What do you get when you combine chocolate, cocktails, food and a big group of bloggers? A really fabulous night out. Last week I was kindly invited by Hotel Chocolat to have a sit down meal at their Leeds Restaurant the Roast and Conch and experience their popular chocolate tasting classes.
The evening began with welcome Prosecco and an introduction to the Hotel Chocolat brand. Hotel Chocolat was founded by business partners Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris in 1987 after deciding to expand their mint company into making bespoke chocolate boxes. In 1993 they started selling chocolates online and became of the UK's earliest 'e-tailers' and later in 1998, they created their renowned 'Chocolate Tasting Club' where people could sign up and receive a monthly unique selection of chocolates. Fuelled by their love of chocolate and vastly growing customers, in 2004 the duo opened their first ever Hotel Chocolat store in Watford. Now Hotel Chocolat are one of UK's 'most advocated' British Brands and have over 75 stores and three very popular restaurants. Hotel Chocolat are one of only a few chocolatiers that run their own cocoa plantation and are involved in the chocolate making process from the cocoa beans straight to the manufacturing process. Those who work at Hotel Chocolat are finely educated in everything chocolate related and are keen to educate those looking for more information regarding their sweet treats.
This was quickly followed by a short, but fulfilling chocolate tasting masterclass where we learnt how to distinguish different types of chocolate and check for overall quality. Hotel Chocolat believe that chocolate is a sensory experience and different chocolates can evoke different flavours and emotions and to find the right chocolate for you, there are three simple tests. Firstly listen to your chocolate. The noise a chocolate makes as it is broken can help define the quality. If the chocolate snaps easily and has a clean sounding noise, this means the chocolate is of good quality. Chocolates with high levels of butter and oil can make more of a rustling noise and can be harder to snap. Secondly, always check the smell of your chocolate. According to Hotel Chocolat:' Smell accounts for over 705 of our taste and the smell of chocolate should remind us of natural products such as woodlands and spices." Chocolates that have been mass produced with unproportionate cocoa levels
will smell sugary. Finally there is taste. During the talk we briefly touched on the topic of 'chompers' vs 'suckers' and the fact that if you leave your chocolate to melt in your mouth you will experience a lot more flavour. Good quality chocolate should melt effortlessly in the mouth and not leave you with a sticky feeling unlike mass produced chocolate and this was evident in the chocolate tasting session. Every piece of chocolate we tasted melted like a piece of heaven in mouths and left us more satisfied. showing us that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to well made chocolate.
During the second part of the evening we were lead upstairs to the Hotel Chocolat Flagship restaurant the Roast and Conch where we were able to trial some of their chocolate infused offerings. I had previously heard so much about the Roast and Conch restaurant, but never had the opportunity to go. The thought of combining chocolate with savoury food left me feeling daunted and confused, but when my first course of the Market Vegetable soup with Cracked Cacao nibs arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by the subtly of the chocolate and how much flavour it gave the dish. The soup itself tasted very fresh with delicate flavours of parsnip and the cacao nibs added sharpness. Yet again it was another sensory journey taking us through different notes of the dish with added elements of surprise. This was perfectly topped off with a wedge of fresh, chewy bread.
My second course at the Roast and Conch was the Mac and Cheese in Cacao nib pastry with celeriac puree, leeks and mushrooms. I loved every element of this dish from the crunchy buttery pastry with a slight tinge of chocolate to the gooey melt in the mouth mac and cheese. The mushrooms were sautéed to perfected and the celeriac puree added a nice refreshment to what is a rather hefty main dish.
My experience at Hotel Chocolat and the Roast and Conch was an eye opener. I have learnt more about chocolate that I have ever known more and I'm also much more appreciative of level of work that goes into refining chocolate and making Hotel Chocolat taste so unbelievably good.
Have you tried Hotel Chocolat before?