Review: The Thorntons Chocolate Afternoon Tea.

Thorntons Chocolate Tea

Nicey (but pricey)

Chocolate Week 2013 is almost upon us – so what better way to kick things off than by sneaking a peek at the Thorntons Chocolate Afternoon Tea?

Inspired by the flavours of several new Thorntons offerings – and on sale for a limited time – it certainly isn’t your average menu (unless your local tea room always sells Salmon and Cocoa Sandwiches).

At £33 per person, however (£41 with Champagne), it also isn’t the cheapest of ways to chow down.

So what do you get for your money?

Well, there’s a comfortable seat in the opulent Park Lane Hotel, a harpist strumming pop songs in the corner, a plate of ornate-looking savouries (filled mainly with meat and fish), plus fine Loose Leaf Tea poured from silver pots.

The main event – the Scones and handcrafted Desserts – are also extremely stylish, with Chocolate running through the whole affair.

I enjoyed gobbling up the three Scones (Plain, Chocolate, and Chocolate Chip), which were fresh and still warm, albeit quite small.

The Raspberry and Chocolate Jam went down a treat as well – though I can’t say I could taste the Choc in the Lemon and White Chocolate Curd.

The Desserts looked both immaculate and enticing. However, sharing each one between two proved to be very messy, and meant that the final mouthfuls were rather too miniature for my liking.

In general, I found myself craving more.

More of the Passion Fruit Mousse, with its solid White Chocolate flower.

More of the silky Coconut Mousse (a luxurious lovechild of Teacake and Bounty).

I especially wanted more of the Raspberry Cheesecake Bombe: the gorgeous round pink Chocolate shell, which was filled with a Raspberry froth.

But, alas, it was not to be.

Instead, at the end of the Tea, my blood sugar quota was filled with a taster of three new Thorntons Truffles – plus an edible Chocolate name tag to take home.

The verdict then?

Undoubtedly sleek, a definite treat, but, at times, far too petite.

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Rated: The Greggsnut.

Greggsnuts

The Glaze Craze Continues

What? With Doughnut-Croissant hybrids sparking a feeding frenzy in New York and dampening chins all over the world, it was only a matter of time before someone this side of the Atlantic started selling their own brand.

First major business to get onboard? The omnipresent chain of budget British bakeries, Greggs.

Now, at Greggs, they’re not called Cronuts – most likely because that label has been cannily trademarked by Dominique Ansel, the man who first brought the Cronut into being.

Instead, these balls of dough and glaze are known, somewhat inelegantly, as Greggsnuts.

Their makers describe them as ‘delicious’ and ‘fluffy’, with ‘layer upon layer of soft, light pastry’.

Again, no doubt to avoid litigation, they’re specifically aligned with Yum Yums (that other fried and flaky treat) and claim to have been inspired by the ‘craze’ of Cronuts, rather than Cronuts themselves.

Yeah, right.

Like Cronuts, they are glazed and filled, with two flavours available to buy: Summer Berry and Crème, and Caramel and Pecan.

Like Cronuts, their supply has been deliberately limited: only 13 shops are stocking them – less than one per cent of the company’s 1,671 UK outlets – and these will only sell them in September.

Unlike Cronuts, however, one bite is enough to confirm that they are not a taste sensation.

Don’t get me wrong: they’re not awful. They’re just not awfully good.

While devotees of the Cronut will wax lyrical on its freshness, flakiness and chew, the Greggsnut leaves a lot to be desired.

It is not Croissanty at all – the layers are thick and heavy, and they cloy together, sticking between the teeth.

The fillings are sparse, not gooey, and dwarved by great big pockets of air. And while the Caramel adds a certain salty silkiness (never a bad thing), neither it nor the bodiless Berry Crème pack the filthy, no-holds barred punch that I’d hoped for.

Of course this is hardly surprising. Unlike the original Cronut, these aren’t gourmet products, lovingly made in a tiny batch by a top Pastry Chef and his team.

In fact, they’re more or less what you’d expect from Greggs: sugary, bulky, cheap, and more impressive in looks than taste.

