Monday, October 30, 2006

La Plaisir Chocolates

I have now tried all of the chocolates. I bought so many at once that I haven’t actually eaten them all, but I have at least had a small taste of each. I found them really buttery, so I went back (under the guise of asking the question but really because I wanted to try one of their other cakes). Of the 25 or so I selected (and I avoided all of the white ganaches) there were three that I would return to try: the Bitter almond and apricot, prunes and armagnac and the Laphroang. I am told there is no butter in the ganache, it is perhaps due to a high quantity of cocoa butter in the chocolate. They use Callebaut but are looking at commissioning their own couveture soon. The flagship store in Edinburgh opened 7 years ago and, except for the store where they are made, all the other stores and Harvey Nichols concessions were opened in the last 18 months: Manchester, Edinburgh, London and Dubai.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Chocolate in Edinburgh

The things we have to do in the name of research. Ahem. OK, I would seek these chocolate shops out wherever I go regardless, I just conveniently have managed to attribute my tasting of chocolate to the necessary role I have of sharing these tastes with the rest of the world. Ok, ok, I’m quite sure no one is hanging on my every chocolate-centred word, but regardless I shall write about the chocolate shops of Edinburgh that I visited yesterday.

Despite being the last weekend in October, Edinburgh is actually not too cold. It is only in the last two weeks that I have finally acknowledged that summer is indeed over, by beginning to wear boots instead of sandals and coats over my skirts and sleeveless tops. Even this far up North I still haven’t had to don gloves or even a scarf. And have incredibly poor circulation and I do not cope well with the cold.

Sorry, back to the chocolate. Well, I had already heard about La Plaisir du Chocolat and so made a target of finding it as soon as possible. We had a lunch date and upon seeing the enormous selection (especially the range of cakes!) we realised we would have to return. So I bought just one cake to take away as I hadn’t had breakfast and in this case felt it was appropriate to begin with dessert because it was already after noon. Raspberry ganache. So incredibly rich that I am not sure how anyone could eat one slice to themselves in one day, let alone in one sitting. Very very yummy. Thick, thick layers of quality ganache interspersed with thin layers of sponge cake and raspberry. I suppose it was a raspberry jam but a quality one.

I discovered Coco of Bruntsfield by chance on the way to lunch and was forced to wait until after eating to go and in and explore. Coco specialises in bar infusions and hot chocolates. They also make two truffles and praline balls. The lovely Rebecca, originally from Sydney let us sample whatever we liked. The rose and peppercorn was great. As is the dark with cinnamon and cardamom and dried cranberries that I took away. You can sit and have hot chocolate at the little bar inside and a short walk away can view their kitchens (though they weren’t open yesterday so we could only peer through at spice jars and barren marble slabs. Coco has been nominated for Independent Retailer of the Year awards. Results are out this week!
I then returned to La Plaisir to get a take-away bag of about 25 of their 40+ chocolates. A little chocolate-weary from the ganache cake (which I didn’t even finish!) I will wait to try these. Though being made with fresh ingredients I only have a week to do so….

Friday, October 27, 2006

New Chocolate store in London: Demarquette

There’s a new chocolate shop on the block. I popped in today to visit. The first I heard of them was because they won a few awards in the Annual Chocolate Awards last week. One of the award winners was the house truffle, a 75% cocoa content blend with honey. A well-deserved award. It is interesting how all of the top end chocolate shops still manage to be unique to each other. Though they have a similar style of serving their ganaches in enrobed rectangular pieces as La Maison du Chocolat and L’Artisan du Chocolat, Demarquette transfer an edible print of the type of chocolate directly onto the top. Rather than consulting a menu you can see right there what you are about to consume. I guess it’s not the place to go if you enjoy the guessing game! Rather than design, it is the tastes of each chocolate shop that gives them their individuality. I have no one favourite chocolate shop, rather many favourite chocolates that I have to go to different stores to get. Then of course there is mood dependent choices. Demarquette has several flavour combinations I have not seen before, a Japanese cherry blossom and coconut and banana. Of the six I tried the one I will return to have again would definitely be the cassis (I don’t drink Ribena anymore but loved it as a kid!). But there are over 20 varieties so I will definitely be back - if only to taste my way through the rest!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Raw chocolate cake

