Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Cocoa nut

Not all chocolate is created equal.

Once you get past the Cadbury's stage of your life, venture into Lindt territory and rest a little in the fertile dale that is Green & Blacks (replete with a river of it's heavenly hot chocolate) it is very difficult to go back to the sweet paste that most people consume with relish.

So it is that my concept of what real chocolate is has progressed once again. Last night, with a twinkle in her eye, Adriana fed me a selection of things from L'artisan du Chocolat. You could almost sense the swish of a devil's tail in her composure as the blade of a sharp little knife crackled through crisp top layers of beautifully hand-painted couture chocolate and slid it's way through ganache that was the epitome of decadent. She split them into four (Adriana, Perry, M and I), we took them and let the pieces rest on our tongues, warming the chocolate to reveal it's flavour. We made noises that are usually not acceptable in polite society, compared notes on our experience and cleansed our palettes with ice cold water to prepare them for the next round.

Now, this chocolatier has been described to me in various ways - from guilty murmurs about how very good it feels to taste the chocolate to descriptions of refined ladies abandoning all constraint to speak to a stranger about salted caramel to wide-eyed and passionate speeches stating that this is the best chocolate in the world (from someone who has travelled widely, this is no faint praise).

Each tablet we sampled was completely, completely different to the next. The complexity of flavours was simply stunning as was the idea behind each, the range of things that chocolate can taste like that melds into the richness of 70% cocoa without clashing with it in any way.

So what did I try? Only a few of the range available (descriptions taken from site):

You start with single plantation chocolates - they are the least complex and give you a single flavour to concentrate on:

Madagascar 64%: made with the most distinctive criollo beans , intense red fruit notes reminiscent of the best wines.

Dominican Republic 70%: single plantation chocolate from Samana low in acidity with exceptionally long taste and spicy notes of liquorice and tobacco.

You then move to those which are a blend of different plantation's beans - we skipped to the last stage, to the infused ganaches.....starting with the softest and moving to those that are far more robust.

Verbena: infusion of a herb from the vervain family with notes of vanilla and lemon.

Earl grey tea: distinctive bergamote flavour released in waves by this classical tea.

Tobacco: (on request only) a taste experience suggested by Heston blumenthal- the talented chef of the Fat Duck in Bray. First the pipe tobacco flavours of caramel, coffee and vanilla; then a tickle on the throat and the buzz of the tobacco released.

Jasmine Tea: a subtle and fragrant tea infused with fresh jasmine flowers, made with the best Jasmine tea we have ever come across, a tea that has 5 times its weight of Jasmine flowers.

Green cardamon: traditionally used in Bedouin coffee, cardamon pods bring all their force and comfort to this fresh ganache.

Oh, and of course the Salted Caramels - made by adding sel de guerande to a milk chocolate caramel to cut its sweet aftertaste. They. Are. Just. Incredible.

My favorite? The Jasmine Tea - I was breathing jasmine as I was tasting it and it reminded me of earlier in the day at Roja Dove's Haute Parfumerie on the fifth floor of Harrods.

It is a perfumerie unlike any other - usually reserved for appointments only in order to consult with the expert staff (£50 per hour or £200 per hour with Roja Dove himself) to choose a fragrance that suits you, your lifestyle and your skin.

The place itself is tucked away from view and is a study in the discovery of luxury. A beautiful curved room of of black lacquered walls and furnishings, of silk, mirrors, glass and crystal lit softly and carefully to make key bottles of perfume look like a suspended jewels. The carpet is soft, the room silent and surprisingly lightly scented considering the potency of the perfumes held there. These are not the perfumes found on the retail floor of the department store - these are the real thing, made with the finest ingredients in the world...some taking years to mature to the perfect point to harvest.

Adriana and I had wandered in at an opportune moment and spent a good half hour with an expert perfumer who told us about the three layers of fragrance in perfumes, how and where to wear them on the body, the time it takes to make each ingredient and all kinds of other things that left the two of us girlishly wide-eyed with wonder. He then went through and found a perfume for each of us - mine was Guerlain's Samsara...which smells like fresh-cut jasmine and spring.

What a wonderful day for all the senses. This is what holidays are all about.


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