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!
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
There are many areas where society is becoming increasingly classless, but food and drink isn't really one of them.
At the top of the Tenenbaum, obviously, there are people far richer than I who can afford to enjoy this sort of artisan produce and shop in high-end markets all year round. (And indeed there is a tiny elite layer above them whose household staff buy it in for them!)
Then you've got people like me who, through a combination of economics and convenience are largely supermarket shoppers but who are lucky enough to be able to afford to splash out on Ginger Pig Ham occasionally. (It is fucking great ham even if it works out at about £3 per single slice!)
I know it's a bit of a crass generalisation, but lots of people will have a modest, Tescoey Christmas, with their tubes of Pringles, tins of Stella and industrial British pâté, and then there are those who will struggle to afford even this. Maybe even some who will be going hungry on Christmas Day.
I considered how I fitted somewhere in the middle of this socioeconomic Cheese and Ham sandwich, as I made a donation to the local Food bank, including a pack of Mince Pies (fairly decent ones too - Sainsbury's Taste the Difference, I think they were) to hopefully brighten someone else's Christmas.
They only accept dried/packaged/tinned food, otherwise I'd have gone the whole hog and taken them a bit of ham, maybe some of the gloriously stinky Époisses too.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The Godless over-commercialisation, the pubs full of fairweather drinkers, the bandwagon-jumping attempts at seasonal ales made by unimaginatively stuffing a bland, weak, twiggy bitter with nutmeg and cinnamon...
But a greater offence against the senses, possibly than all of these combined, is the shitty £25 Christmas set menu.
You know the one. Three courses. Three options per course. Inoffensive to the point of blandness. Where you have to try really hard not to look like a grumpy old scotal sac in front of co-workers as you wash down dry, overcooked meat with rough-as-fuck house red?
(I know that I had a bit of a whinge on this topic in the very early days of this blog, but it's been four years, so I'm entitled to another one. Consider it an early Christmas present.)
Saturday, December 6, 2014
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Of course, there aren't really all that many sausage-oriented restaurants around, but one bold exception is Katzenjammers, a German bierkeller close to London Bridge station where you can drink authentic Bavarian beers and enjoy a range of traditional sausages from the region.
Located down a fairly steep flight of steps from Southwark street's Hop Exchange - in what may or may not have once been the site of the legendary Becky's Dive Bar - Katzenjammers is owned by the chaps who run the New Wheatsheaf pub next door, and while the basement look and feel is similar to the 'Sheaf, what's on offer is very, very different.
With long wooden benches and continentally-accented bar staff dressed in Lederhosen (they may technically be Eastern European rather than German but it doesn't shatter the illusion) it does capture the bierkeller atmosphere, and you can even order your beer in litre steins.
One thing that isn't typically German is the lack of table service - you order from the bar, and about half the customers seem to just be in there for a few beers.
Monday, November 10, 2014
But what if you've just conducted a mammothian sausage taste test and your lemonless life has actually given you a fridge full of sausages?
You make a delicious sausage casserole, that's what. Here's the recipe. It's piss-easy.
Friday, November 7, 2014
Better than my birthday, better than Christmas. Better than that day I found all that porn on Mitcham Common.
We didn't have a bonfire and we didn't go in for any of that 'penny for the guy' twattery. But what we did have was fireworks. Not on some common land with hundreds of other people, but our own fireworks in our own garden. Bang.
As soon as they hit the shops, I'd spend all my pocket money and any other cash I could beg, borrow or blag on the biggest, best fireworks I could buy. Then, when the big night came, my brother and I would line them all up, carefully arranging the 'display' in order, with the sparklers first and the biggest fireworks saved until the end.
The post-fireworks meal was always the same too. Sausages. Usually with baked beans and a jacket potato, properly baked in the oven with a thick, blistery skin and loads of butter. Good times.
Friday, October 24, 2014
|Pork belly in cider|
But how often do I write about the stuff? About as often as I put pen to paper on the subject of vegan wholefoods and legumes. Which isn't often, obviously.
At the pub I'll only even look at the ciders available when I've made absolutely fucking damn sure that there are no beers that I want. Even then, if I'm honest, it's more likely that I've already walked out, leaving a Ben-shaped cloud of dust for the cartoon landlord to gently prod into disintegratatedness.
And while beer recipes have been hot fodder for a while now, cider recipes are still a bit thin on the ground.
So, what with it being Autumn'n'shit, it's probably a good time to share a seasonal, cidery recipe with you good people. This is a simple and relatively inexpensive dish that really highlights the relationship betwixt butchered pig and fermented apple.
