I was lucky enough to be able to catch the Chocolate Festival at Southbank Centre last weekend. The usual suspects all showed up, plus some newcomers; there were chocolate fountains, filled and painted eggs, tamales filled with chocolate, chocolate lollies made to look like anything that would appeal to kids and then loads of people making very refined chocolates- carefully sourced and delicately made confections.
I had my first encounter with Hotel Chocolates who are attempting to grown their own cacao, a noble enterprise. However, I'd have to say that while they have their marketing down- setting up corporate packages offering year round chocolate delivery- and the looks of their product is very sleek, it feels in no way handmade and the chocolates themselves left me pining for Criollo, Masdagascar, Ghana, Costa Rica. Instead I tasted sugar, cocoa butter and well, additives. I wish that I could rave about them since they are attempting something noble- to extricate themselves from the world of chocolate's dirty little secret.
I browsed my way through Rococo's offerings and now am a devotee. They have gorgeous packaging, which always leaves me wondering how things will taste. A+ in both arenas! The Gull's Eggs gave forth a lovely, not runny, salted caramel and had the perfect bite on the shell. Their Scorched Hazelnuts must be a classic in their collection because I ate four in quick succession, continued to snack on them until the bag was empty and then have been dreaming about them since (they are easy enough to get, I just might need to curb my appetite for them!). I have yet to try the flavored bars they offer, but plan to soon.
My favorite vendor by far was a newcomer on the scene (although she has quite the chocolate background having worked with Rococo and other confectioners)- Raffaella Baruzzo. She sources her ingredients in Italy- the freshest walnuts from Piedmont, the loveliest hazelnuts as well. She is working with confectioners making many wonderful treats, but one that caught my eye was i Tochi (what we call bark in the stateside) in clever combinations. I brought home a packet of Pistachio and Golden Raisins enrobed in white chocolate. Not too sweet or cloying, these were made correctly.
I also made a little trip to heaven tasting her chocolate covered nuts- the aforementioned walnut and hazelnuts. I am slowly devouring the bag of Gianduja she makes- rolled in dark cocoa powder rather than the usual cloak of couverture. Raffaella and I talked of setting up a special tasting and when that happens I shall post about it here.
In the meantime, I will be nibbling my way through the spoils of my trip out to Southbank.