weasels are very clever these days, and they'd love to think that the plethora of new products available will avert our minds eyes from the wistful memories of all the stuff you can't get any more, but which will never be forgotten.
150 watt lightbulbs, high tar cigarettes, guards on trains, the hard square toffee in Quality Street, Gold Top milk... all gone.
Actually, I was surprised to discover recently that the Gold Top (or 'full cream') milk that my grandmother used to give me as a child is actually still available in large supermarkets. Not liking milk very much - unless it's been made into butter or cheese, obviously - I'm not all that bothered either way, but for a few years now I've been meaning to make Egg Nog, and thought that a bottle of Gold Top might well be a useful ingredient. That and eggs, presumably.
Oh, and some booze. Obviously.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
It’s called ‘Bruce Forsyth’s Double-your-Ham’, and it’s brilliant. You just squeeze a couple of drops of the solution onto your Christmas ham using the supplied pipette, and within 30 minutes the ham will increase in size by 100%.
For people who don’t like ham, you can also buy Brucie’s ‘Halve your ham’, which basically involves the chinsome octogenarian coming round your house and eating half of your ham.
I admit it, I’m talking rubbish again. He only eats about 40% of it then he gets full and wanders off to present Strictly, so the product is shit. I’m thinking of reporting them to Trading Standards actually.
Although, when you think about it, it does mean that if you keep using the product your ham will technically last forever, albeit in eternally diminishing quantity, because he’ll never take all of it. Hmm. I have some strange dreams. If indeed it was a dream.
Once, as a child I dreamed I was unhappy because I’d spent all my Christmas money on myrrh and didn’t know what to do.
Anyway, I think I can safely ascribe my extraordinary mental state lately to a lack of chocolate. It’s now been over three weeks without, apart from a tiny one each day from my Advent Calendar, obviously, and it’s starting to take its toll.
For a start, I wish the calendar actually contained nice chocolate rather than manky Maltesers – and even then, just the chocolate without the crunchy, malty centre; you don’t even get the mini bag of Maltesers until Christmas Eve!
I had to change my dessert selection at my team’s Christmas Lunch from Yule Log (which looked really nice and rich) to the Christmas Pudding, which was far too light and cakey with a distinct shortage of fruit, nuts and alcohol as set-menu Christmas Puddings very often are.
A large box of Hotel Chocolat chocs – possibly the finest chocolates commercially available at the moment and certainly the most varied and interesting – arrived in the office and I couldn’t have any. Bah humbug! (Humbugs not containing any chocolate and hence permissible, of course)
And there was only one style of biscuit in the selection tin that didn’t have chocolate, and in normal circumstances it would have been my last choice. The plain Viennese sandwich – who chooses that for fucks sake?!?
When it was really cold last week I wasn’t even able to go to Paul and have their excellent hot chocolate – man, it’s been tough, I tells ya. Hopefully Bono will put out a charity single alerting people to plight of those who have voluntarily given up chocolate for Advent.
I even had to pass up the chance to drink a chocolate stout the other night - admittedly in the Market Porter where there were about a dozen other beers to choose from, but my hackles were already rankled by the preponderance of fairweather drinkers whose great numbers have rendered pubs horrendously crowded! Maybe landlords are using some kind of Forsyth-endorsed ‘Double your punters’ product?
OK, I’ll stop complaining now anyway. It’s been a good test of my willpower, and just about challenging enough to feel like an achievement. Go Me! And my wife!
There’s only a few days to go, and when we get back after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve I’ll be up for an Augustus Gloop-style feast.
A very chocolatey Christmas to all Ben Viveur readers too, I might add.
I’m determined to make my first Christmas as a married man as chocolatey as possible – after all, we deserve it, and if Brucie brings out a ‘Double your Yule Log’ product I’ll buy it. Twice.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
With ten days to go now, it's coming right for us again like a snowballing reindeer and I'm starting to get that unnerving feeling that I haven't pulled my preparatory finger out as much as I should've. The ghost of Christmas Last Minute will be a guest at my table once more. Eek.
But apart from the panicked retail spree on Christmas Eve that I seldom seem capable of avoiding, I actually really enjoy the festive season - probably more so than the people who end up with the mediocre gifts I impulse-buy on December 24, anyway.
I enjoy the music, I enjoy the board games, I enjoy the not having to go to work (although I might very well end up with more of that than I'd like in 2012!). And I enjoy the food and drink, obviously.
|Maybe add some tinsel...|
Anyway, I had to do something with those cloves, so I've come up with a new recipe - a variation on my classic beef stew with a festive twist in the form of a mulled wine-style sauce.