Monday, October 13, 2014
Pretty much everything that people told me about jury service turned out not to be true. And that's probably for the best.
I started at Woolwich Crown Court last Monday (an absolute cuntbugger of a place to get to, by the way!) and I'm now well into my third case. It's been more or less non-stop and really rather interesting - both the trials themselves and the fascinating insights into the machinations of our flawed but strangely effective legal system.
Truth is, serving on a jury has been an ambition of mine since I was a child, and it's been at least as fulfilling an experience as I'd hoped for, if not moreso.
(I still want to release a single that makes the lower reaches of the charts, I still want to win a parliamentary seat, and I still want to race an Opel Monza against a Ford Granada coupe while listening to Queen, but at least I can tick jury service off the list now!)
The sad (but philosophically necessary) reality is that the more ambitious ambitions are, the more likely they will go forever unfulfilled, but while I'm on a role and still relatively young, it would be nice to try and fulfil some of my foody, drinky ambitions.
That's got to be easier than the Monza-Granada-Queen race, right?
Friday, October 3, 2014
Not because I'm a Nationalistic Scot or have any kind of Nationalistic Scottish interests, but because I care rather more passionately than most about answering the West Lothian Question and the unfairness that is the Barnett Formula. Independence for Scotland would have provided a clean and fair resolution to these issues and left the Jocks to do their own thing without impacting unreasonably on the rest of us.
For that reason I was staunchly and unashamedly in the 'vote YES and FUCK OFF' camp. I'm surprised there weren't more of us really. (Not that we got a vote.)
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
For much of the last few weeks, I've been lain low by the disease of kings. If you want an idea of how excruciating the pain in and around my left ankle has been, I actually went ten whole days without a drink at one point. Seriously. Ten!
It's an insufferable tease too, this gouty fucker. Just when I think it's getting better and I can return to enjoying my usual hearty quantities of ale and meat, the bloody pain strikes again and I'm back spending days on end sat indoors on a diet of low-purine food and Naproxen.
However - and I'm probably setting myself up for another uric fail here - it does finally seem to have subsided somewhat, allowing a pain-free me to focus on some of the really rather good stuff that's been happening lately.
And indeed, to share these good times with my readers.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Look at human statues, for example. They barely move, and yet all-too-frequently have the temerity to expect payment for their efforts! Piss easy.
Being the bass player in the Stereo MCs is also an incredibly easy job. The bassline of 'Connected' contains, literally, one note (an F#), repeated about 500 times. Again, an absolute pissing piece of pissy piss.
A far more challenging task, however, is working out the podium finishes in the Pub of the Year. Believe me, I've spent many sleepless nights staying up weighing up the merits of each pub, trying to work out who should come where in the pecking order and listening to Stereo MCs.
But the wait is over. It's time to reveal the top five pubs in London and crown the 2013-2014 winner!
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
One thing's for certain though - they've really taken off like a big tobaccoey firework. You see a hell of a lot a lot of people vaping these days, not all of them cigarette smokers trying to quit either.
I myself own an e-cig purely for occasional, recreational use whenever I can get hold of refill cartridges in nice fruity flavours. Or chocolate, obviously. OK, and vanilla.
Whether it's harmful or not is fairly immaterial to me, as I consider real smoking a calculated risk worth taking in order to enjoy the occasional briar pipe or watermelon shisha.
But I've held the view for some years now that there is a genuinely 99.99% safe 'vice' that still feels a bit, well, naughty, and yet hardly anybody is aware of it. And it's incredibly enjoyable.
I'm talking about white snuff. Specifically, Schneeberg.
Monday, August 11, 2014
I've been going for 20 years now, and while it was always a unique event, it's now bigger and better than ever and looms like a vast, beery ox in a year-round field of chickens. The very anticipation causes me to come up with fucktarded metaphors.
Anyway, the sheer massiveness of it all it can be a tad daunting for GBBF virgins, so following on from my rough guide to British beer festivals, here are a few friendly tips for anyone who perhaps doesn't have an awful lot of GBBF experience:
Sunday, August 10, 2014
|No way, no fucking way!|
The biggest-by-fucking-miles naan bread I've seen in my entire 37 years.
Honestly, I couldn't believe it. Let alone eat the bastard.
Overall, the food at Akbar's is pretty indifferent and consists basically of a few simple variations upon a standard Balti theme, some of which weren't as saucy as their clearly needed to be.
But the huge naans, served upright on vast spikey towers, are blogworthy out of their sheer ridiculousness.
