Tuesday, 19 October 2010

L'Artisan du Chocolat

This is the hub of chocolate production - their wonderful and amazing workshop.

Went for the first of the Bean to Bar days on the 9th October, 2010, and was the only food blogger in the room (besides 2 journalists). It was great being met by Anne (one of the co-owners) and talked through the process by Gerrard Coleman, the other co-owner (a pastry chef by training and of Dublin origin), as well as about the sources of the cocoa beans (particularly from Brazil). Met the production manager/ specialist Zoe who has worked for the company and provided a good insight into the life of the company.

Ok now a quick and very brief background to L'Artisan and chocolate production.

L'Artisan du Chocolat were set up 12 years ago with their first sales location in Borough market. 1 - 1.5 tonnes of cocoa beans per episode are used to convert to chocolate. 300 kg of chocolate are use per day to produce bars for sale. They sell 30% of their stock to specialist retailer like Fortum and Mason who request special creation for times like Christmas. The beans are handled and treated very carefully to minimised the risk of contamination such as Salmonella, etc.

Brazil is one of the main producers of cocoa, and are the main suppliers to L'Artisan du Chocolat; with plantations in the middle of the Rio Duce river on an island, especially the Linhares Plantation. L'Artisan du Chocolat also supports the Rio Duce Forest Project, Grimado region. There are national cocoa distributors in the Rio Grande du Sul and Sao Paulo districts.

Cocoa trees are small and fragile, and are sheltered by banana and coconut trees. The soil effects the taste of the base cocoa. For example, Java has volcanic soil (air and caramel flavours) or Madagascar has boggy soil.

Cocoa beans are harvested twice a year. It takes 7 years for a cocoa plant to grow to a tree. Each cocoa pod yields about 30-40 beans. The white fleshy cocoa pulp is pasturised and frozen for transportation. It has the texture of banana and lychee, and a lychee / passionfruit flavour. Particularly in Brazil, the cocoa pulp is converted into a nutritional /non-alcholic/ alcohol (if fermented) drink with herbs and spices.

Cadbury's started the sale of chocolate as we know it with higher levels of sugar and vegetable fat.

Took part in the different processes from sorting and roasting the beans to conching.

Conching aerated the cocoa mass, increases the volume, and helps the cocoa particles retain their original flavours influenced by the soil that the plants grew in.

Flavours can then be added before the cocoa butter and sugar is finally added. On the day we made a bar out of Jamaican beans (a 75kg bag of beans); which is now in the stores for a limited time only (and with our first names also on the packaging around the thumb print).

During the Bean to Bar day, the L'AdC team were very hospitable and provide a great lunch which was rounded off with 7 excellent boxes of assorted varieties of chocolates. I was in heaven. Also, this time gave me an opportunity to socialise with other chocoholics, food journalists and L'AdC chocolate producers / staff.

I would highly recommend if you get a chance to go to one of their chocolate workshop days - you will definitely have as much fun as I did and meet other like-minded chocoholics!!! :-)

Also, I must add that L'Artisan du Chocolat are our favorite artisan chocolate producers with a wonderful range of complex levels of flavours. They use 71% cocoa as standard for their bars which makes all the difference.

Workshop Location:

The Long Barrow, Orbital Park, Ashford, Kent Tn24 0GP

020 7824 8365


Review linked on Qype: http://www.qype.co.uk/people/jasonpinto

Sunday, 22 August 2010


Polpetto is described as a "tiny jewel box of a restaurant" on their website and it certainly is tiny, only 28 seats, which are probably going to be some of the most sought after in London on the evidence of this soft opening. They've gone to a lot of trouble to source their fixtures and fittings to reflect an authentic Venetian bacaro and the ceiling is especially beautiful.

As most of you will know Polpetto is the sister restaurant to Polpo in Beak Street and the menu follows a similar format starting with cicheti(small eats) and moving onto sharing plates, think Italian tapas.

We ordered up a storm off the menu and there almost wasn't a duff dish apart from the pea, mint fennel and ricotta salad which didn't have much fennel flavour and was a bit bland. But barring that everything was delicious and I have every intention of coming back and working my way through the rest of the menu. Stand outs for me include the zucchini fries(£4.50), thin, crispy and delicious (so much better than the wodgy, greasy things at Byron),

chili and garlic prawns(£7) with a proper kick to them,
and the perfectly medium rare flank steak (£7) with white trufle cream. I do think that they need more light, fresh vegetable dishes to provide balance though, most of the dishes under the vegetable section were carb based (panzanella, polenta, potatoes) which is why we ended up ordering that salad. Desserts and I got the tiramisu, which came in a cute little shot glass and was very good. I have to say that I felt a bit short changed when I saw J's massive slice of flourless chocolate and hazenut cake, I think they may need to even out the portion sizes to stop dessert envy! Next time I'm getting two of the tiramisu. And there will definately be a next time (if I can get a table! They take bookings for lunch but not dinner.) http://polpetto.co.uk/ Tel: 020 7734 1969 49 Dean Street Soho London W1D 5BG Estimated cost per person excluding drinks: £30

Saturday, 14 August 2010

bob bob ricard- push the button

I came here for a bloggers meet up so it was a special set menu with paired vodkas. Frankly I was bit nervous about this, I haven't really touched vodka since university where double vodkas and coke were the fastest and cheapest route to oblivion. I was hoping this would act as vodka rehabilitation for me!
We kicked off with rhubarb flavoured G&T's which were the prettiest shade of light pink and a lovely refreshing way to start on a very hot evening.
I was also worried about the amuse bouche which was listed as tongue in aspic. For those of you who don't know what aspic is, this translates as Tongue.In.Cold.Jelly. Yeah I know slithery isn't normally a quality I look for in my food either but this was actually suprisingly nice, meaty and savoury like the jelly in pork pies. It was paired with Vodka Imperia sreved at -18 degrees. Vodka is actually meant to be downed neat as an internal heat delivery system for those cold russian winters, so I held my nose and did it. The vodka was smooth and cold with a pleasant afterburn.

