Bah! Humbug! I so nearly didn’t go to the conveniently timed pre christmas Chocolate Festival in London this year… but I am so glad I did. There is such a great selection of stalls and the festival is just full of quality chocolate goods and fun ideas for Christmas presents. I had been gauging how busy it was via my Twitter feed and thought it would be too much of a pain to battle my way through the crowds as this Festival seems to be an example of being spoilt by success. Maybe they will get more space next year based on just how popular an event this has become. Fortunately I did manage to find a quiet time on the Sunday – I am not saying when exactly as that might spoil it for me next year.
As it was quieter I was able to chat with probably one of the busiest and well known Chocolatiers in the business Paul A Young. Pauls session in the Chocolate Cookery Theatre was on Saturday so I was very surprised to spot him manning the stand on the Sunday, he was there just prior to making a tour of his London shops – it’s a hard life being a Chocolatier! We spoke about the success of the festival and he told me that Saturday had been the busiest day that the festival had ever had. One of the reasons I think that this festival works so well is that it provides access to both new innovations and to some of the UKs world class Chocolatiers. William Curley also had a stand and Duffy’s were there too, however I couldn’t get near their stand as it was busy even during the quiet time!
I tried a few samples as I worked my way around the stalls – the highlights were Paul Wayne Gregory’s stand where they were pushing his new salted caramel flavour lollipops, a divine idea and Artisain du Chocolat where I tried their honeycomb and gingerbread chocolates, which are a tasty new seasonal addition.
Another stand that caught my eye was the rather glamorous looking Herzog one, showcasing Chocolatier Pâtissier Sven Herzogs wares. I was also rather impressed by the Chocmotif stand. I like the idea of chocolate greetings cards and they have a great selection, just think off all the paper Christmas cards you throw out after Christmas, isn’t eating them a much better idea?
Yes, Christmas is definitely a great time for Chocolate and like the Chocmotif cards, it’s not just for Christmas.
We finished the week with a visit to Chocolate Unwrapped at Vinopolis. This is its third year and it’s been getting bigger by the year. Vinopolis is an excellent venue for this type of event, nice high ceilings to keep the temperature down and lots of room for growth.
The first person we spotted as we walked in was Paul Wayne Gregory. He was keen to tell us that he now has a boxed selection of his chocolates that is entirely made up of award winners. We also had some more of Duffys Chocolate (their chocolate was used in both the chocolate dinners I went to during Chocolate Week at The Providores and Almeida).
I tried to find Lauden Chocolates (one of my favorites), but if they were there I missed them. I did spot a tweet from them saying they had such a good day on the Saturday that they had sold out, so perhaps they didn’t managed to restock for the Sunday session. Matcha Chocolat another favorite from last year was also no where to be seen. However Chocolate Unwrapped for me is all about discovering something new. This year my discovery was Pacari Ecuadorian Organic Chocolate bars, specifically the Raw Chocolate with Salt & Nibs (70% Cacao) and Lemongrass (60% Cacao) – this is seriously grown up chocolate.
We had a quick chat with Paul A Young and on the recommendation of a friend I also bought some of his very distinctive Pumpkin flavoured chocolates.
We were brave enough (or was that foolish enough) to try some chocolate wine too – it was an interesting novelty, but didn’t really work for me.
The event seemed to have more of an International vibe this year, lots of French accents around. We also visited stands from Hungry, Switzerland and Italy.
Chocolate week is now an annual event that I like to make the most of. This year we managed to get a booking for a special dinner at The Providores where for Chocolate Week 2011, Peter Gordon (often called Europe’s father of fusion cuisine) and innovative chocolatier Paul A Young collaborated to create a 6 course menu with chocolate incorporated into each course. Peter and Paul hosted the evening introducing the dishes and entertained us all with food and non food related stories, indeed as the evening progressed and everyone relaxed they evolved into a rather effective double act.
It was a very sociable evening with Paul and Peter working their way around the tables to talk to their guests. The food was stunning with dishes that included Roast duck, prune sauce, wild mushrooms, porcini powder and broad beans with Honduras Indio Rojo, and Smoked eel, sautéed salsify, toasted sourdough crumbs and date chipotle chilli puree with Mangaro chocolate. The smoked eel in particular was a real winner and was matched with a smooth 2007 Richardson Pinot Noir. Then just when I thought it could not get any better, that dish was eclipsed by the surprising light beef cheeks with roast carmelised quince and smoked chickpea panizza. The matching New Zealand wines were top notch. As was the Quinta do Noval Port from Douro that accompanied the Tart of malted Virunga chocolate and sea salted caramel, buffalo ice cream and sesame praline.
This was my first visit to The Providores and it will most definitely not be my last.
It’s a change of venue for the Chocolate Unwrapped show this year. Last year it was at the Mayfair Hotel, this year it moved to the rather more interesting Vinopolis. The new venue though did not work as well for the lectures. Paul A Young‘s talks for example were averaging about 90 attendees instead of the expected 30. Fortunately he warned us about the over attendance and we got in early enough to get front row seats. His talk was suitably entertaining, I was especially amused by the story that his mother still buys him Quality Street for Christmas.
The Chocolate Art work was fun, especially the gorilla. Thorntons Eiffel Tower was hideous though.
There were lots of new stands this year. Matcha Chocolat with their tea and chocolate combinations were especially interesting. All the chocolates and the brownie we had from Paul A Young were really good, I even found his new Marmite chocolate unoffensive. I loved William Curley’s Cinnamon Milk Chocolate.
There were some novelties too. Like Chocri, who let you play chocolatier, choosing toppings and having your name on the bar and the Lebanese company Patchi, who seemed to focus on very ornate packaging for special occasions like weddings, baby showers and embassy do’s – kinda OTT Ferrier Roche!. Thorntons were there too this year, showing yet again just how big a gap there is between the mass market chocolatiers and the artisan chocolatiers.
This event is definately in the diary again for next year.
I have been looking forward to returning to Almeida for Chocolate week, based mainly on my experience last year. I have had drinks, lunch and several dinners at Almeida since then. I do rate this place as a good choice for eating or drinking at any time of the year, however it does seem to manage to raise its game during Chocolate week.
Head Chef, Alan Jones has teamed up again this year with chocolatier Paul A Young, to create the Chocolate Menu.
We started with Chocolate Martini’s (not on the drinks menu, so made to order), a good start to this themed occasion. The Truffle and Honey Risotto was well received, very rich. The main courses of Halibut and Pork Belly were more subtle, although the Pork Belly recipe last year may have had the edge. We tried a different Portuguese wine this year (Crasto, Douro, 2005), which worked well with the Chocolate theme, and switched our dessert wine choice on the Sommieliers recommendation to a bottle of Maury, Mas Amiel Vintage, Roussillon, France, 2007. Which I certainly enjoyed with the Ported plums roasted with orange in dark chocolate consomme and Paul A Youngs sea salted caramel.
The service although friendly was flawed, staff were weak on ingredients in the dishes, and our coffee arriving before we had finished dessert is a real no no, when you are trying to have a relaxing evening.
So although the meal was good, it did not quite reach the heights of last years.
The matching was a bit hit and miss, but on the whole good fun and an excellent concept. We had a total of 7 cocktails and lots of canapes, which made this a very good deal. There was also the goodie bag with a selection of chocolate samples from Melt, Chocolate and Love and Paul A Young (who was among the Chocolatiers in attendance).
Chocablog, who were lucky enough to be involved in “helping out” during the preparation stage for this event, have a great post on it – love the photographs, see :-