This wasn't some sort of special Guinness Book of Records attempt or anything either - it's a standard menu item. Most people seemed to have one on their table!
It utterly dwarfed my garlic chicken tikka balti, which itself was a decent size.
I guess things are bigger up north. Though not necessarily better...
Monday, August 4, 2014
Q: Is any pub ever going to score the full 10 points?
A: Well, the theoretical maximum is actually nine points, and this has been the case since the competition began (it also applies, in a looser sense, to my restaurant reviews - I'm a big fan of the 9* system). As to whether any pub could pick up a perfect score, it's certainly possible, and combining aspects from two of the finalists should give a hefty fucking clue as to how this might be achieved. When it happens, it'll happen.
Q: Why limit the bonus points to 2?
A: Quite simply, because if I allowed pubs to pick up bonuses for everything good about them, they could build up a tally beyond the maximum, and pubs which had a few nice features but average or even piss-poor could theoretically score highly. It's the same reason why food, even supertasty Zeus-food is only worth between -1 and 1 points. This is a pub competition and the scoring system is weighted so that the quality and range of real beer is by far the most important - though not always decisive - factor.
Now on to the final three pubs...
Friday, August 1, 2014
Given the choice between coming up with a hilarious and thought-provoking intro and diving straight into the pubs, I chose the latter. Enjoy!
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Anyway, here's the next batch of PotY contenders as we run down the remaining finalists from last year's competition. (That's 'run down' as in list them in order, not driving at them in a motor vehicle with murderous intent, obviously.)
The first batch have laid down a competitive gauntlet. Now let's check out the rest...
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Well, actually it means quite a few things. Like higher ambient temperatures than during the rest of the year. And flights to the continent becoming more expensive. And schoolchildren hanging around city centres in the daytime because it's the holidays.
But in Ben Viveurland it means this one, specific thing: London Pub of the Year.
The prestige that comes from winning the PotY trophy cannot be understated, of course.
|Last year's winner - no longer with us|
That's how fucking prestigious it is.
It all kicks off today, and, yes, it all feels a little unusual because last year's winner is no longer with us, but we've found a way around that. The scoring system is the same as ever, and personal bias and preference will undoubtedly play a significant role.
Parts one and two will feature the four surviving finalists from last year plus the two natural successors to the Catford Bridge Tavern.
Parts three and four will showcase six fantastic new challengers, and then around a month from now, we'll be announcing the winner and getting the trophy engraved.
Exciting times. And, for one pub, a colossal faceful of prestige is splurging your way. Soon.
Friday, July 11, 2014
The super-curious will now be wondering if I've done something similar for Argentina vs Germany in the World Cup, and the answer is: Yes. Yes, I have.
The super-cautious can probably look away now, as it's a bit, well, left-field. Think of it as an inspired tactical substituion.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
As I said the other day, nobody hates Italy, though I'm starting to refine that theory slightly on the basis of new information. Specifically:
- Rome is fucking brilliant for beer.
- Rome is fucking shit in a lot of other ways.
- There is probably nowhere in Italy where the food is bad.
- Not even Rome.
But, having just returned from the Italian capital, I've realised that I don't much like them either.
Allow me to explain.
Friday, June 27, 2014
You see, we're into the final few days of June, which means that the epicentre of the year is fast approaching, and the judging of the 2013-14 London Pub of the Year can begin.
Now in it's third year, the competition is likely to be more intense than ever as the number of brilliant pubs in the capital has increased substantially over the past 12 months. (Obviously if your pub is fucking shit you have nothing to worry about. Move along, nothing to see here...)
You'll probably have noticed that we have a bit of a logistical dilemma though, in that last year's winner, the very wonderful Catford Bridge Tavern closed its doors for the last time just a few months after picking up the trophy.
So, I've given things a lot of thought and come to a decision. I think it's a good one because there are literally no losers. Not yet, anyway.
Saturday, June 21, 2014
Designed to fit in the old-fashioned mechanical vending machines that my late grandad serviced for a living, the five fingers were shorter than on the normal model, giving the KitKat what we'd call a 'landscape' orientation these days.
They were one of only two sweet items available from my schools very limited tuck shop - the other being little boxes of chocolate-filled discs, sort of like giant Smarties but much bigger. Bigger even than Minstrels. But I can't for the life of me remember what they were called because I always had a five-fingered KitKat.
The vending machines were always out of order (grandad never came to repair them) and the tuck shop was only open for about 20 minutes a day, which probably added to the allure. When, in 1989, I moved to a massive Secondary school with a permanently open canteen that sold all kinds of crisps and chocolates, including normal 'portrait' KitKats, it just wasn't as special.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Maybe it's because everyone blithely expects Uruguay and Costa Rica to bend over for us so we can continue the ancient English custom of squeaking through to the quarters and losing on penalties.