So, Ogglers: if your nearest shop isn’t supplying them, don’t be blue.

There are far more delicious things in this land – and countless better bakeries than Greggs in which to buy them

Where? Controversially available at selected London stores only (until 1 October 2013). Check the Greggs website for details

How Much? A solid £1 per ‘nut

Rating?

3/10

Worth a pound? Possibly. Worth a queue? Definitely not

Rated: Bob Bob Ricard’s Rice Pudding Brûlée.

Rice Pudding Brulee

Fragrant Rice? Or flagrant lies…?

What? I don’t go to fancy joints often, Ogglers, but when I do I expect big things: concepts I can’t find in other places; flavours to blow my mind.

So when I saw ‘Rice Pudding Brûlée with Prunes and Armagnac’ on the menu of the lavish Bob Bob Ricard, I found myself rubbing my trotters with glee.

Here was something I’d never envisaged before, let alone put in my mouth – and the consequences of it could be great.

Just imagine what else might benefit from a cheeky little booster of Brûlée: Ice Cream; Yoghurt; a boring old piece of bread. All at once there was a whole new genre of desserts, just waiting to be discovered.

For the moment, however, the idea of it crowning a creamy bowl of Rice was far and away the most promising: I pictured a gooey, Vanilla pudding, sealed with a decadent Caramel crust, brought to life with a shimmer of booze and the odd rich pruney glob.

I could hardly wait to try it.

But, alas, reality refused to deliver.

What arrived was not a dish with a glowing top, or anything I could crack with the back of a spoon. In fact, the dessert that B.B.R. had created was not brûléed at all: instead it was a bowl of Rice with a lattice of hard Caramel resting lightly across the top.

Perhaps I should report them for mislabelling. As we all know, ‘brûlée’ – from the French for ‘burnt’ – is a process involving a blow torch and thick drifts of sugar. The resulting glaze is part of the pudding – not something which can be lifted and left to one side.

Such definitions are important. Otherwise, what’s to stop anyone wearing a Caramel lattice hat, then selling themselves as a ‘Brûlée’ too?

False labels and fakeness aside, the taste of the thing was also a letdown.

Essentially, it was flavourless: I could see Vanilla Pods but couldn’t taste them; my Prunes were not punchy or boozy. They barely registered. And although the Rice was pleasant and silky enough, the whole combination was sadly sub-par.

It’s not as if they don’t know how to make decent Brûlées at that place – The Man ordered a trio of them, all perfectly formed, which were worth a small round of applause.

But for flavourful Rice-based puddings, take my advice: go elsewhere, or make your own.

Where? Bob Bob Ricard is in Soho, London

How Much? £6.50 (plus a ‘discretionary’ 12.5% tip)

Rating?

4/10

Misnomer alert

Rated: The Dalston Crunchie Cake.

Gird your loins, Ogglers: things are about to get RUDE

What? Quite possibly the most OBSCENE-looking treat I’ve ever laid eyes on. Sold as a Chocolate and Honeycomb Cake, it’s essentially what happens when a Crunchie Bar and Cake Mix get it on.

Namely: goo galore.

The Sponge alone was a dream come true: extra golden, extra moist, and extra tasty – not too dissimilar to Honeycomb, in fact.

It was the Icing, however, which took the whole thing to another dimension.

As far as I could tell, this comprised primarily of numerous Cadbury’s Crunchie Bars that had been melted down and mixed with some sumptuous soft Cream Cheese (occasionally lending the substance a slightly strange tang).

As if that wasn’t enough to excite me, there were even generous shards of Crunchie studded across the top.

The richness of it all was immense – and, cheese-tang aside, transported me to a state of more-or-less babbling incoherence.

By the end, I too was a sticky, wet mess.

Like I said: OBSCENE

Where? The Dalston Superstore, a trendy bar-cum-eatery on the central Hipster Highway (a.k.a. Kingsland High Street)

How Much? £3 for a takeaway slice

Rating?

9/10

I say again: OBSCENE

Rated: Jalebi in London.

