Once upon a time in Bruges, a young Pud-Hog and her beau-of-yore stumbled – quite by chance – upon a splendid little chocolate festival. They paid twenty euros, skipped inside and were met by the most marvellous of scenes: Belgian chocolate, EVERYWHERE.
There were chocolate sculptures, with discarded carvings in buckets beneath (‘Help Yourself’), tubes full of chocolate buttons from almost every country known to man and map, naked women being painted with chocolate tattoos (see above), and fountains spewing out rivers of chocolate sauce. Each room housed a different manufacturer, each one with something to share. In short, it was more chocolate than the Pud-Hog had ever seen under a single roof – and all of it was for the taking.
Needless to say, she took and she took, cramming her mouth with the sweet Belgian nectar and making herself quite sick in the process.
But in spite of the sickness, the memory stayed with her – and she has longed to return ever since…
These days, the beau might be different, but the hankering remains the same. Those magical words – ‘Chocolate Festival’ – are enough to put stars in my eyes (and drool on my chin). Luckily for me, last weekend saw the return of the Southbank Chocolate Festival – an event I attended with Ma and the Man last year, and which sadly spans only two days.
As chocolate festivals go, it’s not quite in the same league as the one I discovered in Bruges. There are no chocolate sculptures, no chocolate fountains, no naked ladies (well, not as far as I noticed), and the samples are guarded a little more carefully. But then again, there’s no ten euro entrance fee either.
So what do you get for your nothing? Approximately forty stalls of chocolate and cakey producers, flouting their wares and (more often than not) handing over sneak tasters of their work – all the while encouraging you to buy, buy, buy.
Now, I’ll get on to the buying part later – first let’s do the samples. Busy as things were (I’m talking hordes), the Man and I managed to try a little something of (almost) everything. There was chocolate liqueur (Thornton’s), banana and passion fuit truffles (Damian Allsop), rosemary and olive oil chocolates (William Curley), simnel cake brownie (Paul A. Young) and plenty more besides (I was buzzing, I tell you – it’s a miracle I remember this much). My personal favourite, however, were the pistachio praline eggs from Artisan du Chocolat: AWESOME.
When it came to spending money, as usual, it was the stranger treats that caught our attention: the bacon jam truffle (yet to be sampled by my lovely non-veggie assistant), the baked bean ganache (surprisingly edible), the peanut butter and banana truffle (not nutty enough, but certainly fruity).
We also bought a chocolate arancini: a plum-sized deep-fried ball of risotto, walnut, orange, spice and liquid chocolate, specially made by the Arancini Brothers. Crisp on the outside, mellow and warm, this too came high up on my list.
Of course this is by no means an exhaustive description of our time at the festival: we bought a lot. And although the stalls have now departed from the Southbank, I can’t quite abandon the topic so quickly. So I have a proposition for you: how’s about we make this Festival Week?
You see, despite today’s ramblings, there are still three more boxes of chocolates, two slabs of cake and a special hot chocolate to get through. If you’d care to join me, we can savour it all together.
Tune in for the next instalment tomorrow…