But maybe it's just because it was Italy. And people don't really mind losing to Italy. Because they don't mind Italy?
I've long thought that the reason that England struggle in World Cup finals is that while they may be consistently good enough to dispatch the weaker nations, there exists a core of national teams that, for various reasons, are more or less invincible to us, even on their bad days.
And Italy are one of those teams that we're simply incapable of beating. Along with Germany, Brazil, Argentina, France, Spain and Portugal. A somewhat lengthy list, which in itself pretty much explains why we never fucking win anything.
The thing is, if it had been Germany or Argentina or one of those other teams that we never beat no matter how well we play, we'd all be right, royally fucked off about it, but because it's Italy, we just, well, sort of accept it. Così è la vita.
Saturday, May 31, 2014
Innovation. High prices. Black IPAs. Pop-up bars. Breakfast Stouts. Canned beer that isn't bland and metallic. New and exciting hop varieties with big fuck-off citrus flavours.
All good stuff, apart from the high prices, and one of the latest, and possibly most significant additions to the 'what have the crafterati ever done for us?' list is the Tap Takeover - another concept imported from the USA that could change the way we drink.
I have very little time for the craftwank debating society, but I know I'd rather be going out for beers in 2014 than in 1999 when the only people who had ever heard of a tap takeover were three bearded Oregonians called Josh. (And, being American, they probably called it a 'Faucet Appropriation' or 'Diaper Sidewalk' or something.)
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
According to the papers and newswebs, almost everything is bad for us - there are all studies that prove it'n'shit - and yet, according to someone somewhere else, the very same stuff is good for us. Because there are all studies that prove it'n'shit.
So for years and years, we were all told that fruit juices and smoothies were really healthy, but now that message is the sole preserve of the manufacturers of fruit juices and smoothies. Every other nutritiocunt bangs on about how much sugar is in them and how they're as bad as cola-type drinks, which are, of course, the number one cause of obesity on planet obesity.
Friday, May 9, 2014
Thursday, April 24, 2014
So, in a 'fuck that' sort of a vein, this one is just some photos of me drinking beer from an Easter Egg.
Yeah, I know I could posit that this is 'the future' and that brewers could introduce a range of chocolate egg-conditioned ales, but I won't. It's just some wanky photos'n'shit, but quite possibly a world first.
Oh, and the beer was LBC Oyster Stout, at the Tap East.
Monday, April 14, 2014
Yep, it's the end of another round of Spoons Bingo, and having ticked off the 50 beers on the Wetherlist I can go back to mostly drinking in normal pubs. Yay!
|...and that's 50 out of 50!|
And even more bizzarely, Bateman's 'Springtime Oatmeal Biscuit' reminded me of tempura prawns. No, really.
Or maybe there was just something up with my tastebuds that night?
Anyway, while sitting in the Crosse Keys in the City the other evening, working my way through many of these strange beers and listening to 'sum choonz', I suddenly came up with a brilliant idea.
Or, at least, a brilliant-after-eight-pints-of-strangely-flavoured-biannual-festival-ales idea.
Beer and music pairing.
I mean, how fucking cool is that?
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
In fact, give me the top five. You ready...?
So, what have we here then? French? Sure. Italian? Indian? Japanese? Did somebody clever say Turkish Cypriot? Maybe even American or Mexican?
But I'm guessing nobody gave much thought to the food of Iceland. And that's reasonable, given that it doesn't have much of a reputation on the global platter, and any crumbs of reputation it does have tend to focus on stereotypes of Scandinavian stodge and manky pickled fish.
It wasn't a topic I'd spent a lot of time thinking about either, but I've just got back from Reykjavik where I was able to enjoy - or perhaps 'endure' might be a better word - some traditional Icelandic food, and add some empirical weight to my affirmation of the stereotype.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
It's alright. I can take it.
Sometimes readers disagree with my view - which is their privilege and right - and there will always be irritable brewers and or restauranteurs who decide that I've been overly critical of their restaurant or their beer and get all touchy about it. I guess it's easier to go on the defensive than looking at the reasons why somebody might have found their product to be a bit shit.
Then there are those who, despite my incontravertible loveliness, just don't appreciate my particular writing style, or who are offended by the prevalence of swearing. Fair enough. You go and read summat else then, wankycunt. I'll stay here and make cheap profanity gags.
