Friday, September 29, 2006

An OD of Chocolate?


Two chocolate tours in four days. And yes, I still like chocolate. My brother and father are visiting, they arrived after the public tour so I just bought some chocolate for them to try. My dad doesn’t leave until the 15th so hopefully he will get to come on the tour on the 14th. Both of my brothers, my father and my mother all love chocolate. Perhaps not to my extreme, but close. What choice did I have, in this family of chocoholics (though they'd probably never call themselves that, but watch them devour any in sight, or watch what they order from the dessert menu). Yep, definite chocolate lovers.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Michelin Chocolate Dessert

This was my dessert from La Bastide St Antoine:

OK, the photography is rubbish, but I was trying to be discreet. It was a rather classy restaurant, taking happy snaps of you meal is not the done thing, I'm sure.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Chinese chocolates?

Last night I had dinner at Yuatcha. The dim sum there is incredible. They also have some of the most amazing cakes in London. And, apparently they sell chocolates too. We were in so much of a hurry to get to the gallery exhibition opening (Chelsea College of Art) that I didn't get to try any. I'll go back but if anyone has already sampled and wants to share their opinion I'd love to hear it.

Ooh, very exciting news for the people booked for this Saturday's tour. As I was organising things this evening La Maison told me that their second-in-charge from the kitchens in Paris will be leading the tasting in La Maison. This is a treat.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

the Chocolate Day tour is coming...

We’re finalising the details for the full day, ultimate, indulgent, luxury tour… It’s going to be the coolest day ever!
Details will be posted on Sunday.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Full o' Chocolat

Waking in the hills of France this morning to the sounds of children playing, then winding down the country roads onto the express way into Monaco, to have lunch overlooking the marina in a gorgeous restaurant called Mandarine. The coolest yacht had on its uppermost deck a helicopter, a speed boat and two jet skis. Yes, two. For races, I’m sure. I had the most amazing cold confit of fish and tomato, drizzled with a deep green olive oil. And then, for dessert, could not ignore the moulleaux of chocolat caraibe with lemongrass icecream.

As we strolled around Chanel, Gucci and Hermes, I commented that it was surprising we had not happened across a fine chocolaterie in a place of such expensive tastes. Two seconds later a patisserie appeared with a cabinet full of chocolat. Still satiated by my mollauex I chose only 3 from their selection – to eat later.

Hours later at the airport I decided to replenish supplies of Valhrona (French chocolate is unsurprisingly cheaper in France, even in the airport). And after a supper of bread it seemed sensible to taste the earlier purchases. Jasmine, Pear and Mandarin. The pear ganache was unlike any pear flavoured chocolate I have ever tasted, almost as though you were biting into the stewed fruit itself. If you are ever in Monte Carlo, I don’t know if the patisserie had a name, but it is only a two minute walk from Zara, at the rear of the building that houses the cinema. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Chocolate from Canet & La Bastide Saint Antoine

Though almost every patisserie in France has its own chocolate range which you can be fairly confident will be of high quality, there are not as many devoted chocolateries. Unfortunately whilst I discovered three in Nice, only one was open at the time of passing. Canet has two stores in Nice and offers a range of filled chocolates, macarons and patisseries.

We chose a selection of chocolates, ignoring the pralines and the “sugar-free” (I don’t believe eating artificial sweetners can be good for you). Canet molds their chocolates into flat square tablets, which is better for experiencing the taste fully (hitting all the taste buds at the same time). They were all pretty incredible but the stand out of the group was the buttered salted caramel, which is a combination I am always a sucker for. Other pretty incredible tastes in their repertoire were earl grey tea and vanilla.

On the day the Daily Mail identifies me as a chocolate expert, it seems only appropriate that I choose the intense chocolate dessert from the Michelin Star restaurant near Grasse that we had pre-booked before we even learned of the article. La Bastide St Antoine is set in gorgeous grounds with olive trees over 100 years old, and a stunning pool and hot tub. The kitchen of 2 starred restaurant is overseen by chef, Jacques Chibois. With my love of food, one of my favourite things is to look at menus. If you don’t share my appreciation I can be a rather frustrating person to walk down a restaurant street with, it’s a slow amble at best. Even in quality restaurants in English speaking countries chefs often appear to thrive on finding ingredients or cooking methods that don’t give away what the dish actually is. In a gourmet restaurant in a foreign country this dilemma was magnified further. Not eating meat narrowed down the necessary explanations but I still felt so helpless relying entirely on the maitre’d’s translations. So although I couldn’t totally remember what I’d ordered, it all tasted pretty spectacular. Langouistine to start and sea bream as a main. Both delicate and delicious. Though I preferred the overall experience that we had at Summer Lodge in July, the main courses were definitely superior in their quality and combination of ingredients.

We lingered at La Bastide this morning, having a quick dip in the, uh, “refreshing” pool before heading up into the hills. Given the indulgence of the night before it seemed only appropriate that we start Sunday with more chocolate. I admit, this is almost true. By the time we stopped at a patisserie for our first meal of the day it was already 2pm (hotel snacks don't count, right?). Another cabinet of chocolates greeted us as we entered. Though we also bought a savoury sample from l’boulangerie, I chose several chocolates to take away. Tired, by now, of asking what they were flavoured by I randomly pointed at four chocolates. Amongst the group was an incredible cassis. It is so frustrating when you are already miles from the store before you taste the chocolate. Cest la vie.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The French do chocolate properly

It's been a long week, so I felt justified in lying in bed most of the day. That, and the rather fierce thunderstorms outside, meant there was little to inspire leaving the hotel. Except French desserts, of course.

