Preamble: The Press Pass did not arrive in time and my payday was expected the Monday following the weekend festival at the Southbank centre so I decided to try to make a top 5 of the chocolate that I could blag in the name of the holy rite – that is the free sample.
Since the advent of Green & Blacks, the British consumer has become far more in tune with quality cacao – perhaps in a way not seen since the early years of its importation to the London scene. My palette has been weaned off the Quaker sugar-rush of Cadbury, passed the domain of Milka and Lindt, to an exclusive taste for the darker notes in recent years.
The rain was beating down through my hood, hat and raincoat – such was the weather on Sunday. As well as looking wet and weary like a stray dog, I approached the market at the Southern-end of the Southbank centre without a penny in my pocket. Unfortunately, there were no tasters available in the way of hot chocolate to warm me up – so no references to the molten variety will follow. (In any case, this would require a list of its own, headed currently by that made by Montezuma, in Kingston).
- Considering the season and the subject, despite not naturally caring much about such trivialities; presentation was a factor here. The £8 boxes at the tastefully branded stall of The Chocolatier immediately struck as gift-worthy. These were filled with roast coffee beans infused with cardamom, beaming with a shiny coat of chocolate. They were straight-forward to the eye and invigorating to ingest. The result was delectable in a way that struck of the natural strong flavour combined from the Eastern spice, crunchy coffee and smooth dark chocolate. Started by Aneesh Popat in 2011, the outfit has gone on to stock hotels and Selfridges. The claim to fame was the delicate water -ganache used in their truffles, now found in a multiple of flavours that are all found on their website. I gobbled a couple of these. Popat has truly gone from strength to strength on the back of his quality creations.
- Niko B organic chocolate caught my eye with a Pomegranate Anise truffle, while I was trying to be enthusiastic of the chocolate-filmed jelly block on offer from Une Petite Chocolatieuse stationed next to him. Once I had swallowed, traded smiles and listened to her argument for the supremacy of French chocolate, I turned to the obvious London boy – and the Pom-star. Delicate, rich and sharp- it definitely delivered a packing punch in a nicely-sized mouthful. Niko’s chocolates are organic, and produced by his own fair hand in Stokey. As well as dealing with local coffee-shops, he sells mix-and-match boxes. The variety here crosses textures, and encompasses offerings of complex-flavour. This man clearly has a gift & is still keen to experiment with ideas as the seasons change!
- Chilli chocolate has been on the agenda for a while now. It is this fact, and my ethnic proclivity towards spice that I only place the Cocoa Hernando Chilli number at No.3. It’s not for everyone; but anyone who has the taste for this meaty melange should definitely take the time to try this. The bar is made from 63% sustainably farmed cocoa, mixed with a good handful of chilli flakes – the spice of which hits in perfect symphony with the melting of the chocolate on your tongue. The chipotle variety from Northern Mexico is perfect here. Paul Tomlinson, the chocolatier set up his business after travelling across India, and is den that all cocoa is ethically sourced. His business represents the formation of a confectionary craft from travel, referenced on the packaging. £4/bar: it is now available at Harvey Nichols.
- Original Beans is as revolutionary a step-up in the game of the humble chocolate bar as G&B was from the commercial sorts. There are 4 – main varieties on offer; 3 dark & a milk variety; all of which offer the day-to-day perfection that we crave. I took a particular liking to their fruity, Congolese variety. Original Beans labelling is directed for the real connoisseur; referencing the origin, ‘tasting notes’, conch (stirring) time, and the local cause that purchase supports. The flavours here are delicate but decisive.
- Forever Cacao just has one signature chocolate bar, sourced from the Satipo region of Peru. It is made from cocoa liquor paste. Stored in its stone ground state for 24 hours, it is infused with real Coconut sugar before being slowly tempered by Pablo. This is one for the purest of purists & it most certainly rich with a bouncy, textured flavour: 3 bars for £15 w/p&p is a fair price for a high quality product, with a definitive personal touch that remains subtle – refusing to infringe on the natural flavour
A note for sweeter people:
ChocoMe creates bespoke artisanal goods based on a high quality chocolate and just about every fruit/nut/spice you could have thought of – their rose petal option was highly delectable. Most of the options here contain a refined sort of sweetness, not easily found. However, it comes at a hefty cost. Also note the works of Alistair Croll.
A note for coeliacs:
PURE organic chocolate is completely free of dairy and gluten yet in possession of a truly raw, all-encompassing flavour; although lacking the bite factor that I so desire.
A note for the chocoholics:
The Cocoa runners run a subscription service that delivery the best from all over the world – 4 unique bars to your door for £15/month – Spencer was highly knowledgeable about the sources and techniques involved in each of the bars he had to show. He was also a fan of Forever Cacao
Words by Amaan Ali