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Chocolate Week

Tuesday - Rococo organized an hour's talk at the Natural History Museum, a visit to Britain's oldest cocoa pod. It was brought back as part of a collection of Jamaican plants, part of Sir Hans Sloane's systematics collection. Linnaeus, when Sloane was old, worked through Sloane's collection as part of his systematization work. The curators were chatty and friendly. One had made photocopies for us of Sloane's report on the cocoa plant, description and drawings from the sample. She apologized for bits of Latin at the end of each passage.

Friday - I visited Paul A. Young's new shop, his second, opened in an outside shop at the Royal Exchange, right by Bank. It's all antique dark wood and high shelves, a tight spiral staircase at the back, presumably leading to storage, a vintage Victorian shop at heart. Paul himself was manning the shop, which only opened this past Monday. As usual, I gave in to a selection of truffles.

Saturday - C., taldragon, and two of her friends joined us for a day of chocolating around London. Many of the city's chocolate shops were holding events in honor of Chocolate Week.

After a sensible lunch at Leon, we began with the new food hall at John Lewis on Oxford Street, where William Curley was theoretically running 20 minute masterclasses all afternoon. The only theoretical part of this arrangement was calling it a masterclass. The presentation was an intense tour through highlights of the chocolate world. He brought cocoa pods representing the world's three major varieties: forastero, criollo, trinitario. He started us on cocoa nibs, before passed on to three different couverture samples, each representing a different part of the world. Then there were truffles, sweet and creamy, and then darker and sharper, before a final sampling of an Amedei bar. (Amedei is currently thought by many to produce the world's best chocolate.) It was rapid, but a good intro to an afternoon of chocolate consumption. I bought a few of his cookies - miso and walnut, for example. The demo was done at John Lewis in part because that branch at least is now stocking some of his wares.

We took the underground to South Kensington and walked to Demarquette from there. I'd not been before. It's of the Plaisir du Chocolat* and L'artisan du chocolat school of chocolate making: tidy little square or rectangular truffles with smooth ganaches and often outré fillings. They're most recognizable for the distinctive patterning on top. Demarquette has taken a turn for the sensible here: they're lovely patternings include the chocolate's flavor name, so the chocolates are self-labeled. Of the handful we sampled in shop, we were most impressed with the honey one, but bought a variety of others for future sampling: Moroccan Mint tea; Rivesaltes and Raisin; Coconut and Banana; Tunisian Bharat. They were out of mead truffles, but I'd love to see what they do with them. I also took home a jar of praline chocolate spread, part of their new breakfast range.

Just down the road from Demarquette, Rococo was running a Jamaican ice cream demo. A chef was using a semi-old fashioned churn. Technically, it could be turned by hand, but the wheel was belted to a motor so it didn't need to be turned by hand. The shop was jammed with people watching. The staff generously put out platterloads of samplers, but most of the shop's non-chocolate always seems over-sweet to me. (Plus I'd bought lots of favorite bars there - coconut, basil & lime; peppered mint; sea salt caramel - with my post-class discount on Tuesday.) The freshly-made ice cream was phenomenal - utterly smooth and rich, suffused with coconut.

After a break for drinks and a sit down at the Bluebird Café, we made it to one last stop on the day's tour. L'Artisan du Chocolat is the high end of elegance in London's chocolate scene. I buy impressive and unexpected flavors of truffles there - like tobacco - and their caramel balls. Their chocolate pearls are gorgeous gifts. Yet this week, they launched a new line of chocolate bars, "The Great British Chocolate Bar", tag-lined "For Chocolate and For Country". L'artisan is one of two independent chocolate companies in the UK I know of which make their own couverture. That's why they're now making thirteen bars based on six different country-specific beans. For each of the six beans, they're producing a dark and a light bar; plus a white-chocolate based green tea bar. They had samples of them all out to try and, to my surprise, the milk bars generally made for the better eating. We came home with a bar of the Dominican Republic milk bar.

Tired from a full afternoon of hard chocolate eating, we took our leaves and went home. We may have some chocolate in the house now.

* Soon to reopen in Edinburgh! In November!


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 22nd, 2007 12:34 am (UTC)
I swoon. Amazing!

Some day I want to be able to make a post with the subject: Chocolate week
Oct. 22nd, 2007 09:15 am (UTC)
yay! can i repost the relevant bits in my LJ? i meant to write this up yesterday and didnt have the brain for it.
Oct. 22nd, 2007 09:35 am (UTC)
Yes, you may.
Oct. 22nd, 2007 11:06 am (UTC)
Oct. 22nd, 2007 01:08 pm (UTC)
merci beaucoup!
i enjoyed experiencing chocolate week vicariously through your descriptions. then i got to the end to find a wonderful suprise: plaisir returns to edinburgh! come on up for a visit and we will welcome it back together!
Oct. 26th, 2007 04:07 pm (UTC)
Re: merci beaucoup!
I look forward to it! It's a very nice chocolate shop - or was in its last incarnation anyways.
Oct. 26th, 2007 03:56 pm (UTC)
One day Chocolate Week shall be mine. Oh yes, it shall be mine.

I have questions: what are miso and walnut cookies like? What does a tobacco chocolate taste like, and does it use actual tobacco? And is that praline chocolate spread as transcendent as it sounds?
Oct. 26th, 2007 04:06 pm (UTC)
I've been eating everything in order of expiry date, and so haven't had any of the miso and walnut cookies. I will keep you posted on this Important Issue.

I haven't had the tobacco chocolate in months (it doesn't expire until the end of this week). My memory is that it's a bit spicy and makes my mouth all weirdly tingly in a very unexpected way. Yes, it uses actual tobacco.

The praline spread is really quite nice - although unexpectedly peanut-y - and a good balance between nut and chocolate. So far, of all the chocolate-and-nut spreads I've been sampling this year, I'd give the prize to Le Pain Quotidien's nutella-a-like for best chocolate-and-nut spread. Still, if I happened to be at Demarquette, I wouldn't mind buying another jar of it. And maybe the chocolate and maple spread too.
May. 13th, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC)
Funny quote

Anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn't the work he is supposed
to be doing at the moment.
-- Robert Benchley

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )