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Five good things I ate at the Chocolate Show

I am not a big sweet tooth and would happily eat savoury over sweet most times, but hey who does not lot a bit of choc from time to time? And whilst I can’t define myself a chocolate expert, for sure I am a bit of a chocolate snob. It’s only dark chocolate for me, and preferably artisanal – sorry but Milky Way bars, Nutella and the likes don’t even come under the “chocolate” definition for me. Chocolate has to be intense, sharp and have either the bite of a good tablet (oh, that “click” sound when a square snaps!) or the supreme melty-ness [made up word alert] of properly made truffles. And don’t come near me with those “hot chocolate drinks” that are watery, sorry excuses for a proper cup of thick, tongue-burning, palate coating hot liquid chocolate.

But enough of me being a pain in the ass. The Chocolate Show, hosted at Olympia West this weekend (17-19th October), left me with mixed feelings after my visit on opening night. On one hand, the negatives: it is your typical exhibition in a big pavillion resembling an empty hangar, with more or less tasteful stalls and that unshakeable air of sparseness even when it’s full of people.

On the other, the positives the chocolate smell! The “child in a candy shop” feeling! The giddiness at watching the sheer amount of cocoa-derived goodies all around! And if you are better than me and manage to keep your eyes at ground level, you’ll notice that the layout is actually quite good for an exhibition – rows well spaced, not too far nor too close – and probably won’t have the “empty exhibition hall feeling”.

I had a good time at the Chocolate Show, caught up with other chocolate loving bloggers and friends, watched a demo and a chocolate fashion exhibition where models sported chocolate clothes heavier than them, spoke to a few producers, found a few gems and ate enough chocolate to fill my dessert quota for a week.

Here’s my very personal Top 5 Picks from the Chocolate Show stands:

Benoit Nihant Chocolatier

Unmistakably Belgian Mr. Nihant took time to explain to me his “bean to bar” production philosophy and allowed me to taste A LOT of the selection  – but his chocolate is the main attraction. Benoit is a “favier” – the French term for a bean-to-bar chocolate maker, that is: someone who controls every part of the supply and manufacturing process.
benoit nihant bean to bar
Sourcing cocoa beans (often from single estates, and on fair trading terms for the farmers) and other ingredients such as sugar or spices; winnowing; ageing; grinding and in short the whole processing that ends up in a chocolate bar. In practice,  a Bean-to-Bar chocolatier is going to be a huge multinational (Cadbury) or a very small-batch producer (you may have heard of Michel Cluizel, Amedei, Pralus, Valrhona, Domori). On the latter end, it is very close to what some specialty coffee producers do, as my coffee expert friend Giulia remarked whilst we were tasting Benoit’s chocolate bars. It is so flavourful that a little really goes a long way. We ended up buying four bars between us and I love my Balinese dark chocolate one, with an initial bitterness that explodes  on the tongue in a symphony of sweet mango.

No butter/no cream chocolate from Aneesh Popat, The Chocolatier

aneesh popaat chocolate

I am not a fan of the “free from” trend that tries to sell us “low fat”, “low sugar”, “low anything” versions of perfectly good products, but apparently, you can make good, indulgent chocolate without cream or butter nor milk products like it’s the case with Aneesh Popat’s creations. Interestingly, the aim was not to make vegan chocolate or dairy free chocolate, but to allow the flavours to shine without the palate-cloying effect of milk or butter. And it works! Chocolate and spice is a match made in heaven for me, and I especially loved their Poppadom Spices bar – it has a layered flavour, with the familiar poppadom taste turning into a more complex bouquet like you may have in a well balanced curry.

Fine Italian Gianduiotto in “creative flavours” from Carlo Rotta

carlo rotta turin

Even if you prefer dark chocolate like me, you gotta love Gianduja, if nothing else for its interesting history

Gianduja or gianduia (Italian: [dʒanˈduːja]) is a sweet chocolate spread containing about 30% hazelnut paste, invented in Turin (Italy) during Napoléon’s regency (1796–1814), when the Mediterranean was under a blockade by the British.  A chocolatier in Turin named Michele Prochet, extended the little chocolate he had by mixing it with hazelnuts from the Langhe hills south of Turin. Based on Gianduia, Turin based chocolate manufacturer Caffarel invented Gianduiotto in 1852.

Well-made Gianduja is a lot more than a simple chocolate surrogate, as anyone trying these Carlo Rotta “Gianduiotti” will quickly discover. I also like the interesting flavour variations: a green praline made with Bronte pistachios instead of hazelnuts; a coffee-flavoured version (Turin is the chocolate and coffee capital of Italy, home of famous Lavazza coffee); and even a boozy vodka one!

City-themed pralines and “chocwitch” from Fifth Dimension Chocolates

I was attracted to this stand by the “chocowitch” (chocolate-sandwich) banner, but ended up buying a selection box of their pralines. The sandwiches, whilst an interesting idea – a layer of marshmallow or pate de fuits (the Dufour jelly style) is encased in a “chocolate bun” either milk or dark – were a bit too sweet for me.

5 dimension chocolate

The pralines, instead, come in an array of often unexpected and sometimes weird-sounding flavours, all inspired by cities around the world. Examples?

Penang (Malaysia): flavoured with Pandan leaves

Meaux (France): with the famous Meaux grain mustard

Genoa (Italy): with Basil & Lemon

Amesterdam (The Netherlands): Lapsang Souchong

Whilst I suspect that the idea is not new, I really liked the chocolates and the friendliness of the owners.

Lindt Excellence Dark Lime & Roasted Sesame Intense chocolate bar

My chocolate snob credentials are going to much less credible now, but I do love a good supermarket bar and Lindt Excellence is my go-to choice. At the Chocolate Show, we tried two new flavours – Lime (with lime peel) and Roasted Sesame. They were both excellent, with flavours really true to the original ingredient. Sesame is one of my favourite things and I can definitely think of a few recipes I’d like to try with the Lime Chocolate.

More info on the Chocolate Show: 

The UK’s largest consumer chocolate exhibition returns to the capital from 17-19 October. Taking place as the grand finale of Chocolate Week (13-19 October), 15,000 chocolate fans are expected to flock to the show to see the best UK chocolate companies exhibiting alongside exciting international brands, as well as live chocolate fashion shows each day and truffle rolling workshops with L’atelier des Chefs.

The Chocolate Show in London: What, When, Where:

  • Show dates: 17-19 October
  • Venue: Olympia West, London
  • Times: Friday: open from 10am to 7pm
Saturday: open from 10am to 7pm
Sunday: open from 10am to 6pm
  • Prices: Adult: £15 on the door / £12.50 in advance; Child (from 4 to 12 years old): £10 on the door/ £8 in advance
  • www.thechocolateshow.co.uk
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