Friday, October 23, 2009

Le Ecole Internationale de Patisserie, Perpignan

I woke up in France, fell asleep in Spain and, betwixt and between, tasted 11 desserts, multiple chocolate and caramels at Le Ecole Internationale de Patisserie, and ate 35 courses at El Bulli, the *best* restaurant in the world, followed by a petit four cabinet of 17 different types of chocolates.

Yes, this was a very happy day.

The El Bulli post is still to come, but first: some pictures taken at Le Ecole Internationale de Patisserie in Perpignan, France. Drool over these, my friends....

My favourite was the chocolate one to the left of the apple. It had a layer of caramelised banana between the chocolate sponge base and chocolate mousse.

Apricot with peanut praline. Ick. This one was not for me.

Saint Honore Possibly my favourite. Pistachio mousse and berries and pastry and oh, just goodness...

Check out the inside of this apple creation!
Apple mousse, raw and cooked apple marmalade, ginger biscuit base.

Coconut and mango with white chocolate and caramel and biscuit. This one was also delicious. zingy and fresh, while deliciously creamy.

And, in the other room - the class my friend wasn't in - the chocolates:

Heaven, people, this was heaven. The best bit? We were allowed to take what we wanted from the chocolate room! I felt like Gretel being given permission to eat the gingerbread house. A childhood fantasy come to life.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chocolate Week 2009

The highlight of the year!

Of course, every week should be Chocolate Week but this is the official one! Click the title to go to details and get yourself along to something!

I'll be going to The Almeida for a three-course chocolate dinner (can't wait!) but then I'm off to Spain FOR DINNER AT EL BULLI!! (unfortunate week but when the proverbial "they" say that 2 million people apply for 8000 places in a year, you don't say no!). I'm even more excited for this meal (and nervous, having read recent reviews like Chris's here). Finally I'll be back in London for my brother's gets married (I'm a bridesmaid!), then there's my Full Day Chocolate Tour on Saturday. All sorts of deliciousness awaits us there.

So, in conclusion, it's pretty likely I will need to go shopping for new clothes next Sunday...

Chocolate Unwrapped 2009

Some pictures from Chocolate Unwrapped 2009 - to inspire you to go while it's still got one day left! Unfortunately I uploaded the pictures I took, only to discover most of them didn't come out very well, if I hadn't been so distracted by all the delicious chocolate I might have noticed this when I was at the fair. Oops.

Details of the event (finishing today) are at Tickets are £12.50 online or £15 at the door.

That's the fabulous Paul A Young in the picture above, giving a talk (there's lots of talks going on today too). He's a born entertainer and you can see for yourself this Wednesday when he's on This Morning televison show!

Chocolate Unwrapped is like walking into heaven for any chocolate lover (even though, ironically, you descend into the sumptuous room below the Mayfair Hotel in Berkeley Street, W1). The sight of tables and tables burgeoning with some of the finest chocolate creations made by England's skilled chocolatiers... it filled me with indescribable happiness that has overflowed into this Sunday morning (probably also still feeling the buzzing effect of all the chocolate I consumed, which would explain why I'm awake (again) after less than 7 hours sleep!).

It's almost impossible to even sample just one chocolate each from all of the stands at the fair without going into chocolate overdose (even for me). So I stuck (mostly) to the chocolatiers that don't have London shops.

Some personal highlights...

Chococo's White Chocolate with Berries was positively scrumptious. Like strawberries and cream, sweet, creamy chocolate offset by the sharp tang of dehydrated fruit. Moreish, and I'm not even a white chocolate fan unless it's baked into cookies, muffins or cakes.

Lauden Chocolate Particularly their Rose & Lychee and their Passionfruit (superbly made, French-style chocolates).

Askinosie Chocolate

Auberge du Chocolat new range

The Ecuadorian chocolate from Askinosie has strong liquoricey notes, a very unique chocolate, deliciously complex in its flavour. This chocolatier, Shawn Askinosie (read his story, it's very sweet), from Springfield (Missouri, USA), also makes a white chocolate with goat's milk. The goat's milk made it a little too reminiscent of farmyard for me. I had a similar challenge with Auberge du Chocolat's goat's milk caramel although it was a really interesting chocolate and very well made. Especially impressive when I learnt it was created by the 18yo son of this family business. They've just won some Gold Great Taste Awards too, but I didn't get to try those ones on this occasion. I'm sorry, a terrible failure on my part.

Trish Deseine's chocolate cake (and she's giving away the recipe! AND you can buy the chocolate in bulk from her at the show!)

Paul Wayne-Gregory and his merry band (that's Stephen on the right) are delightfully entertaining and force-feeding people who come by their stand. Including another great passionfruit chocolate and a popping-rock praline.

Gorvett & Stone from Henley also do a popping candy chocolate, amongst other delicious truffles, my personal favourite still being the raspberry & black pepper (both in truffles and in bar format). It helps that they use fabulous quality couverture!

Another interesting find, a newcomer to the chocolate fair scene is DeAngelis. Made in Italy, but based in Hartfordshire and run by an Italian-Australian, this chocolate - like Askinosie - has only cacao beans and sugar but it hasn't been conched and refined to get the smooth chocolate that we know, it's crunchy with sugar crystals. Reminds me of the chocolate I bought in Guatemala last November (I really should post the pictures from that!). It was made with very good quality beans, though it is harder to identify this because the sugar doesn't merge into the cocoa in the same way.

Finally, Ooh La La Chocolaterie with her very pretty chocolates. Try the whisky with raisins or the blackcurrant (or any, really).