We hardly had to step too far from our hotel overlooking the stormy sea to find a little tea house with a glass patisserie cabinet filled with pastries and chocolate covered decadence. I was good and ordered salad to start. Then, a selection of chocolate delights: an opera and a chocolate raspberry tart. It makes such a difference when the chocolate is of good quality. My favourite thing about France: it is unheard of that even in an ordinary café would they serve food with anything but the best quality ingredients.

Tomorrow we dine at a Michelin starred restaurant in Grasse (the town where they make a lot of the world's perfume, I'm informed). I can't wait!

chocolate would make it all better...

This one I’m writing on a plane. Long, long queues at Heathrow, followed by a delayed flight. It feels like my fingers are moving of their own accord. I’m not entirely sure I’m aware as I tap away, bleary eyed. An hour long flight hardly seems worthy of a nap. And I locked my eyepatches in my suitcase. Oh well. In just under an hour I will hopefully be slipping into crisp hotel sheets.

My drone about my tiredness actually made me momentarily forget the incredibly exciting news that I received this afternoon – I’m going to be in the Daily Mail on Saturday! How exciting! Unfortunately I’ll be in France so I can’t rush out to the local corner store and buy up all the copies. Hopefully my brother will do it for me.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

tube delays...

I’m writing this on my laptop on the tube. Despite the nuisance of lugging my laptop I have been grateful for having it with me. For some reason this has been a hideous week for tube travel, I am only grateful I’ve always had water, music and either my laptop, or when I couldn’t get a seat, a paper to read. So, yes there is lots of backdated entries that I have been writing and not actually putting online. I’ve had an influx of work, which is great, but when I’m going on a four day break to France tomorrow evening I’ve been all hectic trying to make sure everything that needs to be completed, is completed, before I head off. So I can relax properly! It’s going to be lovely… Flying to Nice and going to drive to Monaco, Cannes and up into the hills too. I love France. They know about food. Good food. (Especially chocolate.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

more chocolate fondant...

Dinner at the Gate in Hammersmith last night and I wasn’t planning on having dessert. Delays on the tube meant I only got to go to the gym for 25 minutes (yes, I recently joined, I’m still loving running around the Common but find it easier to get more variety here); though I was grateful for the endorphins that kicked in enough before I left to shift me from my “I hate commuting” doldrums. So, the intention was not to have dessert, and then I noticed the menu had changed since I last dined there. And it not included a chocolate fondant with a cherry compote, with a 15 minute wait. I am a sucker for any food that requires a wait (as you might remember from last weeks trip to the Brackenbury). I am also unable to avoid ordering chocolate fondant or anything similar whenever it appears on a menu. This dessert was not nearly the taste experience of the cherry cafloutis of the earlier pre-order.but still lovely. I am glad I shared the course.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Summer chocolates at La Maison

I went by La Maison du Chocolat today, to say hi. I found out their lovely manager has left – though I don’t know where too. I learnt a lot about chocolate from Philip. I’m grateful the other staff are equally warm and welcoming. I had been meaning to sample their summer range and finally took the opportunity to purchase their small set, with just one of each of the five flavours developed just for the now waning season.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

a bought chocolate birthday dessert

I cooked a delayed birthday dinner for my brother last night. I had planned to take him out but when he called to let me know he would be late and I asked him where he would like to go, he said he would be happy for me just to cook. Hmm. I guess that means I can cook alright. I spent quite a while in Tesco deciding what we should have and settled on Salmon with soy, garlic and ginger with stirfried boychoy, mange tout (snowpeas) and mushrooms, and baby new potatoes. I offered to cook him any dessert he wished, and he choose a ready-made pudding that I brought home a few weeks ago. A worthy choice I must say. For a pre-prepared pudding to meet my standards it firstly must be made with all normal – non-chemical sounding – ingredients, and
Then must also taste good too. The sticky chocolate pudding made by something-or-other farms (I'll find out!) Farms is fantastic. It tastes like my mother could have made it – and only 20 minutes in the oven. Now I am the favourite sister (ok, I am the only sister so I can say this with some certainty at least!) .

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

even better chocolate brownies?

I may have to make a new claim for the best chocolate brownies in London… Last night I assisted at another Speakers Bank training. There was a break over summer, and it was great to get back into it. It was such a lovely group. So, anyway, these chocolate brownies: gooey, dense and delicious. Apparently you can freeze them and the last for ages AND they even taste good frozen. So, I think I might have to do this… At the moment they aren’t sold in stores. I know, it’s a tease to tell you and not give you a way to access them. But, I promise, I will give you your fix as soon as I’m able!

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Brackenbury

Last night we finally ate at the Brackenbury, after meaning to go there for some time. It was one of the nicest meals I have had in a long time. A perfect combination of tastes with quality ingredients. Their cherry clafoutis that requires a 20 minute wait was one of the most divine desserts I have experienced in a long time. I can’t wait to go back.