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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Choc Tales from Dean Street.

Chocolate got your attention? Good. Then gather round…

Imagine a house; a large house with numerous floors and a swanky Georgian interior. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Next imagine that five of its rooms are full of Cocktails and Chocolates. I think you’ll agree, that sounds even nicer.

In fact, let’s dispense with the niceties. It sounds pretty gosh-darn awesome.

Five rooms, each containing the best of British Chocolates, plus a fabulous drink made by top-notch mixologists? It almost sounds too good to be true – but last night this became a brief reality.

In one of the major highlights of Chocolate Week – and for yesterday evening only – 68 Dean Street became a veritable palace of delights; the home of a one-night Chocolate/Cocktail experience, known to the masses as Choc Tales.

It certainly wasn’t the cheapest event of the year (at £45 for a two-hour session – or the equivalent of £9 per room). Then again, this was a unique occurrence.

What’s more, in a life-affirming quirk of fate, your humble Pud-Hog scoped the joint for free.

If you happened to miss it (or lacked the funds) then don’t be envious: I made it my aim to sup sweet treats on your behalf.

Feel free to thank me later.

In the meantime, here’s a low-down of what went on…

Choc Tale the First:

Damp as I was from the driving rain, this glorious room was a welcome sight. In it, you see, was a barrel of hot Buttered Rum.

Just what the doctor ordered

I’ve never had Buttered Rum before but, blimey, it was delicious: thick, appley, warm and spiced – like Butterbeer for grown-up, guzzling muggles.

To be sampled with this was a Dark Rum Truffle from the luxury Chocolate company Rococo. With its slightly salty soft Ganache filling, it tempered the sweet drink perfectly, slip-sliding down the throat almost as quickly as the Rum.

Now you see it, soon you won’t

Choc Tale the Second:

Concerned that I should continue before the Buttered Rum fugged my senses, I soon trekked up to the next room I could find. There was Paul A. Young (he of the recent Truffle Tasting Session) with two exciting products to be sampled with a cooling Margarita.

Created with Aqua Riva Tequila, Agave Syrup and Lime, this Cocktail was not to be drunk before the first spot of gourmet Chocolate: a Parmesan Micro Bar.

See it to believe it – Parmesan Choc on the right-hand side

That’s right, Ogglers, you heard me: Parmesan-flavoured Chocolate.

Leave it on the tongue and, for a while, all seems normal… then POW, in comes the Cheese. Salty, sweet, and oozing with Umami.

After washing it down with the Margarita (so light and refreshing it felt like July was back), next up for gnawing was Paul’s Aqua Riva Margarita Truffle: a product which took four years in the making.

Completely sugar-free (and therefore fine for diabetics), it was basically the Cocktail in Chocolate form: alcoholic, but by no means harsh on the tongue.

Choc Tale the Third:

a.k.a. The Champagne Chapter

Tempted as I was to get a second Buttered Rum, or tipsify on Aqua Riva Truffles, room number three was beckoning: a collaboration between Aperol and Artisan du Chocolat (they of the Salt Caramel Sauce). Not nearly as experimental as its predecessors, it was nevertheless a tasty pairing: Grapefruit Champagne Spritz with a thin Salt Caramel Disc.

No time to linger though. Downstairs we go, to

Choc Tale the Fourth:

A room filled with plates of an utterly gorgeous Dessert.

So beautiful it deserves its own shrine

Creations of William Curley – a boutique Chocolatier – these were pretty much edible sculptures: a Chocolate Mousse filled with Crème Brûlée, dotted with Whisky-soaked Raisins, and perched on a Chocolate Sponge – not to mention a fruity pool of Vanilla and Apricot sauce.

Normally I can’t do Chocolate Mousse – too many of them contain gelatin – but this one was Pud-Hog friendly: rich, gooey, and vegetarian to boot.

If I’d downed the Whisky it came with, I might have killed my taste buds at this point. Instead, after only a tentative sip, I trotted towards the finale…

Choc Tale the Fifth:

I knew this was going to be good as soon as my feet crossed the threshold. Within moments, Damian Allsop (another of England’s most expert experimenters) had beckoned me to one side: ‘Welcome to the Energy Room,’ he said. And rightly so: there was no chance of losing pep here.