IMG_1969

Sweet (toothed) dreams are made of this

What? A glistening, vaguely intestinal-looking concoction, which just happens to be MY ALL-TIME FAVOURITE INDIAN SWEET (see Pud-Hog posts passim).

Made from a Flour and Cornstarch-based batter which is deep-fried and then dunked in tangy, sweet Syrup, it could well be the naughtiest snack to come out of the East (though is possibly still not a match for the unholy Deep-Fried Cheesecake).

Texturally, it’s a Pud-Hog’s dream, and best to be eaten straight out of the pan when its hot crunchy outsides give way to a warm mess of oozing and sugary innards – like a squiggly, thin-shelled cough sweet (without the bitter medicinal tinge).

As for the taste, these things pack some serious sweetness – just what you need to keep going in the midst of a scorching summer.

In India, of course, you’ll find Jalebi sellers all over the place, with a decent-sized bag of the good stuff sold for 10 or 20 pence.

Outside of India, however, fresh Jalebi can be pretty hard to come by (though given the rate I can chomp my way through them, it’s probably for the best).

The one you can see in the picture above was my first sighting in months, and was made on the premises of a Middle Eastern-style bakery in London. It certainly looked the part, and tasted almost as good as the ones I first fell in love with.

Almost, I say, but not quite.

Allowed to cool down on the shelf of the shop, they weren’t exactly the riot of heat and goo that I was hankering after. For that, I guess I’ll just have to go back to India.

What a shame: for this Pud-Hog, at least, West London’s so much easier to reach…

Where? My Jalebi was bought from Tavazo, Ealing Broadway – who even allowed me a sample before I committed.

How Much? £8.50 per kilo – or 90 pence for about 6 pieces

Rating?

7/10

It’s good, but it’s not quite right

Rated: Beijing Yoghurt.

Beijing Yoghurt

What? The clue’s in the name, really: it’s a Yoghurt, traditionally made and sold in Beijing.

I had my first taste along with some Chilli Barbecued Pineapple (which sadly lacked both heat and smokiness), and can report it’s rather like the French Set variety: firm, light, a little bit watery, with ever so slight hints of citrus.

Those of you seeking new flavour sensations most probably won’t find it here: though pleasantly fresh, it’s pretty much just a plain Yoghurt.

Where? You’ll find Beijing Yoghurt at A. Wong in Victoria (London), where it is made in house from a traditional recipe

How Much? £6 (including Pineapple)

Rating?

6/10

Fine, but not fab

Rated: Exeter Street’s Pizza Dolce.

Pizza Dolce

Your jaw won’t know what hit it

What? One of my favourite concepts revisited: the Sweet Pizza.

Made with a thin Italian bread-style base, this particular variety lacks the exciting toppings of Custard and Fruit that I’ve sampled on other Dessert Pizzas here in London.

Nevertheless, the principle still floats my boat.

Artisinal bread impregnanted with Raisins and covered in a scattering of Sugar?

Perfection, no?

Er… No.

Alas, its simplicity didn’t quite work in its favour, despite the nice balance of flavours. The reason? The base itself.

You see, without the distraction of various toppings, the success of this dessert was almost entirely dependent on the bread, which was so tough and dry it actually hurt to eat it.

Never before has my mandible had such a work out: a few bites in and I was already feeling the pain of lactic acid in my jaw muscles.

Now don’t get me wrong, Ogglers. I’m all for burning off calories in order to justify seconds (or even firsts) of desserts and cakes.

Burning off facial tissue however?

No, thank you, Pizza Dolce

Where? Sold by the Exeter Street Bakery at various London Farmers’ Markets (including the one at Marylebone; occasional home to the Tuffet and Manor House Fruit Cake)

How Much? £1.30 for a pretty big slice (more than enough to get two jaws screeching)

Rating?

4/10

Filling me softly. Not.

Rated: Goat’s Milk Fudge.

Goat's Milk Fudge

Goat’s Milk Fudge: I kid you not

What? A pale and soft – almost shapeless – Fudge, made using Goat’s Milk and Goat’s Butter.

Unlike the usual Goat-infused Cheeses (and special Goat-flavoured Cheesecakes), this particular Fudge is almost entirely devoid of that goaty tang, with only the tiniest hints here and there – and then only if you focus very hard.