I'll include the original version too, as this dish is good at any time during the winter, especially if you can get bargain packs of winter vegetables which tend to be very good value.
My hunch (or indeed haunch) is that the festive variant would work equally well with venison or perhaps rabbit. Enjoy!
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
My Lenten facsting tactics usually involving giving up something but relapsing half-way through, thus showing myself to be a man of admirable intention but with no pretensions to divinity. To try nobly and fail with serenity is the human condition after all.
Either that or I’ll wait until Passiontide or thereabouts, figure out something I just happen to have failed to consume during Lent, and retrospectively decide to give that up, with the finishing line only being a matter of days away.
And that’s not cheating, it’s just being clever.
Anyway, it’s Advent, not Lent, but the wife and I have a little pact that during this year’s Advent season we shall eat no chocolate at all – apart from one chocolate per day from our chocolate Advent Calendars (which start on December 1 rather than Advent Sunday but then I suppose that would be too much to ask in today’s broken world…)
We're both partial to chocolatey goodness, especially after meals, so it’s been a bit of a challenge and we’re only a week in. Also I can use the fact that I did this as my fast for Lent 2012!
Yes. Yes, I can. Don't think I won't.
Friday, December 2, 2011
I can’t calculate which is lower – my level of job security or the number of relatives I have left. Both must be down to single digits by now.
Anyway, things haven't been easy, hence the lack of blogging recently, and in the kitchen this means I’ve retreated into my culinary comfort zone, rustling up old winter favourites like my famous Boston baked beans and a nice chilli, rather than trying to create new masterpieces. Which isn't to say that my beans and chilli aren't masterpieces in their own right, obviously.
And having said goodbye to Canary Wharf (and the sense of job security that seemed to go with it) I’ve been uncharacteristically slow to explore my new territory – possibly because it might not be mine to explore for very long!
OK, so my tongue has wandered a tad: There’s the Leather Lane burger van where the burgers taste strangely like kofte kebabs, a plethora of good pubs offering decent lunch menus (Venison and prune pie and Black Cab stout at the Melton Mowbray!), and a fair few independent sandwich and coffee shops, all of which are potentially good news for this blogpipe.
But despite my deliberately saying that I wouldn’t be buying all my lunches from the Sainsbury’s opposite the new office, I’ve been buying most of my lunches from the Sainsbury’s opposite the office. Ho hum.
It’s just been the sort of period where even the effort of thinking ‘what shall I try today?’ was often too much, and having lived and work in places dominated by Tescos for the last couple of years, it has to be said that Sainsbury’s £3 lunch deal absolutely pisses sloppy wet shit over Tesco’s £2.50 lunch deal.
For a start, you can choose any of their sandwiches (even premium ones like the BLT in a rustic torpedo, or the Ham hock and cheddar which cost more than three quid on their own) whereas at Tesco one is limited to a sandwich from the basic range. And Sainsbury's stuff is a notch up from Tesco's to begin with, frankly.
The crisp selection is about the same, but your drink options include proper fruit juices rather than manky concentrated versions, so for an extra 50p, you’re getting a way better experience than you would at Tesco.
I realise that this is bit mundane by my standards, but I'll assume forgiveness and try to do better in the future!
One rare moment of sanctuary in the last few weeks that I've been meaning to write about was our trip to the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden for Diwali.
I have to admit that I’d not properly been inside a Hindu temple since a disturbing experience as a young child, and things seem to have moved on since then.
I’m told it’s a bit different during the rest of the year, but Diwali here is run as an industro-commercial operation – much like almost every cathedral seems to be these days, with their donation boxes and gift shops and refectories.
The atmosphere in the surrounding area was very much like an evening football match - for London's Hindu population Diwali is still a very big deal, and it's hard to imagine anything remotely comparable in the Church of England!
You get to walk through the temple itself as if it’s a tourist attraction, but only a very few stopped to pray before the icons; the emphasis is not so much on anything obviously spiritual, but on the vast, crowded food tent and the equally massive firework display which was probably the most spectacular I’ve ever seen.
Back when I was a child, in those carefree days of long Summer holidays, actually liking cola cubes, and getting disturbed in Hindu temples, I loved fireworks and wanted to be a pyrotechnics designer when I grew up.
|Hungry Hungry Hindus|
The food was primarily from the Shayona restaurant and catering company which apparently is permanently based within the Temple complex. It's all vegetarian, but it's good.