As with room number two, my final experience came in three parts. First: thin discs of Pacari, a raw Ecuadorian Chocolate. The best on the market, said Mr Allsop, and I could well believe him: despite being small it was smooth and bursting with flavour.

Proof that size doesn’t always matter

Next came something I’ve not seen before: an Open Truffle, smeared with a quiff of Ganache. This was Willy Wonka food: inside were two bright stripes of Meringue; one of Green Tea and one of Blackcurrant.

Observe: two stripes (but soon to be zero)

Nibbling it every way I could (both stripes at once, one at a time) I soon found my Truffle had disappeared.

Never mind though. On the very next table, to help me drown my sorrows, was a drink called the Deconstructed Bramble: another wacky (yet oh so drinkable) offering made with Gin and Blackcurrant ‘Caviare’ (i.e. small gel balls of Blackcurrant Juice).

Let the deconstructing commence

The rim was smeared with Ganache and Matcha, so by the time my glass was empty my chops were all smeary and green.

Did I mind though?

Did I heck.

After five Cocktails and five Chocolate chow-downs this Pud-Hog was feeling fine (if somewhat creaky on the floorboards).

Twas a tasty tale, as I’m sure you’ll agree – and a very happy ending.

[POSTSCRIPT:

Since writing this piece I have had some exciting news: the folks behind most of these cocktails – a Broadway-based bar called Manhattans Project – are more than happy to share their Buttered Rum recipe.

It’s in my inbox now, Ogglers, so WATCH. THIS. SPACE.]

The International Chocolate Awards: Judging the World Final.

Polenta, Water, Chocolate; it’s time to get down to bidness!

I think my career might have peaked – should I just retire now, and go out in a blaze of sugar-coated glory?

Last week I received an email, the first line of which had me rubbing my trotters with glee: ‘We’d like to invite you to judge at the World Final of the International Chocolate Awards‘.

Id like to say, ‘Hell YES,’ I thought, so I RSVPd straight away.

The regular Ogglers among you might remember my first foray into Chocolate Judging at the European Semi-Finals of the same awards, back in May. On that occasion, I learnt the basics of tasting Chocolate properly, and tired myself out with a four-hour afternoon session.

This time I was able to pace myself, with a single two-hour stint on two consecutive mornings (the Tuesday and Wednesday of Chocolate Week, no less). Each session contained around 15-16 samples, placed in anonymous pots just like before.

This being the World Final, the stakes seemed that much higher: we were told we were tasting the ‘best of the best’; things which had already survived three previous rounds of judging, including numerous products which had won Gold and Silver Awards.

Following the same routine as last time, we warmed up our palates with three Dark Chocolate samples, tracking the evolution of flavours and comparing our results.

In a room that was filled with Grand Jury members – people who really knew their stuff – it was easy to feel a bit like the Great Pretender. Then, as decades of dedicated piggery kicked in, I soon got into the groove.

In the first two-hour session, we worked our way through Dark Origin Bars – a round I was familiar with from before. It quickly became apparent that, yes, the group overall was far superior to what we had judged in May: finer textures, fuller flavours; bars that were just more exciting to eat.

Not that I liked them all, mind you. At this stage I can’t get into specifics – the results have yet to be announced – but certain flavours had me pulling faces (and not the blissful/wowzers kind either). I expect this was down to personal taste, but thankfully they were few and far between.

In my second day’s session, our category was Ganaches, Pralines and Filled Truffles, mainly of the Dark variety.

Boy, do I love tasting Truffles, but they were no less of a challenge than the Bars.

Not only is there the filling to examine, but the presentation, the Chocolate shell… the whole shebang. It’s weird. In the semi-finals I remember them being easier to judge – this time each one took me minutes to prod and ponder.

Perhaps it was the quality issue: again, the standards were generally higher, with less to distinguish the great from the good. At times, the challenge was tricky. We were out to track down the globe’s finest, after all – you can’t slap on labels like that willy-nilly.

Even now I’ve got no idea who might come up trumps – there were several disagreements once the plates were cleared away.

There is one thing I’ll say for certain, however: there’s a world of exciting Chocolate out there. So no, I won’t be retiring.

As long as there are taste buds on my tongue, I’ll be darned if I stop using them.