Fine wine frolics at Ben’s Canteen

I hope you will forgive me if this is not my longest or most coherent article, things got a bit quaquaversal in the early hours of this morning. However, yesterday evening was lavishly loaded with laughs and it might return a bit of order to my mind to try and report on the wizard walrus experience that chums Ricard, James, Dani and I revelled in at Ben’s Canteen in St. John’s Hill, London.

Ben’s Canteen is undoubtedly a cool destination, but it’s unpretentious and a lot of fun. It was made even better because Ricard is such a good customer he gently twisted Ben’s arm to allow us to bring our own wine for an entirely reasonable corkage charge. With one exception (and that was bloody my bottle) we drank exceedingly well and demonstrated extremely well the only food and wine matching rule that matters: drink wine you like with food you like.

The starter of choice at Ben’s is the super scrummy ‘all-day breakfast’ Scotch egg. It has bacon in the bread crumbs, black pudding in the pork, and they time the cooking of the eggs to a ‘T’. It’d be better with Hampshire pork, of course, but the meat they use is certainly up to enjoyable eating standards.

Ricard said his fish tacos were nice, but I suspect he was after a taste of my orbs. I don’t blame him – I gave James a helping of my meat and he was rather taken with the experience.

We had three Burgundies with our starters. Ricard’s Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2010 from the super cool Humbert Freres was a delicious, joyful expression of Gevrey. Clearly benefiting from the ripeness and good acidity of the vintage this throbbed with life and was so givingly accessible it performed the beverage equivalent of ripping your clothes off, pinning you to the floor and lewdly pleasuring you every time you so much as sniffed it. I liked its tannic structure, too. This was a gratifying, giving Gevrey Villages.

Now, I’m told by my neuroscientist associates that psychosis interferes with memory formation and retention, and that’s what I blame for having no recollection of the vineyard of James’ Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru 2003 from Denis Bachelet. You have no idea of the intensity of crushing failure forgetting a wine vineyard by the next day causes me. The pictures are illegible, alas. But I’m sure James will chime in with the vineyard name so I may as well give you my impressions. It was ripe, with alcoholic warmth, most certainly, but it was soft and sexy, oozing with sensory gratification and intellectual titillation. The ripe fruit character was just lewd and it was well-supported by a deceptively serious tannic structure. I’ve had a few 2003 red Burgundies recently that have been throbbing with pleasure but none quite so wantonly lubricious as this. I want to drink more Bachelet and I want to drink it soon – this was freaking tits.

Psychosis has entirely bleached my memory of the Robert Chevillon Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Vaucrains 2002 that Dani and I bought. Can’t remember a blooming thing, not opening it, not sniffing it, not tasting it, not anyone’s comments about it, NOTHING! That’s a bit worrying, eh? Bit of a rubbish wine writer if you have no memory of what could well have been one of the wines of the evening. Deary me.

Main courses were generally a great success with the exception of Dani’s pulled-pork roll. He said the roll was extremely uninteresting and the pork a bit dry.

My 100% beef dog was brilliantly overblown with fried onions, mustard, chilli and cheese on top. These flavours had soaked into the roll making it really delish and the whole construction worked an absolute treat for me. Perhaps a bit of a challenge to eat and have it retain it’s coherency, but I’ve been challenged to retain coherency on many occasions. Don’t let this put you off, you want to go for the ‘extra chilli and cheese’ option as it makes the whole dog.

I suppose the winner was the BC Burger, Ben’s Canteen signature burger and the seventh best burger in London according to a magazine I had never heard of and now cannot even remember. I wrote more about the burger in my first review of Ben’s Canteen. I’d be torn between  having one of these and my ace dog on my next visit. Top stuff both of them.

Our final two wines didn’t quite live up to the heady heights of the Burgundies (assuming the Chevillon was good, no idea personally). Ricard’s Marques de Vargas Rioja Reserva 2001 had good fruit and was reasonably soft, but for one only beginning to appreciate Rioja I found the oak character and slight dryness on the palate a touch distracting. ‘A touch distracting’ clearly wasn’t so bad because I made sure I kept this bottle near me once the Burgundies were gone – down to getting a big mouthful of sediment at the end of the evening.

That could be because my magnum of Domaine Tempier Bandol La Tourtine 1999 was woefully disappointing. The nose was lovely and soft, with an attractive perfume of dark fruit and grilled meat. However, if you’ve got a magnum you want to drink it not just sniff it and once we’d all tasted it we didn’t want to drink it. The tannins were tough, angular and had a metallic edge. It’s acidity was harsh and jarring and there wasn’t much fruit to show on the palate. It had no harmony at all and there was nothing attractive about it. We left the magnum hardly touched.

The failure of my mag of Bandol did not detract from what I remember being an excellent evening. We had a lot of fun with the Burgundies and the food was largely a hoot and we revelled in its fun value with great delight. Ben was very kind to let us pay corkage, but even with our impressive volume of wine we were all distinctly happy when we were presented with a deeply modest final bill. It was a real joy to eat fun food with nice people and excellent wines at Ben’s Canteen. I shall return soon.