Friday, 15 October 2010
Hotel Chocolat – An Evening at their Christmas Launch
Spectre and I were very kindly invited to Hotel Chocolat’s flagship store in London to preview the launch of their Christmas range. When we arrived it took a few minutes to become accustomed to the festive Christmas music playing in the background. We had been told that there would be canapés available during the evening, but it was only when I spotted the menu, did I realize that canapés Hotel Chocolat style were something very different to regular canapés. These wonderful appetisers were filled with curious combinations of ingredients that even with our adventurous Foodstuff Finds attitudes we were a little surprised by.
First up we were treated to Onion and Roasted Cacao Soup. Best to pause for a second and take that in, it took me a minute to come to terms with the concept. Obviously Spectre and I gave it a go, even though the cream and basil leaf decorating the product made it look more like a dessert. The contents were very savoury, a little sweet from the onion, but it was only a hint of bitterness from the cocoa and no rich chocolate tones. Spectre was less convinced by the soup, but I think he picked up on more of a chocolate edge than me.
Next up was Cacao Tortellini with Wild Salmon, which I felt worked rather well. The taste of the cocoa complemented the salmon, and made for a moreish bite. There was Chicken Glazed with Spiced Cacao which worked remarkably well too and reminded me of the Chocolate Mole sauce I have tried in Mexican restaurants.
I absolutely loved the Stilton served with 65% Chocolate. The flavours seemed like an unlikely match, but the strength of the chocolate pulled off the flavours and made a very clever tasting treat. Spectre agreed, we hadn’t expected it to work so well but the strong tastes balanced it out. Dessert was to follow, and despite Spectre happily trying their strange combinations in our tasting adventure, at this point he spotted something so unappealing he politely declined and wouldn’t even try it. Now regular readers will know about Spectre’s dislike for cherries, but I can assure you this was a cherry free zone. The next thing on the menu contained Spectre’s other Kryptonite, otherwise known as cooked bananas. Yes the humble caramelised banana served on a biscuit base was totally unappealing to Spectre. He was happy to mix cocoa with salmon and chocolate with cheese, but at this point he could continue no more, cooked banana is, after all, just crazy. I gave it a try of course, and found the banana was lovely, sweet and served on a chocolate ganache on a rich biscuit.
The waitress seemed to keep catching Spectre’s eye trying to get him to try the banana and eventually he conceded. His worst fears were confirmed, it was indeed barbecued banana – he stood there twisty faced, desperately trying to stay polite and composed in a crowded room full of reporters and PR staff, but don’t worry he refreshed his palette with substantial amounts of orange juice. Luckily though there were also some scoops of ridiculously creamy vanilla and cacao ice cream, to leave the taste buds ready for the Christmas chocolates.
This year’s selection of goodies were beautifully laid out, to tempt us and for us to try. There were some gorgeous chocolate designs in detailed Christmas shapes ranging from reindeers through to turkey dinners.
The giant Christmas Crackers are back this year, and I although I didn’t witness it, I was assured they now have a bang, before releasing their chocolate contents.
The wreathes from last year were also back, and even available in a milk chocolate with biscuit and white chocolate pieces. Both Spectre and I thought this combination was absolutely lovely. The wreaths are also now available in a smaller size perfect for one. We had a taste of the Dark and Fruity Yule log, which was a rich silky dark chocolate praline packed with almonds and cranberries.
The Classic Christmas H Box selection still looks like the ultimate seasonal treat, with its mix of fillings, from the safe caramels through to its more adventurous cinnamon treats. I have to say the event has me all excited about the upcoming season, and I think the definitive way to count down the last month has to be with one of the luxurious Advent Calendars.
Both founders of Hotel Chocolat were present for the event, and we were lucky enough to have a chat with Peter Harris. He told us about his visions from the early days for the brand and the struggle in the first few years. He also told us about his strong views on Hotel Chocolat’s 'Engaged Ethics' Cocoa Programme, and how farmers are paid within a week of selling their crops. We found him to be a truly inspirational person, a pleasure to talk to, and he has a brand to be proud of.
Just before we left we were treated to a rather luxurious cup of the new Gingerbread Liquid Chocolat, which was a warming spicy sweet drink, giving us energy for our train journey home. A big thank you to Hotel Chocolat for your wonderful hospitality, and we wish you every success in the upcoming Christmas season. All the items we saw were cleverly designed appealing treats, so we have no doubt it will be a good season for you.