For Chocolate Week, Almeida, a restaurant, coordinated with Paul A. Young, chocolatier, to create a three course menu for the second year running. We went with cwjat who, as it happens, is allergic to chocolate and so ordered off of the regular menu.
The restaurant is relatively large and, by mid-evening, was buzzy to an impressive degree: all the tables had filled up, and a healthy range of ages and types of people. We've been eating at enough restaurants lately where we are, by 30 years, the youngest people, and so it was refreshing to be back in a community restaurant with the right balance of price, pretensions, and quality to attrach a broad range of clientele.
We started with well-balanced amaretto sours and nicely-judged nibbles of tapenade-filled pastry wafers and little toast roundels topped with a light goat's cheese.
My starter was my most successful dish of the evening, a pigeon terrine with a delicate shard of dark chocolate on it, and a milkier sauce. The richness of the chocolate complemented that of the pigeon, the two in dialogue with each other. C.'s truffle, truffle, and truffle risotto was vibrant with generous fresh truffle shavings, but the touches of chocolate only emphasized that richness, rather than being necessary to its well-roundedness in other ways. In contrast, the whipped cheese flavored with dill and topping cured salmon was refreshing.
We all moved on to tender pork belly, a meltingly tender lump with beautifully delicate, crunchy crackling. The meat was perfectly executed, but overly salted in its crackling, and overwhelmed by the chocolate sauce which came with it. I suspect the simplicity of the perfectly fine root vegetables were there as contrast (in addition to fulfilling the veg niche), but as a result, they seemed lackluster; they tasted as the result of minimal effort.
C.'s dark chocolate soufflé was pleasantly intense without being sharp. My dessert, on the other hand, suffered from a surfeit of supercharged flavors: port-poached plums were topped with shavings of candied orange peel and swimming in a dark chocolate consummé. The generous dollop of crême fraîche had seemed sufficient on first sight; in retrospect, there wasn't nearly enough of it to counterbalance the other ingredients.
By the end of the meal, after fresh mint tea and a final plate of truffles, the room was heading toward uncomfortably warm. It had all gone a little more quickly that we would have liked, but that efficiency is probably why it can attract such a lively customer base: a meal need not be the evening's only activity.
Service was helpful and good-natured, if stretched a little thin at peak service times. The kitchen's clearly doing good things, if not reliably so; but it's hard to tell with a special one-off collaborative menu, not refined over months or years of operation. The Chocolate Week menu was a good idea, but the results were more a work in progress than a polished work of art.
Alas, this proved true of my other attempt at a Chocolate Weke event. The Orangery at Kensington Palace promised a week of chocolate-themed afternoon tea, but failed to live up to its advertised Sunday opening hours; it was closed for a private event.