Last night I ate a completely “raw” chocolate cake, made by my friend Peter. You would barely know it wasn’t raw. I have no idea how it was created because he keeps his recipes top secret, though having been to one of his classes I daresay it included an awful lot of equipment that normal kitchens don’t have: pulverising-thingies and dehydrators and all sorts. However, fortunately for those of us who don’t have the goods (nor the inclination to spend the time playing with superfoods) he will be selling them to the general public soon.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Chocolate Week Chocolate Week Chocolate Week

I've been too busy trying fine chocolate this week to write (oh, and working a bit too!).

I have just finished the second of the two luxury chocolate tours and am now relaxing on the couch, laptop on lap (hmmm...) completely buzzed from all of the chocolate. Now, in general chocolate shouldn't really have this much of an effect on your biochemistry, but when you consider just how much I have consumed in the past three days, well, over 300 compounds are having some effect. :-)

So, how much chocolate have I eaten?

Well, I didn't go to that many of the chocolate events this week but I spent all of today and all of Thursday touring London's best chocolate stores sampling lots at each. Thursday's tour was followed by the chocolate soiree, a 3 course chocolate extravaganza at Volupte lounge with Burlesque dancers and a musical trio playing show tunes.

Last night I went to a presentation by Damien Allsop, the former chocolatier from Melt. He makes very cool chocolates with a water-based ganache (ganache is the soft chocolate centre of the best kind of chocolate, made from warm cream and chocolate mixed together). So, no cream, though he does add some clarified (ie. flavourless) butter to help maintain the creamier texture. The main reason for not using the cream is to keep the flavour as pure to the original chocolate flavour as possible. It was a very delicious evening, we tasted squares of pure chocolate, he made a water based chocolate mousse and we tried some ganache chocolates he'd "prepared earlier". It was really interesting to learn all the science-y stuff behind chocolate making.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Back to Morel

This time for a family dinner. This is my third three course dinner in a row and I feel that perhaps I need to be doing a little more running! Despite the dodgy fish I felt it was worth another try here. Exceeding expectations. My seared tuna was reminiscent of Joey's in Canada... aah. My bro thought the portions were a little skimpy, which is interesting because normally he eats less than me in a meal. Having already tried the chocolate and orange fondant I decided to try the Apple Tart Tatin. OMG. Goood. You should try it. Really.

A chocolate confession

Um, if you're thinking that I had another chocolate fondant last night when I went out for dinner then you'd, er, um, be right. Though to be honest, me being me, a chocolate confession is more likely to be that there was chocolate fondant on the menu and I didn't have it. Well, there was chocolate fondant on the menu, and I did have it. We went to a restaurant-that-was-a-pub called the Olive Tree (I think) and I really wished I'd taken my camera so you could see their dessert board menu. It was laughably written for me. Of eight options only 3 of them didn't have chocolate. There was a white chocolate and raspberry tiramisu (I know! Like, what?), a sticky chocolate pudding, a chocolate chip bread pudding and some others I don't remember now... But I had to have the fondant because that's what I do (and they take 15 minutes to cook). Also, I did ask the waitress what she thought and she said the fondant was best. It was good. I don't think any have compared to one that I had in Santorini (Greece) two years ago. But perhaps it's deliciousness is in part manufactured by my memory, and the fact it was perhaps my first introduction to the dessert.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Still no Yauatcha chocolate for me...

