REVIEW – TCHO SeriousMilk “Cacao” Bar

For those of us with a semi-sweet tooth, may I present to you the TCHO SeriousMilk “Cacao” bar with a whopping 53% cocoa. Beautifully packaged, inside a sleek, almost architectural, cardboard outer, this bar looks and smells really enticing.

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This bar is packed full of organic, fairly traded and kosher ingredients and at 58g is a perfect size to share with a friend (or, like me, scoff the lot in one big swoop!)

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This milky concoction fills even the steadfast dark chocolate lovers in awe, with a melting embrace of fudgy goodness, which leaves you wide-eyed and wanting more. The aroma is similar to a steaming, hot bowl of cocoa, ready and waiting for a crusty croissant to be dipped in, head-first.

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Initially a pleasant sweetness tantalises your taste-buds, but this is swiftly followed by a punchy chocolate flavour which envelopes your mouth with its creamy texture. This is the lasting impression, leaving you feeling balanced and truly content.

TCHO chocolate can be found in the UK at Cocoa Runners.

My Chocolate Valentine

With Valentine’s day just a blink (and a cheeky-wink) away, what could be better to sweep your loved one off their dainty feet than to show your appreciation with  a thoughtful (and lip-lickingly good) chocolate gift ♥. To make it all the more special, why not shop locally and support our British chocolatiers at the same time?

For a quirky and original offering, plump for a Chocolat The Movie Hamper bought to you by Somerset based The Chocolate Society. Spend a cosy (and interactive) night-in with your soul mate, whilst nibbling on chocolates when you see them being eaten on-screen! Or if you happen to be single and carefree, call the girls over and drool over Johnny Depp (looking gorgeous, as usual).

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Picture courtesy of The Chocolate Society – @ChocSoc

Next up, is a stunning array of gifts from West Sussex company – Cocoa Loco. Pucker up for a kiss with their gorgeous Lip and Love Heart Lollies and forgo the roses altogether, deciding instead on a beautiful Chocolate Flower Pot with delicate, milk and white chocolate flowers.

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Picture courtesy of Cocoa Loco – @cocoalocochoc

For a touch of luxurious glamour, turn to Kokopelli’s Chocolate, who have created a heavenly Valentine’s Collection of caramel chocolates in four enticing flavours – Passion fruit, Tonka Bean, Cardamom and Sea Salt. Steph Saffer is the founder of Kokopelli’s and, according to Steph’s blog, each flavour has a significant meaning when it come’s to love.

Dive in head-first and order your box of romantic tricks today. Why not add a bag of their sweet and tangy Passion fruit caramels too (my personal favourite) to make the Valentine’s feeling last all week.

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Picture courtesy of Kokopelli’s Chocolate – @Kokopellis_Choc

Lauden Chocolate  was created by the formidable, award-winning duo Sun and Stephen. Their exquisite creations just scream ‘EAT ME!’ and their stunning workmanship oozes a feeling of opulence and desirability. Impress your discerning, true love with Lauden’s Strawberries and Cream Hearts; filled with affection – you can’t go wrong with these beauties.

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Picture courtesy of Lauden Chocolates – @LaudenChocolate

What do you get for the Valentine who has everything? Why a selection of Melt Chocolates of course! Try their stunning painted hearts (which look almost Rothko inspired) or a cute box of Valentine Bars (including the appropriately named Love Bar).

For the die-hard fresh chocolate fan, immerse yourself into the Valentine’s Collection Box, which houses a mouth-watering rose, raspberry and lychee paté de fruit, half dipped in chocolate and decorated with a tiny rose bud and gold leaf. Lavish and sumptuous, this selection will leave you wanting more…

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Picture courtesy of Melt Chocolates – @meltchocolates

For those of you looking for a fun and flirty gift, why not visit Lick The Spoon in the Cotswolds. Their adorable Love Bug will have any prospective Valentine eating out of the palm of your hand. With flavours to choose from such as Milk Chocolate with Salted Caramel, White Chocolate with Raspberry and Dark Chocolate with Champagne, you may need to bite the bullet and get all three.

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Picture courtesy of Lick The Spoon – @LicktheSpoonUK

For an extra special, romantic surprise, visit Black Mountain Gold, based in Crickhowell, Wales who are serving up a special Valentine’s offer. Book a three hour chocolate-making workshop during the month of February, for just £140 per couple. A smooth and sophisticated way to spend some quality time with your better half.

Or, alternatively, pop in to their shop for a selection of their delectable handmade chocolates, which will melt even the coldest heart.

