|'i love chocolate' tote-bags|
i was determined to make it to the chocolate festival on southbank this year. should the rain have wavered my commitment, a promise to meet giulia of mondomulia blog of made my attendance certain. we are fellow twitterati and foodists. giulia has a passion for food photography so as suggested by her we decided to join together to bring you this post with giulia behind the lens and me behind the pen. the tasting notes are from both of us including my ever hungry and willing eater, o.
a keen street foodist (and yes, ‘foodist’ is a word) i arrived at the chocolate festival earlier than both giulia and o to eat some of anna mae’s chocolate spiked chilli con carne. it was well worth the early arrival and the long queue. there is a full post dedicated to the chilli here should you want to know more.
|anna mae's chili shack|
it was the final day of the chocolate festival and it was positively heaving. an overcast cast sky and intermittent showers did not do much to dissuade people. giulia and i had to nudge our way to the front of every stall to try, chat and capture pictures.
we decided, in the spirit of winter to have hot chocolate. what began as a treat to warm ourselves ended on a ranking the three hot chocolates that we tried. over the last couple of years o and i have steadily built up a list of places in where to indulge in hot chocolate. we have several favourites in london that can be divided between the chains and independent café’s. our current and absolute favourite is la gelatiera’s hot chocolate whose thick consistency necessitates eating it with a spoon. it is served in vintage gold rimmed china with dainty spoons which are perfect for the job. la maison du chocolate has two kinds of hot chocolate based on the content of the milk and if i remember correctly one has a hint of vanilla. it lends itself well to being drunk rather than spooned but has depth of flavour. i find that o and i inevitably use these as yardsticks to measure all other hot chocolates. paul young’s hot chocolate is divine although much too thin for my likes. i’d rather eat his chocolate creations instead. o and i also like the ‘nursery kind’ of hot chocolate which is milkier with a mild chocolate taste. the three hot chocolates up for a test at the chocolate festival were rococo, café vergnano and valrhona.
|trio of hot chocolates|
now, i am very fond of rococo chocolates especially their dark and milk chocolate bars with elements such as orange and geranium and floral bars with essential oils. based on that and the length of the queue behind the tiny little mobile van i assumed that its hot chocolate would be good. i paid dearly for my assumptions as the person in the queue was o. rococo’s hot chocolate lacked flavour. it had a medium thickness and a tepid heat. it had the colour of a milk chocolate sans taste. o’s cup was donated to the bin since none of us could muster finishing it. a fellow chocoholic and twitterati who we met for the first time at the chocolate festival called chocolatewalks gave us some insight on jaz and jules hot chocolate which he felt had a slightly synthetic taste so we decided to steer clear on that basis. giulia tried her luck on café vergnano which despite being a powdered mix tasted very good albeit a bit too sweet for my likes.
|cafe vergnano hot chocolate|
i settled on valrhona whose chocolate bars i had first tried in the us. i got a very generous free sample and was surprised at how good it tasted especially since it came out of a carton. all three of us were agreed that this smooth, milky hot chocolate was the best. i wouldn’t have minded if the sweetness were toned down a little more but the depth of the chocolate flavour was what really took first place. i bought a pack for o for christmas and strangely, despite the fact that i carried it home without a bag or cover o never noticed it until he unwrapped it on christmas day. whilst at the valrhona stall i also got to try the chocolate covered almonds in both milk and dark. these are as always a pleasure. christmas is never completed without some orange ballotins and the ones from valrhona were excellent. the sweet citrus of the peel was made gentle by a dark chocolate.
|valrhona chocolate almonds and orange ballotins|
giulia and i made a brief stop at the meantime brewery. we had hoped to try the chocolate beer but unfortunately they were out of samples. it’s a pity because i have tried their raspberry beer before which is wonderful (and that’s coming from a non-beer loving person). we did however get a chance to have a quick chat with one of the men at the stall who told us the fascinating history of india pale ale. the beer gained its name because of its ability to keep during the long journey to the sub-continent in colonial times. there’s more on the history of india pale ale here.
|meantime brewery and churros|
the arancini brothers had given their regular savoury risotto balls a twist by creating a chocolate risotto with a muted sweetness. these were shaped into arancini and fried till the outside crisped lightly. o tried these and declared them to be the consistency of a fried chocolate rice pudding.
for baked goods special mention goes to both insider tart and the dessert deli. both giulia and i picked some christmas bakes from the dessert deli. laura’s mini port and orange christmas cupcakes are the prettiest i’ve ever seen a christmas cake. i had tasted the cake from its larger ‘cake’ version which was incredibly moist and drenched with port. the cupcakes were less boozy and this is what giulia liked about them. i like my christmas cake very liquer-fed but having said that o and i had our cupcakes post-christmas lunch and they were really good. the marzipan was excellent and the fondant incredibly smooth. it’s the most ambitious christmas cupcake and one that lives up to the test. i got o a slice of the millionaire’s shortbread as suggested by laura herself. this isn’t something i would usually have myself. i find shortbread too dense, buttery and rich a combination with chocolate and caramel. laura’s millionaire’s shortbread is far from that . the shortbread is light and flaky, the caramel had a toothsome sweetness and the chocolate dark chocolate provided a good contrast.
|port and orange christmas cupcakes|
giulia asked me to make a recommendation from outsider tart. i am partial to their brownies (the classic and the peanut butter ones) and sometimes the blondies too. she settled on the classic which although not as chewy as their american counterparts are more grownup as they are dark chocolate with a fudge like texture.
|outsider tart brownies|
|outsider tart brownies|
after having eaten my share of sweet and savoury and exhausted by constantly pushing against the crowds, o and i took leave making our way back home. giulia stayed on to capture some further eye-candy and in doing so got more treats from blackriver who use single origin jamaican cacao beans to craft their chocolates. you can see from the pictures that they are beautiful to look at. giulia assures me that they tasted very good!
that’s all from the chocolate festival until march of this year when it returns to the southbank. a special thanks to yael rose, the person behind the festival who takes it to three of the uk’s major cities - london, oxford and brighton.