The tent was jam-packed, and the lines for every stall were long and meandering, like an orgy of snakes. You'd join a queue with little idea of what you were going to get, and then eat it while standing in the next queue - but that was all part of the fun somehow.
We tried the Puna Kachori - little vegetable frittery things, all mixed up with vermicelli, yoghurt and tons of fresh coriander and chillis.
The only real disappointment was the Jalebi, which I've never liked. It's basically sticky and super-sweet deep fried radioactive batter. We took one bite each, then gave our portion to a guy near the front of the queue, saving him several days. He thought he was actually queuing for the Dabeli rather than the Jalebi, but it didn't matter.
As deep religious experiences go, it's unlikely Diwali in Neasden will satisfy too many people, as it must surely be too commercial for the truly devoted and too lightweight to convert outsiders, but if you like eating and watching firework displays and don't mind crowds, it's a blast!
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
If you need something to do this Friday evening (October 14) I'd just like to draw your attention to the Beer and Barbershop evening, taking place at the church of Saint Leonard, Streatham at 7:30 PM.
There will be food and ale, and expertly-intoned drinking songs from Barber's Hop - a very fine quartet of which I just happen to be a member.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
It’s not all bad news – I’ve discovered there’s a Birley, a Paul and a Byron all within about half a mile of the new office, which is reassurance enough that I won’t have to resort to lunch from Sainsbury’s every day. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with Sainsbury’s.
But the immediacy and choice proffered by the Lady of the Wharf will be gone, and I might have to actually start planning where I’m going to get lunch from instead of descending a lift into a world of utter spoiled-for-choiceness.
One choice I would no longer have even if we stayed here is the top-floor food court at Cabot Place West. Comprising just a Burger King and Singapore Sam, about which I've previously blogged, it was one of the few places one could reliably find space to sit and eat ones lunch.
The entire floor has now become 'Pure Sports Medicine'. I don't know what that is, and I don't want to know. I suspect it doesn't taste any worse than BK or Singapore Sam though...
A taste of Italy
One thing I haven’t located in Holborn yet is a substitute for Zazà Gelato, which I’ve recently discovered here, perhaps later than I'd have liked.
The Italians tend to excel at real coffee and proper ice cream, and Zazà does both as well as anywhere I’ve found outside of Italy. They actually have three outlets on the Wharf but unfortunately none in the Holborn area, which is a crying shame.
|Zazà - photo from canarywharf.com|
And it's molto squisito. Trust me on this one.
You can have a giant cone with three different flavours if you insist, but the real Italian experience for me is the affogato al caffe – a scoop of gelato topped with an espresso shot.
The coffee stays hot, the gelato stays cold, and the whole combination is a treat in itself. Considering the quality, £3 isn’t bad value either.
They also do ice cream - sorry, gelato - in a croissant, which is a winning combination I thought I'd invented myself a few years ago.
A pint of beer
As an aside, it's interesting that this place uses the term 'craft' without discrimination, unlike those who would have it refer exclusively to beers that aren't real ale, which is a nonsense.
I only had time for a couple of quick pints, and went for Mallinson's Om Nom - a golden ale with loads of Citra hops - and the Revolutions brewery's Severin Dark (mild) because I'd been keen to try this Yorkshire cuckoo brewery's products since they set up last year but hadn't had an opportunity to do so yet.
Also in evidence were some tried and tasted Dark Star beers, and plenty more from Revolutions, plus God-knows-what-else, and a couple of house beers brewed locally by Camden Town. With homemade pork pies and scotch eggs available too, albeit expensive ones, it's looking like a pub made in Heaven. Get the fuck in.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Today I went to Starbucks for the first time in months and discovered that I had over £25 on my Starbucks card. Woohoo. That's about 11 large Hazelnut Americanos with free extra shots. Indifferent because it's Starbucks, yes, but splendid in it's freeness.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
In France, they get this. In the Hypermarkets there are little sections for wines that have the right characteristics for cooking but which you wouldn't really want to drink. They often come in square, ribbed plastic bottles. But in England it's a challenge, almost as if people don't want to admit that cheap wine has a use other than as sustenance for tramps.
|Taste the difference?|
Hell, I’m the kind of person that fusses about the quality of butter or olive oil I use, but the cooking pot is a mighty Dionysian leveller and will barely respect a Château Lafite Rothschild better than a Tesco’s own-brand Rioja.
There are some who say you shouldn't cook with a wine you wouldn't be happy to drink. And they can fuck right off. Do they really think they can tell the difference when it's mingling on the stove with garlic, onions and Worcestershire sauce?