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Picture courtesy of Black Mountain Chocolates – @WELSHCHOCS

♥Wedding ring optional

Gorgeous, British Made Easter Eggs

I admit, I love a decadent Easter Egg. The more bonbons and bunnies the better, but sometimes, it’s the egg itself that is the show-stopper. Here is my pick of the British bunch of eggs-traordinary eggs (and a few other Easter treats)…

Large Dark Swirled Easter Egg – The Chocolate Society

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The Classic Ostrich Easter Egg – Hotel Chocolat

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Large milk and white stripe chocolate egg with flower shape – Nicky Grant

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Dark Chocolate House Dark Truffles Easter Egg – William Curley

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Psychedelic Egg – The Cocoa Mistress

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Butterfly Chocolate Egg – Paul Wayne Gregory

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Pink Marc de Champagne Truffle Easter Egg – Charbonnel et Walker

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Mellow Yellow Duckling – Artisan Du Chocolat

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Green Easter Bunny – Melt

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White Chocolate mice popping Pralines – Demarquette

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Devnaa – Coffee Masala Caramels (Limited Edition)

On this dreary January afternoon, I need a pick-me-up. Something to lift my mood and to awake my senses. After a 45 minute workout, and a strong cup of Chai Tea, I still cannot muster the enthusiasm to tackle the weekly kitchen deep-clean.

Out of the corner of my eye…what do I see? Yay!, I have a brand-new box of Devnaa’s Coffee Masala Caramels waiting for me! From the bright pink and purple, tiffin-box inspired packaging to the heady chocolate aroma, this is just what the doctor ordered.

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From looking at their lovely website, I learn that Devnaa is a British company, run by brother and sister duo Jay and Roopa Rawal. Roopa is a former student of the Slattery School of Excellence in Manchester, where she gained knowledge of Artisan chocolate making. Together they founded the company and have been inspired by Roopa’s natural talents at making Indian desserts.

Although Indian food is hugely popular in the UK, Indian puddings are often said to be too sweet or too rich. I spent many childhood holidays visiting relatives in Kolkata (or Calcutta as it was known back then), where I was spoilt rotten by every female relative, by being given huge plates of Indian sweets (and often scolded for not being able to eat it all!). I admit, I also found many of the sweetmeats sickly and soon became tired of them. So I am intrigued by one of Devnaa’s creations; their Indian Sweets Tiffin Box, which is a selection of hand-made flavoured barfi enrobed in Belgian chocolate. I am interested to see how they have managed to balance the delicate flavours of fine chocolate with the powerful punch of exotic flavours in the barfi. This may have to be my next purchase from Devnaa.

Roopa and Jay have also written a cookbook, entitled “Devnaa Indian-Inspired Desserts“, which includes some traditional Indian sweets, alongside some recipes with a western influence. This has already been added to my wish-list (Husband…take note).

However…I digress.

Created as a limited edition run for Autumn/Winter 2012, I snapped up a box of the Coffee Masala Caramels just after Christmas. The caramel is infused with a signature blend of spices (cinnamon, cardamom, clove and ginger) and roasted coffee; an intoxicating combination, and just what I need to bring a smile back on my face.

The chocolates are packaged in a beautiful purple box, with a bright pink tiffin-box style packaging reminiscent of the metal Indian lunch boxes that my cousins would take to school each day, stacked full of parathas, dahl and vegetable curry (and of course, some obligatory sweetmeats)!

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Inside, are sixteen devilishly handsome dark chocolates, shaped into little balls, nestled in royal purple finery. These are kings indeed! Biting into the thick dark shell, brings an almighty snap and a crunch from the crystallised sugar on top. The caramel is thick and gooey, smooth, not too sweet and strong with the masala flavours. I find tiny traces of cinnamon and ginger within the caramel which pleasantly linger on my tongue and mingle with the chocolate.

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The chocolate shell is thick, which means that the coffee and masala flavour is muted at the end of the tasting, once the chocolate starts to melt.However, the darkness of the chocolate compliments the strong coffee and fragrant masala very well, and I feel that without the thick coating, the caramel would be far too sweet and the chocolate would be overpowered.

After devouring just three delicious morsels my happy mood is again restored and I am once again ready to face the world (and the kitchen)!

Artisan Du Chocolat – 20 Piece Couture Box

British company Artisan Du Chocolat, create chocolates which are beautiful to look at and a pleasure to eat. I’m not a chocolate snob and I enjoy a wagon wheel, as much as I do a Single Origin truffle, but if I could give a prize for the “Best in Show” for chocolate packaging, presentation and the whole eating experience, then it would surely be a Gold Medal to Artisan Du Chocolat’s 20 Piece Couture Box.

The box itself is a white textured square, with a tiny brown toggle as the fastening. A really lovely and decadent touch. Almost as luxurious as the chocolate inside!