Mainly, you just get the sugar.

While I’m generally glad it’s not pungent, without the unusual flavour it kind of lacks a USP, tasting mainly like every other Fudge (albeit a great deal squidgier than the norm).

That said, if you happen to be someone who just cannot tolerate cow’s milk, this might well be the confectionery of your dreams…

Where? From the Wobbly Bottom Farm market stall (as seen in Islington Farmers’ Market)

How Much? £2

Rating?

7/10

Solid effort – liquid Fudge; probably won’t get your goat

The St Bart’s Body Parts Bake-Off.

Those of you who follow the Pud-Hog on Twitter might remember, way back in October, me mentioning a special little Cake sale here in London.

Held on the St Bart’s campus by a pop-up bakery movement called Eat Your Heart Out, it drummed up lots of web-based attention, and no wonder: it was full of medical edibles.

Lung Sponges, black with emphysema; kidneys, frosted with polycistic Icing; Cupcakes covered in STDs.

For the squeamish, no doubt it was gag-worthy.

But for pud pioneers like the Man and I, it was the chance to boldly go where no Hog had gone before…

Into the world of the edible Carbuncle!

… in to the world of the edible Carbuncle

With almost six months having passed now since the actual event, I’m aware that I’m rather behind in terms of reporting.

In my defence though, Ogglers, I was rather overwhelmed. With a whole file full of photos, and several tastings of note, my first drafts were several pages long.

My plan, you see, was to give you a thorough review; to impart my newfound knowledge on the taste of what we bought for a mere £3 a piece: a colourfully Wounded Bakewell (meh), a Macaroon Heart (crisp and creamy with buttercream innards), a fleshy pink Cupcake complete with rum-filled syringe (surprisingly dry), and a bar in the shape of a Carbuncle (Maltesers + Condensed Milk + dyed White Chocolate + Icing Sugar = waaaaay too much for even the sweetest sweet tooth).

After months of deliberation, however, I realised life’s too short for blog posts that long. And besides, you don’t buy goodies like these for the flavour; you buy them to wow your friends (and quite possibly make them feel sick).

So here you are Ogglers, without further ado: the photos you’ve all been waiting for.

Prepare to be awed and appalled, by…

THE WOUNDED BAKEWELL TART:

Bam!

Boom!

THE SKIN CAKE:

She'll have you in stitches!

She’ll have you in stitches!

THE ANATOMICALLY CORRECT HEART MACAROON:

Put THAT in your valves and smoke it!

Impossible to beat!

THE FLESH CUPCAKE:

STI Cupcake

A boost for your flesh AND your stomach!

THE LUNG CAKE:

A breath of fresh air!

A breath of fresh air!

THE ANATOMICAL WAX MODEL CAKE:

Head Tissue

Really gets under your skin!

THE POLYCYSTIC KIDNEY DISEASE CAKE:

Polycistic Kidney

How could you re-cyst!?

And last, but by no means least, what looks to me like

A BURNT LEG SPONGE CAKE:

INTO THE HOME OF DE-LEG-TABLE TREATS

De-LEG-table!

And with that, I’m all out of puns and photos.

I just hope you’re not out of sick bags…

Rated: Sweet Tooth Factory’s Boston Cream Pie.

Boston Cream Pie

Neither creamy nor Pie-like

What? This was something I’ve been waiting to have for some time, but never seen anywhere else in London town.

It was my first ever taste of Boston Cream Pie: not a Pie in the traditional sense, but a sponge with Dark Chocolate Icing, and a Vanilla Custard seam.

So was it worth the wait?

Well, while it was light and reasonably tasty, it just wasn’t the Cream-filled yum-fest I’d hoped for.

Perhaps that’s just the way with BCPs, but a Pie without Pastry seems like no kind of Pie to me…

Where? This specimen came from the Sweet Tooth Factory stall

How Much? £3.20

Rating? 5/10

Nice – but nothing special (and fairly pricey with it). Their Salted Caramel Cheesecake is a much more impressive bet…