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Southbank Chocolate Festival

Down in the plaza by Royal Festival Hall, a cluster of white tents offered up Southbank's first chocolate festival this weekend. Although clearly located near Easter, the event itself was remarkably Easter-free, focusing instead on good things that can be made with chocolate, primarily edible. Under clear, cool blue skies, the crowds swarmed for the tasters and the talks in the tent. I watched the savory cooking demonstration, cooked by a twelve year old to demonstrate simplicity; her chocolatier mother talked us through the chocolatey salad dressing and chocolate-infused leek, mushroom, and pan-fried lamb. In both cases, the recipes used 98% chocolate discs for convenience.

I hadn't had a lot of notice about the festival, but what made my decision for me was reading about Paul Wayne Gregory, a pastry chef who set up his own chocolate company recently, primarily targeted at the restaurant industry, although also available through direct order. His flavor choices were inspiring to read about, and even better to sample. Deirdre McCanny of Co Couture from Belfast was a real pleasure to chat with, and her Irish whiskey truffle had the right balance between the whiskey's personality and a light touch to win me over. Artistry in Cocoa (who'd also done the workshop) had some nicely vibrant brandy-rum-raisin truffles to sample. William Curley, always a favorite despite the demise of his dessert bar, offered samples of balsamic vinegar flavored truffles whose pure smoothness blew away most of the competition. Other stands included ones selling "raw" chocolate (i.e. not heated to over 40°C), bath and body products, and wine matched with chocolate bars.



Amazingly, lunch was available at the festival. I started with a gentle spicy chili, with a hint of chocolate in it, from Santa Fe Mexican Food, served on rice. The chili was good, but I was even more impressed with their sensible serving sizes and reasonable prices. The rest of my treats came from Ooh La La Chocolaterie. The first was an small tea cup of molded tasty dark chocolated, filled to order with a contrasting white chocolate ganache, and topped with fresh strawberries. It was an unusual concept, and beautifully executed, fun and lovely all together. I liked it so much I went back to try their hot chocolate, one of about half-a-dozen hot chocolate options at the event. The hot chocolate was pleasant, with a hint of cinnamon and other spice, but not quite as much fun as the chocolate cup had been.

Perhaps they'll do it again next year?