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Inside is a short (but inspiring) blurb, printed on an orange woven material which states:

“This box tells the story of our passion for chocolate

For the lush exotic lands that nourish it and give it it’s distinctive taste

For the farmers who nurture it

For it’s magical refinement in our conch and our mill

For it’s whimsical union with herbs and spices, nuts, fruits or flowers

For the pleasure it gives”

The chocolates are very fresh and there is another note stating that they are best devoured within two weeks of purchase. Although, for such sumptuous chocolate to last this long in my house is unthinkable!

There are twenty chocolates and twenty different flavours inside the box. A small booklet is  also provided which describes all of Artisan Du Chocolate’s flavours, and it is by consulting this that I can discover which flavours I have in my box. It is almost like a chocolate lottery, as there are 38 couture chocolate flavours on the list!

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The couverture chocolate coating is ultra-thin and has a satisfying “snap” when you bite into the chocolate. Although these chocolates are not hand-made, they have had the finishing touches added by hand, which gives them a lovely appearance, unlike the uniform mass-produced chocolates that you find in supermarkets.

In my selection, I have the following flavours (from left to right; top to bottom):

Pure Origin: Madagascar Dark – A smooth, rich ganache with a melt-in-the-mouth consistency. The dark chocolate has a well rounded fruity flavour, which leaves a pleasant after-taste.

Marzipan – This ganache has a slightly grainy texture, which reminds me of the blocks of marzipan used to make cakes. The flavour is somewhat muted, but does not have the same chemical after-taste of the mass-produced marzipan. The almond flavour lingers for quite some time afterwards.

Violet – The flowery flavour is not overpowering and leaves a lovely floral after-taste. The ganache is one of the more softer fillings, and disappears in my mouth almost instantly.

Coconut – A gorgeous, crunch to the ganache is a nice surprise, with slivers of toasted coconut mixed in with the creamy mixture, leaving me with a big smile on my face. This is definitely one of my favourites!

Passion Fruit – I have to admit, that I wasn’t looking forward to this flavour, as I am not a fan of passion fruit. However, I am completely blown away by the strong initial “hit” of the tart, fruity jelly, which sits atop the smooth, dark chocolate ganache. My eyes are literally wide open as the flavours mingle in my mouth to form a very pleasant flavour, which leaves no after-taste, and cleans the palate in preparation for the next chocolate. Absolutely divine!

Ginger – A subtle, almost candied-ginger flavoured ganache, which melts instantly in the mouth. There is an overwhelming feeling of warmth and contentment after devouring this chocolate.

Lumi – The main flavour in this ganache is from Iranian sun-dried limes, and is my favourite chocolate in this box. A very unusual taste, zingy and fresh, which leaves a taste of fragrant lime zest on my tongue and is complemented perfectly by the dark chocolate couverture. The flavour reminds me a little of Indian Lime Pickle!

Cinnamon – The cinnamon ganache is very strong and very sweet, however I believe it needs the sweetness to balance the strong flavour. Interestingly, this leaves no after-taste in my mouth.

Unknown chocolate with pink hearts – This is a flavour which is not listed on the booklet, so I was very excited to see if I could guess what it was correctly. On biting into the dark chocolate, I find a trembling jelly which tastes of either blackberry or raspberry, or a mixture! The flavour is strong and acidic, and is complemented beautifully by the creamy chocolate.

Rose – A rich, smooth ganache, which tastes like a gooey Turkish delight. This leaves a fragrant after-taste for a short while.

Orange – The ganache is thick, slightly bitter from the dark chocolate, but has a lovely, subtle orange flavour. The orange tastes freshly squeezed, and sun-drenched.

Tonka – This is a spice that is said to resemble vanilla and bitter almonds. Unfortunately, the flavour is just too subtle to be distinguishable, and tastes rather bland. Maybe to prepare us for the next tantalising treat?

Fresh Mint – Another zingy flavour, with a great hit of stimulating mint from the first bite. It is almost like eating a chocolate-coated mint leaf and, I imagine, will taste fabulous alongside a Mojito.

Sea Salted Caramel – A sticky, chewy ganache, which is heavier than the other chocolates. This leaves a caramel after-taste, and is not too sweet, unlike some of the other Salted Caramels on the market.

Pure Origin: Java Dark – This is a smooth, melting ganache, which disappeared in a second. The initial flavour is an earthy one, which is hard to describe, but the final hint was of smoke.

Honey – A highly honey-perfumed chocolate which is not too sweet and well balanced by the dark chocolate couverture.

House Tea – We can only guess at which tea was used to create this smokey, aromatic ganache, Earl Grey or Lady Grey is my best estimate, but I am not tea connoisseurs so your guess is as good as mine. A delicious and intriguing blend of flavours.