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
My father had told me when I was young that the best way of locating a good fish and chip shop was to follow your nose, and it's generally proved to be sound advice.
It was by complete accident that I found myself in Ladywell at lunchtime anyway - I was just returning from a meeting in Croydon in the morning and the train didn't stop where I wanted it to. Ladywell is a hotbed of inconvenience like that. Last time I was there it was only because they terminated a bus early. Bastards.
And workday lunchtime is hardly the standard window for eating fish and chips, is it? Indeed I can't actually remember ever having done so previously, preferring my battered haddock on a day out to the seaside, or late in the evening after a few pints - not that many proper chippies stay open after closing time these days.
But I was hungry and it smelt good, so the Village Fish Bar for lunch it was.
Saturday, September 3, 2011
The Real Deal
|I was expecting more garlic|
Where and What Else?
Friday, August 19, 2011
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Monday, August 8, 2011
But now it's back to normal - although a 'normal' where rioters are mindlessly setting fire to the capital so they can steal trainers - and I have to start cooking my own food rather than just picking up a tub of olives or a 20 inch bratwurst or a pork and stilton pie when I feel like it.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
|Chocolate Orange Stout|
The Great British Beer Festival runs until Saturday
Friday, July 22, 2011
It goes like this: Brewdog, provocatively book bar space at the festival, then get involved in an argument whether the beer they'll be supplying is real or keg, and whether their keg beer can actually technically qualify as real ale anyway. They withhold payment and continue arguing right up until the deadline for getting the floorplan printed, then suddenly stop arguing and pay up - just after the final deadline passes. Possibly deliberately so they can whinge about CAMRA.
|Will they be missed?|
Storm in a pint glass
With hundreds of beers available, in all manner of styles, including over 100 American real ales with some uncompromising hop monsters amongst them, Brewdog would struggle to really stand out on the merits of their beer alone. Yes, there are a ton of other folks making good beer, and doing so without making a fuss about it too. Good beer was good for years before Mssrs Watt and Dickie came along.
Any kind of association with CAMRA seems to be anathaema to their marketing strategy, but the London scene is clearly important to them - if they're going to use a beer festival to draw attention to themselves, they might as well do so in the capital, I guess.
But there is a risk that this simply drives them further down the path of wrongheadedness and eventually they might stop brewing real ale altogether. Which would be a loss.
But it won't carry 'craft keg' into Earls Court, at least not this year. They didn't pay up, and they're not going to be there. As publicity stunts go, this is pretty unimaginative thus far, although we have yet to see if they'll do anything while the actual festival is running.
Monday, July 18, 2011
- Greggs' Helen didn't win The Apprentice and can go back to being a PA to a rubbish pie magnate
- The food at the Lambeth Country Show set new standards for International eclecticness, and
- The beer list for the American cask ale bar at GBBF has been released and it's fucking awesome. And only two weeks away.
Can't. Fucking. Wait.
Mind you, if I'd known the food this weekend at the Country Show was going to be so tasty and interesting, I'd have planned a live blogcast from there too.
|Importantly, there's cider!|
But if you're hungry for tastes from around the world (or, let's be honest, if you're just hungry) it's a brilliant place to be.
Eat your way around the world
As usual there was a Japanese foodstall this year doing a very fine version - the batter light and crispy, the onion and courgette and aubergine and carrot a perfect marriage.
Talking of perfect marriages, despite my Mrs B-V having been born in Guyana, I'd never actually tried Guyanese food until yesterday. As one might possibly expect, given the history and geography of the place, it's a fusion of Asian and Caribbean flavours, but exactly what such a concept would taste like was unclear until I tried it.
And it was, without doubt, the finest chana and roti dish I've ever tried. Honestly. If my wife came from a country where the food was fucking shit, I'd tell her it was fucking shit, but this amazed me as the traditional currying spices were complimented beautifully by molasses and tamarind, giving the dish a sweetish, barbecue-saucey note.
At the Trinidad & Tobago food place (yes, there was one of them too) I got to try the Trinibagan take on the same dish which was nowhere near as good, but then came a Portugese Hog Roast - an interesting twist on the festival classic, with an aromatic fennel and apple seasoning. And cider, of course.
There were, of course, a million nationalities of food we didn't get to try (including Ghanaian, Eritrean, and plenty of different Jamaicans alongside the usual Indian, Chinese, sausages, traditional hog roasts etc.) but were just too full.
I just hope that some of these guys take their wares to GBBF because I'll be needing plenty of food to soak up all the beer I'm planning to drink there.