It was Dani's birthday on Monday and she came to town yesterday so we went out for dinner last night. First to Busaba Eathai which I must have eaten at over 20 times in the last year, a trustworthy friend. It had to be Thai of course, because we met in South East Asia and green curry brings back such good memories. And then, because all birthdays require cake (obviously), we headed over to Yuatcha to have one of theirs. Alas, they were all booked out for dim sum. So I am still waiting to try their chocolates. Luckily we arrived at Sketch (the parlour) and persuaded the waitress to let us select a cake before they put them away for the evening. A light white chocolate cloud with a fruit and coriander jelly centre... I don't particularly like white chocolate (which, yes, isn't really chocolate according to the "rules") but this was sensational. Their berry sponge is traditional. Tasty and comforting but doesn't experiment with molecular gastronomy like this other sweet creation. I can't wait to go eat at Sketch in November!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

I ran London!

10km of it! The Nike 10K. Around Hyde Park, such a pretty park. I haven't run a race since I was 15, and that was the school cross-country. Girls only ran 4km, I remember almost collapsing at the end of that. I was so short of breath I had to use someone's asthma inhaler - and I'm not asthmatic! It helped me to breathe, but I couldn't stop the shakes for a while! Anyway, last year I discovered running is quite cool, and I haven't had too much trouble breathing since! (Except maybe today... I can be a stubborn one and didn't want to stop running, and for some reason felt the urge to sprint across the finish line... duh...)

I meant to start with a 5K race, especially as I was supposed to be in Glasgow this weekend. But then I wasn't needed in Glasgow and Jonny couldn't run because of the operation on his foot two months ago, so I took his chip and shirt and ran for the wrong side of the river. Given I only decided to run 10 days ago I figured it was better I was running for the enemy: my time would likely increase the average on that side! The results aren't out yet...

After a bath and a nap it seemed the only appropriate way to celebrate was with chocolate cake. So I made one. And it is good. The recipe is going in this month's newsletter, it's not mine, but I thought I better test it first (tough job this one!).

Friday, October 06, 2006

Apparently Chocolate tours are the coolest hidden thing to do in the UK!

OK, so I'm a little pleased! Friends and family who asked to see it - here it is! (Sorry about the delay!)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Another chocolate fondant anyone?

I had to order it, it had a 15 minute waiting time. I was really impressed by Morel (SW4). Although something very wrong happened with my Sea Bass, I wasn't planning on saying anything because the starter was so delicious I forgot to offer to share and the service had been so impressive, yet the waitress noticed I had destroyed it without actually eating much of it. She apologised and when they brought out our desserts (15 minutes later) she brought each of us a free glass of dessert wine. Lovely lovely lovely. It's true what they say about fixing customer problems makes an even happier customer than had the service just been normal. Although I would have been a happy camper anyway. I'm also a sucker for unrequested surprise appetiser gifts. Carrot and orange soup - yum.

Oh, this chocolate fondant was actually chocolate and orange fondant which almost put me off (I overdosed on Terry's chocolate oranges as a kid and will not go out of my way to eat orange flavoured chocolate). The orange was subtle and the pudding was good, though almost a little bit like it had been boiled? Just not quite the texture I was expecting.

Until the next chocolate fondant, I shall return to work.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

My proper English family

Sunday lunch on the Common (Windmill on the Common, that is. It's a lovely pub, where you feel totally secreted from the outside world in the centre room). In an unintentional attempt to affirm our Englishness at this semi-family reunion everyone ordered the roast. Lamb or beef and yorkshire puddings, all around the table. I would have followed suit had there been a vegetarian option, instead I had roast sea bass (but no yorkshires for me...). It was even followed by proper English puddings, everyone having either Sticky Toffee Pudding or Creme Brulee. And, before you laugh at my apparent ignorance, Creme Brulee, despite its name, was invented in Birmingham. Or was it Nottingham? I don't even want to know how someone figured out exposing fire to sugar sprinkled on custard made such a delicious dessert. Northerners. ;-) I lied, not quite all of us had an English after: the younger of my two brothers had a brownie (chocolate addict...). Even still, all three male family members followed their dinner with a Fry's turkish delight bar just an hour later. (I had some Valhrona Manjari...) See: a family of chocolate lovers.