I'm tempted to return but I must stay home and finalise preparations for next Saturday's sold out Full Day Chocolate Tour! I hope you can make to Chocolate Unwrapped today, and tell them I sent you (it might get you an extra chocolate)!

Happy Chocolating!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Pierre Koffman Pop-Up Restaurant at Selfridges

Ok, it's been 8 months since my last blog post. Forgive me, Father... Oh no, that's something else.

I had lunch with food blogger and fellow twitterer Kavita of Kavey Eats (you can read her fab review there!) today and I was inspired to write something about our incredible lunch as it felt like such a seminal moment in food history, being in the first slot of the first service open to the public of the legendary Pierre Koffman of Le Tante Claire fame. Three Michelin Stars (over and over) and come out of retirement, initially just for London Restaurant Festival, and extended twice (so far).

If you've read this far, let me apologise now for the lack of links to other blogs on the side bar, it's something, now that I may have begun blogging again I will endeavour to fix quickly.


the Winter Wonderland entrance as you exit the dedicated lift

The biggest pleasure of being at the Pierre Koffman pop-up restaurant was that despite the silver service (which was a little haphazard but, hey, it was the first full service to the public) there was a feeling of being part of a special family. A family of people who revered food and didn't want to miss tasting the legendary Pierre Koffman's cooking (including Charles Campion and some other people I recognised but couldn’t name). Given the lovely Kavita had managed to get the very first slot on the very first booking we were going to be amongst a group of people who were there because they cared to be a part of the food experience, rather than the groups of corporates so often seen in Michelin restaurants, who wouldn't know, or couldn't care what they were eating, as long as it comes with "a good red".

For a pop-up restaurant the fixtures look pretty permanent: glass panes, carpet... this ain't no ordinary tent. The (very loud) whisper is bookings will be extended again into November. The head staff were as excited to be there as the guests, there was a bustling, Christmas morning feeling to the experience; a slightly crazy, not-sure-where-to-look-next zinging with the thrill of anticipation of tastiness to come.

And tastiness did come.

Beginning with some doughy, still-warm bread.

Our amuse bouche (which we first thought was our starter) was an incredibly flavoured, intensely reduced langoustine bisque with a potato foam (tasting exactly like an aerated, buttery Maris Piper mash). My how grateful I was that they didn't serve us the skewered ducks' hearts they served last night on the practice run.


My rather plain but perfectly executed langoustines with pressed leeks and truffle. (I couldn't really taste the truffle but, like the bisque, it was deliciously intensely flavoured).

Kavey's much more exciting (yep, major food envy) Cocktail of Scottish Lobster and Avocado with a Lemon Jelly (she describes it better here):

My Pavè of Wild Seabass with an Artichoke Barigoule

Well-cooked fish (although not the finest piece of sea bass I've ever had) and delicately marinated vegetables and the slow-roasted garlic and onions... oh, so well cared for, who knew carrots could taste like that? It was all appearances of simplicity but so obvious that so much more had gone into it.

The INFAMOUS pig's trotters (Pig’s Trotter stuffed with Veal Sweetbreads and Morel Mushrooms). Gelatinous. That's the all-consuming word to describe the meaty unctuous mouthful that I sampled, reminiscent of slow-cooked pork belly, and even more, well, fatty. A delicate, buttery, buttery mash whipped to submission and floating in meaty, clarified jus was the perfect accompaniment. I was delighted Kavey ordered this dish because I was desperate to try it but I was never going to order trotters. Seriously, trotters?! Offal just does not seem a treat to fork out for. Ah, the margins that he must be able to make from this dish.

Finally pudding:

Kavey was delighted with her pistachio souffle, which was prepared with precision, perfectly executed (and no easy task) but pistachio souffles don't really rock my boat. Where's the flavour? I like intensity, but that's me. And my apple tart on the other hand... oh my. Heaven, heaven, heaven.

We had to ask for our petit fours and I was slightly saddened that we didn't get two of each but seeing as we could barely eat half of what you can see, and eight hours later I am STILL full it's probably not a warranted complaint!

William Curley's chocolate truffles were light and creamy and superb in their Amedei-goodness, as always. The madeleine was soaked with rum and dotted with raisins and far better than it looks.

From our table we had several conversations with other guests and staff, probably attracted to talking to us as we were taking pictures of each course from every angle. It was thrilling to have one of the hostesses who I think may have been the Claire (as in Le Tante Claire, Pierre’s wife!) come and share with us - unsolicited - that the flour used in my incredible "apple pie" came especially from France, the only flour stretchy enough to make the croustade on top of the lightly cooked apple pieces that were embedded in the chewiest, most delicious caramel with a thin layer of pastry curled around it’s edges. On this trip to France, Pierre, according to our confidante, ate croustade every day. I can understand why.

The staff were also happy to indulge our request to know what potatoes were used in the sea bass dish (Corte de gatte – Pink Fir Apple - if you were wondering, a fingerling, firm yellow variety from the South of France) and they even interrupted Pierre and Eric Chavot to have them sign menus for us both. I’m thrilled with my smiley face in a chef’s hat!

£75 for three courses (and then the drinks and service) is certainly a lot, even in London, for a three course meal, even more so at lunch. We were pleasantly surprised to find that wine by the glass started at £4 (my single glass of Argentinean Fantasia white at £5 was delicious) and our teas were only £1.90 each. Refreshing after all the Ramsay restaurants I’ve been to recently where you can barely get a glass of wine for under £8.

My only regret was not to be on a table of six so we could try every one of the dishes. Though, if they are extending the season...