One common criticism that I think has been entirely resonable and just though, has been about the quality of the photography. I think it's fair to say that often the snapshots taken on a 3 year old phone perhaps don't quite do justice to the food I've prepared.
So... I done got me a new camera.
Monday, March 17, 2014
But I face no such moral dilemma today.
Cards on the dining table, I'm genuinely saddened to hear about the death of Clarissa Dickson-Wright, one of my favourite 'celebrity chefs' - if such a tawdry description isn't doing her a disservice - and a truly great English eccentric.
The finest foodie television of the late 1990s saw Clarissa infamously paired up with Jennifer Paterson, an equally outspoken lady of similar girth and uncompromising good taste.
It's been nearly 15 years since Paterson's death brought Two Fat Ladies to a premature end - Christ, time flies, doesn't it? - and it's strange to think that, at 66, Dickson-Wright is actually younger than Paterson was when they started making the series. Both taken too soon.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
There was even a 'draught' bitter from Guinness with one of those plastic 'widgets' in the can, which were all the rage in the early 90s. It was probably discontinued years ago, but back in the day it was massive, and even had its own bizarre TV ad, where some guy travelled to an unspecified hot country and chose to keep his supply of Guinness bitter in a river!
Once the pubs started letting us in and we got to drink real beer on a regular basis, it soon dawned on me that the metallic fizz we'd been supping was inherently inferior, and that was that, really. For the best part of 20 years, I've only ever drunk canned beers very, very occasionally, and then usually only out of politeness.
That changed a couple of days ago.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Because it was the closest one to where I grew up, Battersea was one of the first beer festivals I ever attended, and consequently became one of the first I got a bit disillusioned with.
OK, a lot disillusioned with. And probably with due cause.
Set in a small space within the Battersea Arts Centre, it would often fill to capacity, meaning a lengthy queue outside. And when you got inside there would only be a few beers on, mostly bland, boring, mainstream stuff that you could drink in greater comfort in a pub just down the road anyway.
Sometimes you wouldn't even get in - turned away after 45 minutes standing outside in the cold, because they'd run out of beer. I remember one occasion when they let people in for free because the only beers on were Young's Ordinary and Winter Warmer or something. It really wasn't much of a festival.
And so some years I wouldn't bother with Battersea at all.
This is all going back a few years, mind. I don't know if CAMRA's National Executive put them on special measures or something, but, last week's fest suggested that Battersea have completely turned things around.
Friday, February 7, 2014
I even immortalised Batemans XB in a rather ghastly poem I wrote as a student:
"'Quintuple rum and black', said she.
It came to twelve pounds twenty-three
Including, of course, a pint for me
(of Batemans XB)"
The only other verse I remember is:
"Said he, 'this bird's with me tonight.
We'll settle this outside - ALRIGHT?!?'
And out of me he kicked the shite
(I lost the fight)"
I like to think that the quality of both my writing and my nights out have improved since then!
Monday, February 3, 2014
I'm sure he did his bit helping to evacuate the women and children or whatever, but I just love the idea that his hunk of Parmesan was of such profound importance to him that he was damned if he'd allow it to melt away in some nasty fire.
Truly a man of high principle and considered priority!
|Anchovy-fried Crostini with Parmesan shavings|
Our Sammy wouldn't have been sprinkling it on Spag Bol or Risotto which were still centuries away from London's menus, but clearly it was one of the most valuable and treasured imports at the time (some say more expensive than gold).
You can imagine the men of the late Renaissance tucking into big hunks of meat with some gently melting Parmesan on top, giving the flavour an umami boost. I'd hazard that they also whacked a bit in when making soups and stews.
Improved import channels with Parma mean that it's not so expensive these days and possibly not worth burying in the event of fire, but it's remarkable how Parmesan has stood the test of time.
We're still finding new things to sprinkle it on to make them taste even better - and here's a brand new recipe that does just that.
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Alright, here's what happened:
Putting my life back together, following an unsuccessful Christmas, I disguised myself as a trio of travelling Italian chefs and worked my passage Southwards, wearing only a series of edible loinclothes, until I reached the Andes, having ceded over a quarter of my bodyweight to the elements along the way...
Perfectly convincing story, yes?
You fucking have it your way then. I'm blogging away now, aren't I?
And I promise you, I will be sharing a bunch of new recipes and reviews over the next couple of months. In the meantime though, I thought I'd respond to some of the correspondence I receive occasionally - specifically, all you chaps and chapesses who ask me how the Intermittent Fasting ('5:2') diet is going.
Not that I actually get a lot of correspondence, mind. More would be welcome. Please write to me, please, please, please...