Here’s another reason to visit ‘foodie’ Marylebone. Rococo Chocolates have opened their latest shop on Moxon Street, just around the corner from Baker Street. Here’s all the details.
This weekend I treated myself to a bar from Hotel Chocolat’s Rabot 1745 range of premium bars. I went for the Vietnam 80% dark which was a delight that I kept in my backpack and munched on for a few days.
How did it taste? Well, very, very well! I don’t want to exaggerate, but I felt that every small bite of this bar was full of flavour that literally stops you in your tracks. At first, the texture is slightly dry, but the chocolate quickly melts, releasing strong cherry notes and a hint of berries. The cacao follows soon after, overwhelming with its strong raw flavour. Delicious! There is a hint of coffee too, which I usually dislike, but here it works wonders.
The thick, dark chocolate taste then lingers for quite some time in the mouth and throat. This is not only pleasant, but it stops you from taking another piece from the bar, making it last for several days in my case. (Which is unheard of!) Actually, the packaging is worth a mention too, as it is very well thought through, with an inner paper wrapper that seals fairly well within a flappy cardboard packaging. This lets you keep your chocolate in good shape for prolonged use.
Here is what Hotel Chocolat had to say on the wrapper:
” Take a holiday on a red fruit farm. A gentle warm-up from roasted olives and brown bread before the red cherries, redcurrants and raspberries open up with gusto. Finishes with tannin and tobacco.
Harvest: 2012 Roasting time: 25 min @125 C. Refining & Conching: 40hrs. “
Adding the roasting and conching times is a lovely touch. To be honest, I didn’t get any of the brown bread or tobacco flavours, but I didn’t miss them either – I was happy with cherries, cacao and coffee on their own.
All in all, this is a great little bar that I thoroughly enjoyed. The rest of the bars in the collection may also be worth a try… which is exactly what I plan to do next time I pass a Hotel Chocolat store.
The romantic drama of a single mother and her 6-year-old daughter arriving in a small French town to open a chocolate shop – and create tension with the locals. It is a beautifully shot piece of cinema with delightful story and music, plus a star-studded cast including Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Juliette Binoche (from the English Patient) and Johnny Depp. The latter comes in half way through the movie to solve problems and restore peace. Rightly nominated for five academy awards, this movie is definitely worth watching.
Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory (TV Series 2008)
A thoroughly enjoyable TV series about a British entrepreneur starting his bean to bar business. We watch Willie’s journey as he sources his raw materials from Venezuela (which he calls “home” and where he owns a cacao farm) and builds a factory in Devon to churn out his creations. Willie is a little eccentric, a little behind on family time, and always putting cacao in any dish he happens to be making. Very entertaining.
Chocolate Country (2007)
A 30 minute documentary on cacao farmers from the isolated hill towns in the Dominican Republic trying to turn their fortunes around. Tired of being at the bottom of the global economy, the farmers join forces to get organic certification and market their product directly to the United States. A beautiful tale about sustainability and survival that won the Grand Jury Prize at the Seattle International Film Festival.
Dick Taylor are small batch bean to bar chocolate makers based in Arcata, California. Their creations have been on my radar for a while, but I am yet to stumble upon them in a shop in Britain (London ideally, south London would be even better.) Something about their website intrigues the senses, it must be those shots of vintage equipment and an apparent connection with boats.
To give some background, the show is run by Adam Dick of Dustin Taylor, who seem to have an extreme obsession with crafting things the old way. They methodically roast, winnow, refine, conche, and temper their chocolate, and seem to pay special attention to raw ingredients (see this blog post.) Even the paper wrappers are produced in-house on vintage print shop machinery – which sounds like a fun project.
Looking at their online shop three bars grab my attention: the David Taylor Black Fig is one to try, but also the Dominican La Red (grapefruit, pipe tobacco, raisins) and Belize (jasmine, hibiscus, dried fruit) sound delicious. I hope distribution expands and our paths cross in a shop in Europe.
Dark chocolate offers many health benefits, but (unfortunately) it’s also packed with fat and sugar that put a limit on the recommended daily intake. So how much chocolate is too much? In short, anything over 6.7g… only! Here’s why:
Several studies (such as this one) suggest that the high concentrations of flavonoids in dark chocolate can help fight cardiovascular disease. Cacao has anti-inflammatory effects that lower the levels of a protein called CRP. The protein is an early warning for cardiovascular disease, so the lower, the better. Other foods have similar effects (various nuts, for example), but dark chocolate seems to lower CRP levels even further.
Unfortunately for chocolate lovers, there is a J-shaped relationship between eating dark chocolate and CRP. While the protein levels decrease as we eat more chocolate, the curve plateaus around the 6.7g per day (20g serving every 3 days) mark and shoots back up after. The reason is that eating too much chocolate leads to an increase in lipids and calories that overcomes the effects of the antioxidants.
So there you go – according to science the right amount of dark chocolate to eat for better cardiovascular health is 20g (1 serving) every 3 days. And don’t forget to do your jog too!
For a chocolate with a difference, look no further than Rococo. I’ve been a fan for some time actually, ever since discovering them while working in the same building in South London. Can you think of better neighbours to have? They shared a few very delicious bars and I was hooked.
Good business aside, Rococo have created a new Floral Chocolate range of bars that I am putting on my “to try” list. Aside from the very pretty watercolour packaging, they seem to have gone wild with their essential oils too, creating jasmine, rose and violet scented chocolate. The bars are organic dark chocolate with 65% cocoa solids from Grenada, which is always a good start.
Floral Chocolate 3 x 20g bars available at Rococo £5.75
Call me old-fashioned, but Aphanizomenon flos-aquae is the last thing I’d put in a bar of chocolate. Australian chocolatier Pana Barbounis, however, has boldly gone where no other chocolatier has gone before and done it. Top marks for creativity and bravery Pana, but why bother?
See, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, or AFA, is a species of blue-green algae which, alongside Spirulina, is among the oldest life forms on Earth. They are naturally rich in essential fatty acids, active enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, minerals, proteins, complex carbohydrates, phytochemicals and all sorts of other goodness. No surprise then that the algae have been a staple in the diets of many ancient cultures, from the Chinese to the Aztecs and Mayans, and are seeing a bit of a resurgence recently. Today AFA is harvested primarily in Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon, USA, which is exactly where the ingredient in Pana’s chocolate comes from.
The bar is in fact 60% cacao with maca, vanilla and subtle traces of the blue-green algae, available to buy online.