Thursday, 2 April 2009


yesterday evening turned out to be wonderful sunny one. standing outside the guardian office on york way the sun threw long slender shadows on the floor of the entrance. the lettering ‘the guardian, the observer’ bore shadow silhouettes. i was there for the word of mouth chocolate testing. armed with avery labels with our guardian user names printed on them [given in exchange for our golden tickets] we were led by suse through the offices of my favourite newspaper. i had this vague feeling of remembrance of the feeling i had when reading charlie and the chocolate factory. 

in the chocolate tasting room was a long white table bearing an array of broken easter eggs and chocolates – some in white dishes and others in baskets. all of them were familiar brands, the usual suspects of chocolate; nestle, cadbury’s, lindt, tesco, aldi, waitrose, throntons. the unusual one for me was daylesford organic which i’ve always associated with organic soups, veggies and produce. the best stuff came dressed up as a person, none other than paul young, a british chocolate maker who owns a lovely little chocolate boutique on camden passage in islington. it always smells of full bodied dark chocolate, spice and a fruity red wine. he gave all of us chocolate testers some tasting notes –

 the egalitarian in me ensured that i did some justice to the chocolate in the room before wandering off to paul young who had his own stand in a little cove around the corner. three of his offerings were on our testing list and as bonus points he had guinness and basil truffles, fennel chocolate and brownies to tempt us chocoholics. there was silver tip jasmine tea or sherry for those who preferred an alcoholic note to help smooth over chocolate fatigue. i had the tea which had a lovely, refreshingly summery flavour and a light floral note between my dabbling into paul young’s creations.

i started on the basil truffles; they were smooth and round, smelt dark with a hint of red wine. when it broke open in my mouth there was a flood of cooling flavour that felt like mint on the tongue but tasted distinctly of basil. paul explained that the centre was water based, with the basil being infused in water. the trick is to let the basil infuse for long enough to get the flavour without any added bitterness. i went off to the tea room for a pause after the basil truffle – next came the stem ginger and black cardamom pave with its strong spicy fragrance and the bite of ginger. the trick with chocolate testing is to let it melt slowly so as to pick up the individual flavours as well as see how they come together. next on the list was mint chocolate. i am not a fan of mint in chocolate. it generally leaves me feeling like i’ve brushed my teeth or worse still had one of those ultra strong chewing gums that wrigley and then eaten some chocolate but since attendance demanded tasting i attempted the dark chocolate with streaks of green mint. i was pleasantly surprised at the match between the two. the mint was more like a breath of spring breathing through dark chocolate and it smelt like a freshly washed sprig of mint. definitely worth the trouble of trying. nearing chocolate fatigue but still curious about the infamous brownies and guinness truffles i went on to sample both. the centre of guinness was very smooth and clean on the palate, not heavy and creamy like most truffles tend to be. encasing it was a shell of dark chocolate, sweetened just enough to complement the cacao. i liked it. the brownie was decadence personified. dark, dense and with a texture of firm batter it melted almost instantly on the tongue. it smelt of butter and dark chocolate. it was seriously upscale, an elite version of its american counterparts that are chewier and slightly glossy on top. 

i haven’t omitted the more daily and comforting versions of chocolate that we had come to sample. truth be told, being a dark chocolate junkie makes it hard for me to revert to milk or white chocolate. white chocolate to me is a sad excuse – i’d rather eat condensed milk instead. milk chocolate can be good, say for instance green and blacks studded with almonds is good. but for the most i much prefer dark. it’s a fuller experience and smells what chocolate should smell like. it is fantastic paired with a cafetiere of coffee, a fruity red wine or as i discovered yesterday – a blackcurrant coloured port. hotel chocolat’s bizarre concoction of strawberry, white and milk chocolate eggs was so high on the sugar i felt giddy afterwards. and dayleford’s foray into chocolate resulted in something that melted pleasurably enough on the tongue but tasted curiously, of nothing. divine chocolate with its core of macadamia nut turned out to be very good. the usual suspects – cadbury and nestle tasted like their old familiar selves. the ones that you reach for when you’re broke, sad and blue. the ones that never fail to comfort. chocstar brownies that made an appearance right at the end sent memory to the us of a and to the home made betty crockers mixes that we’d often indulge in. whoever thought that stuff out of box could taste so sinfully good?