Vanilla – This smooth, sweet ganache has a very subtle vanilla flavour, but has no real “punch”. However, it does well to cleanse the palate in readiness for the next wonderful concoction.

Coffee and Star Anise – Biting into this decadent chocolate brings a crisp, sugary crunch. A strong, bitter coffee hit is followed by a subtle, fragrant hint of anise. There is something very comforting about this combination of flavours, almost like the smell of baking bread and coffee brewing in the morning. It leaves me feeling warm and content.

Sechuan Pepper – A very bold flavour, bringing a warmth from the pepper, which is not harsh or overpowering at all. It has an aromatic chilli kick, that leaves a faint, tingling sensation in the mouth, and lingers for several minutes afterwards.

There is something in this box of treasures to suit everyone, from the fussiest chocolate lover to the most unadventurous of people. The unusual flavours were my highlight, with the Lumi, Passion Fruit and Coffee and Star Anise, being my absolute favourites. If I could bathe in the stuff, I would.

The Grove Restaurant – Hammersmith

Today was our work’s Annual Christmas Lunch, thrown by our extremely generous Chairman and CEO. We were treated to a three course extravaganza at The Grove Restaurant, in Hammersmith.

I dined on Pan Seared King Scallops with Grilled Black Pudding, Pea Purée and Saffron Beurre Blanc,  Chargrilled Argentinian (Pampas Heights) Grass Fed Rib Eye Steak  (cooked to perfection) with Rustic Fries, Mixed Salad & Béarnaise Sauce and finally, Strawberry Tiramisu.

The food was absolutely perfect, and this was the second time we have been lucky enough to experience the excellent service and ambiance of the Gallery Bar, the private function room upstairs at the restaurant. This room has enough capacity for 35 people to have a sit-down meal, and has it’s own bar and serving staff.

The food is so good at this unpretentious gastropub. The staff are prepared to accommodate fussy eaters, difficult diets and the arrangement of the Gallery bar can be changed to suit your occasion. I highly recommend visiting for lunch, dinner, or just a cheeky pint!

Paul A Young – Lapsang Souchong Tea and Rosemary Chocolates

Today I sampled a limited edition flavour of chocolate, bought from my latest trip to Paul A Young Fine Chocolates, located on Wardour Street in Soho.

I am very partial to a nice, strong cup of Lapsang Souchong tea when I am at home, relishing it’s earthy smokiness. I have been told that it is an acquired taste, but I was hooked from the first sip.

So you can imagine my excitement, when I was drawn to a tiny, shiny ballotin box of Lapsang Souchong Tea and Rosemary chocolates. I was initially unsure of the Rosemary element, as although it pairs wonderfully with Lamb, it is quite unusual to see it matched with Tea.

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The small cubes of chocolate snapped cleanly, exposing a dark, water ganache. Immediately, my mouth filled with an intense smoky flavour, and a subtle hint of rosemary. This faded quickly, but the smoke remains even now, and is rather pleasant! The chocolate is a dark 72% cocoa, which leaves an oh-so slight bitterness at the back of my tongue and has a nutty, roasted after-taste, similar to the aftermath of drinking an espresso coffee.

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I really loved trying a new flavour, and was surprised by the unusual combination, which works together beautifully. I look forward to trying some of Paul’s other wonderful creations!

The Chocolate Festival

This weekend, a friend and I visited the Chocolate Festival held at the Southbank Centre in London. We arrived at 12pm, and the place was completely packed! There were stalls, showcasing some amazing chocolate creations, and we must have spent at least three or four hours, perusing the area, finding some unusual flavour combinations and fantastic Christmas-y smells.

We ended up spending a fortune at William Curley, Artisan Du Chocolat, Demarquette and  Herzog. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to even reach the Rococo stall, as there were so many people clambering to sample their fare, but we left happy and content nonetheless.

Afterwards, we hopped onto the tube, and hotfooted it to Paul A Young‘s boutique, in Soho, where we guzzled their sublime Hot Chocolate (made with water, not milk!) and I sampled their infamous, award-winning Chocolate Brownie.

Of course, a trip to Soho, is not complete, without collecting some chocolate-covered coffee beans from The Algerian Coffee Store. I also picked up a block of my favourite hot chocolate – Xocolata Pedra – a blend of high quality cocoa and warming spices, delicious melted in a cup of hot milk.

Such a wonderful weekend, and I am looking forward to tasting all of my chocolate goodies over the next few days. I feel so lucky to live near London, where there are so many talented chocolatiers and unique food businesses. I’m looking forward to sharing my food adventures with you and hope you are able to experience some of them for yourselves.