Chocolate Temptations in London
It has been two weeks since I was in London for Food Blogger Connect, and it’s been such fun reading the various posts by fellow speakers and participants… and tasting all the goodies I brought back with me, of course. Off I went with my lists of addresses in the capital, categorized by chocolate, ice cream, cupcakes and artisanal British products. (Yes, literally.) With only a couple of free days, friends to catch up with, fbc preparations, the Tube to master, and realizing London is, simply put, enormous, I didn’t quite get to check off as many spots as usual. Nary a fairy cake tasted, nor spoonful of ice cream savored. Not even a meringue from Ottolenghi. But worry not, there were plenty of chocolate stained fingers, and bars added to my chocolate drawer back home in Zürich.
Some of you may have recognized the signature blue and white packaging from Rococo when I reported on my foodie weekend in England. I love their boxes, but have to admit I have never tasted their chocolate. (Anyone, opinions ?) I also loved the packaging at Artisan du Chocolat. “Out of this world gingers” (below, top right) come in a rocket ship, as a nod to their flight to space in July 2009. It’s fun to picture astronauts floating about, snacking on candied ginger dipped in dark chocolate. But back here on Earth, what lifted me off my feet were the liquid salted caramels, originally created for Gordon Ramsay’s Claridges in 2003. Sweet liquid caramel made with gray salt from Noirmoutier fills small, round chocolate shells, dusted with cocoa powder. You need to pop them in your mouth whole, or get ready to grab a napkin. They now come in different flavors, like banana, which was delicious. Or forgo the chocolate and just get a bottle of the caramel sauce (below, bottom left).
I resisted the tempation for a box of s’mores. And for the sweet and salty chocolate covered popcorn. But I had no chance leaving without a bag of chocolate dipped honeycomb. I absolutely love honeycomb – which you may know by the name hokey pokey, sponge toffee or sea foam, depending on where you live. I first discovered Cadbury’s Crunchie bar when in the UK in 1995. I have been making my own honeycomb ever since, partly because it’s not as widespread outside of the UK or Australia, but especially because I love to make irregular shapes, dip them in all sorts of different chocolate and then… freeze them ! [Note to self: share recipe on blog one day] Artisan’s honeycomb is exceptional, irresistibly light and crisp, and made with salt too. I always prefer it coated in dark chocolate, and again it worked best to contrast with the super sweet sponge toffee. The milk version was quite good too, even if the hit of the salt comes later and is more subtle.
I also tried an espresso dark chocolate bar, a classic combination and personal favorite, which turned out to be even too strong for my espresso-drinking husband. I liked the bar as it was very light and thin, and had a good snap. But too strong for me. Quick Kerrin solution: I stuffed Medjool dates with the squares and sprinkled with a few flakes of Maldon salt – divine ! [You like dates ? Get ready for the next post...]
The name that was highlighted, underlined and in bold on my list was William Curley (thanks to the sweet tip from Hilda, talented photographer and fellow chocolate lover). We walked in to his bright, spacious shop and I went straight for his Snack Bars: sea salt caramel (small squares, liquid caramel), sea salt caramel mou (two larger pieces with a soft, chewy caramel center) and praline feuillantine (crispy praline wafer) in dark chocolate. I was unpleasantly surprised to see bloomed chocolate from such a high quality chocolate maker (as you can see below, top right). And I was further disappointed when tasting the praline feuillantine bar (unfortunately I bought two); crunchy yes, but it didn’t wow me, and it tasted overall quite heavy, too dense and not as delicate as I had hoped. A few other discerning palates have shared similarly disappointing feedback recently from Curley’s chocolates and ice cream. Nevertheless, I hear his pastries are quite nice and I bet his Dessert Bar is a popular spot in Belgravia. Oh, and if offered a seat in his sea salt caramel course, I wouldn’t turn it down.
To finish off this London chocolate roundup, let’s have another look at salted caramel, a trend still going strong (thank goodness !). This time by Melt, a high-end chocolate boutique in Notting Hill, with a stand at Selfridge’s too. I thought their popcorn slab was such a fun idea, but at 15 pounds for just a few pieces, I said no thank you. I was offered a taste of the milk chocolate bar with popcorn, but unlike the dark, the popcorn was too finely crushed that it lost that attractive textural component. I tried a small selection of individual fresh chocolates (peanut butter and raspberry jam, tonka feuillantine, raspberry caramel, salty praline…), but they didn’t make it home to be photographed, as they were my consolation for a 2-hour flight delay at Gatwick. All fun to try, but not worth their hefty price. Melt has lots of original combinations and interesting products that still caught my eye, including one in particular…
Ignore the price on this one (4 pounds). 45 grams of divine sea salt caramel in thick 66% dark chocolate (they use Maldon salt). Simply look at these images below to understand the temptation. And when you taste it, you’ll also understand why it continues to reap in the awards. My only complaints: despite misleading appearances here, it’s a very small bar (disappears fast). And I would have liked there to be more caramel filling. In fact, I’d like a whole bowl of it.
Have you ever tried the above brands ? If so, what do you like and/or dislike ? Here are the chocolate shops on my list whose boxes remain unchecked: Paul A Young, Rabot Estate, Cocomaya, Melange, Montezuma’s and Prestat. Also, when I mentioned to my friend Chloé Doutre-Roussel, who used to be Fortnum & Mason’s chocolate buyer, that I was heading to London, she let me know about a new chocolate brand by Duffy Sheardown, Red Star Chocolate. All that for next time ! (Cupcakes too !)
So what else should be on my radar for the next trip across the Channel ? Share your sweet scoop here !
My London Chocolate Roundup:
198 Ebury Street, Belgravia
59 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill
Selfridges, 400 Oxford Street
Whole Foods, Kensington High Street
Artisan du Chocolat
89 Lower Sloane Street, Chelsea
81 Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill
Selfridges, 400 Oxford Street
5 Motcomb St, Belgravia
321 Kings Road, Chelsea
45 Marylebone High Street