With his slight figure and piercing eyes more suited to a snowman than Santa, Michel Roux is an unlikely Father Christmas figure. But the arrival of samples of his exclusively-commissioned chocolate are indeed received with as much excitement as a well-stuffed stocking on Christmas morn.
Mourning the lack of his perfect chocolate bar, Michel did what any well-connected chef-legend would – he did some digging and got some of the finest folks in France to make it for him. Cacao Barry’s Or Noir Lab came to his attention as a result of a telly show seeking champion chocolate the world over.
Although, as Adventures of a Foodie aired following the show’s airing, London was largely left off the map… a shame, perhaps; but one which really just means Michel should embark on mark 2 of his hunt post-haste. All that capital chocolate talent, Michel – what an ‘orrible task you’ll have.
London’s brilliance with the bean is not to take away from Cacao Barry’s bar. Not a bit of it. The chocolate created at Or Noir Labs is used in La Gavroche’s pastry kitchen and also makes for excellent eating; highly aromatic, full of red fruit and deeply, darkly chocolatey; low on bitter tannins and round in the mouth.
That’s apt, because I’ve got it round my own, proving incontrovertibly that it’s best I do my sampling solo on the sofa. Things get just as messy at Selfridges Christmas preview, but that’s less to do with my messiness and more to do with the soaring temperatures that have melted Pierre Marcolini’s statuesque snowman into a chocolate fondue.
The cracks are starting to show in Pierre’s Christmas Tree, too, prompting the wry gentleman talking me through the collection to call it ‘avant garde’. We take heart from the fact that the super-shiny heart-shaped raspberry chocolates remain intact, along with the utterly buttery almond croquant. Forget sprouts – I’ll be bringing Brussels to the Christmas table in the form of Pierre’s wares.
Selfridges is telling tales this Christmas – not dobbing in the devilish to Father Christmas, but spinning stories to add atmosphere to proceedings. Cocomaya has crafted chess sets and tiny toys including ‘non-proprietary building bricks’ from chocolate, whilst embossed, lustre-dusted chocolate wreaths and medallions from A Little Piece & Love depict fairytale scenes.
But for me, the real scene-stealers are the colourful, Pollock-esque creations by that lovely, lovely chap Marc Demarquette. Mark my words, the sea salt caramel collection is simply splendid. The trio triumphs regional salts from around the UK – pairing Hebridean with heather honey, Anglesey with vanilla, and, of course, Cornish with clotted cream.
As an Essex girl, I’d have liked to see one made with Maldon salt, perhaps paired with orange to reflect our county’s most common skin colour. Although Mr Demarquette has used that fine flavour in his British box; designed to call marmalade to mind. Aside from that foreign fruit, other inclusions are indigenous to our tiny isle.
Earl Grey is squired by the Tregothnan Estate, cobnuts are Kentish. British rhubarb makes for a tangy truffle. Roses come from Oxfordshire, the same highly perfumed Damask variety that chocolatier Cocoa Hernando uses for the ‘Syria’ bar. A top tip for fans of florals in food – Marc blanches the blooms for thirty seconds to take away the petals’ palate-puckering tannins.
Over at Harvey Nichols, the Christmas cake is a real turkey. I’m not slating the sleek store, I’m being literal. The moist, moreish fruitcake is decorated like a full festive dinner, complete with bronzed bird and roast spuds. But chocolate calls, the crushed peppermint candy cane topping on a white-and-dark layered chocolate bark deliciously cooling on a hot hot afternoon.
There’s more mint in Sweet Theatre’s ‘Viola’ bar, named not for the flower but for the Shakespearean heroine. For company founder and theatre producer Sally Humphreys, this calling-chocolate-bars-for-characters lark has proved as addictive as a Class-A drug – and I could certainly become happily dependent on the sea-salt-spiked, milky Miranda.
Sweet Theatre doesn’t just stage a good show. Behind the scenes, doings are just as decent. Cocoa comes from sustainable equatorial plantations and each chocolate is chosen as the best to blend with the added ingredient – 60% dark for the orange Lady Macbeth – or for enjoyable eating, as in the white Juliet, 35% milk Ophelia, and 71% dark Titania.
This #ChristmasInJuly, I’ve eaten enough chocolate and other assorted festive fare to sink the Titanic, iceberg-collision irrespective. I’ve met great makers, made some great discoveries and covered a fair few miles pounding pavements. And the best part?
‘Christmas Proper’ is a mere six months away…
- To read about Christmas chocolate from La Maison du Chocolat, Lidl, Montezuma’s, and more, click here.
- To read about Christmas chocolate from Lakeland, Hotel Chocolat, Bord Bia and more, click here.
- To read about Christmas chocolate from Valrhona, Sous Chef and Carluccio’s and more, click here