Starters was a Russian salad topped with a quails egg and shaved truffle and paired with Vodka Kauffman Special Selected Vintage. This is supposed to be the most delicate vodka in the world made from the wheat of the finest harvests with a soft aniseed and liquorice finish.It also really intensified the flavours of the salad.
Properly fortified we moved onto mains which in this case was Veal Holstein, deep fried breaded veal on a mound of truffled mash topped with anchovies and a fried quails egg. As a little surprise a lake of special sauce had been hidden under the veal inside the mash. This dish was delicious but just a bit too rich and heavy for such a hot night.
Puds and I opted for the chocolate glory, described as chocolate jivara mousse and chocolate brownie with passionfruit organge jelly and meringue (which really I shouldn't have, given that only a moment before I'd been complaining it was too rich but I couldn't resist!). This came as a golden sphere and just as I was thinking what the hell, how am I supposed to eat this, hot chocolate sauce was poured over it causing the outer shell to dissolve, to much oohs and aahs around the table. I think it's worth getting this for the sheer theatricality of this dessert alone but it also tasted pretty dammn good.
I love Bob Bob Ricard for many reasons. The fabulously OTT decor, the fact that they have buttons that say "push for champagne", the pink jacketed waiters. Vodka has been successfully rehabilitated for me. I will be back especially as in August they have a caviar lunch for only £20!

Bob Bob Ricard
1 Upper James Street, London, W1F 9DF
Estimated cost per person:£40

Goodman, city branch

So a top notch steak house in the city, hmm I can't believe it hasn't happened before now. Goodman is fitting in like a hand into a glove. We went on only the second day it was open and it was already full of guys in suits working their way through steaming hunks of cow and the extensive wine list. But don't let that put you off, Goodman actually has a really nice vibe, dark and sleek, not at all the all male clubby feel I was worried about. If you've been to the Maddox street branch you'll know the drill by now, fabulous aged prime cuts of beef seared to perfection on a Josper grill. We got to have a peek in the ageing room and it was like meat porn, the British beef (supplied by O'Shea's) is dry aged and the USDA is wet aged. Apparently the USDA beef has a slightly sweeter taste due to it being corn fed wheras the British beef has a deeper more intense flavour.

We plumped for the 600g bone in rib eye as anything on the bone has more flavour and rib eye is the signature cut of Goodmans with enough fatty marbling to add a real depth of flavour.

Be warned the portion sizes are absolutely massive, we ended up splitting it in the end with two sides, sugar snap peas and Lyonnaise potatoes. This was about the perfect amount of very rich food for two people, especially as everything seems to come sauteed in butter, I could practically feel my arteries hardening up as I ate. But hey what a way to go!

And as steak is never going to be a health food we got two sauces, bearnaise and stilton. The stilton wasn't at all what I expected being more like a red wine reduction than a creamy, cheesy sauce but it was still very good. And the best bit about splitting a main was that it meant I had room for dessert, which thankfully is in much smaller portions! Order the B52 parfait and put aside any preconceptions you might have about a dessert based on this most declasse of drinks. Head chef Olly has worked really hard on this dessert and it's the perfect balance of coffee and chocolate flavours. The only tiny criticism I might make is that the orange flavour doesn't really come through from the Grand Marnier so Olly if you're reading this and have another version that needs road testing I'd be more than happy to volunteer! But otherwise it was the perfect refreshing end to a delicious meal. Goodman- it's now my go-to place for steak and it should be yours too.

Goodman (City)
11 Old Jewry, London, EC2R
Estimated price per person (excluding drinks)£60

Thursday, 15 July 2010

eastside inn bar

Went here just for drinks, sadly the bar has quite a corporate hotelly feel. Bjorn van der Horst (chef patron) was doing the rounds and said he thought it would be cosier in the winter when they could light the open fire. I had a summer'ade cocktail(Absolut citron, strawberry and lemonade) which unfortunately tasted quite weak and watery and J had a Goa ( Absolut passionfruit, chilli and ginger). The strong flavours of chilli and ginger dominated this drink to the exclusion of the passionfruit. I don't think the drinks reflect the standard of Bjorn's cooking and I would come back to try the bar menu but I would probably go for a pre dinner drink somewhere else.
Estimated cost for a cocktail £8
Eastside Inn
40 St John Street
London, EC1M 4AY

dalston roof park

Opening party for this and as expected it was rammed full of Dalston hipsters. This could be a good or bad thing depending on whether you think they're a creative lifeforce or a bunch of pretentious twats. But if the weather turns hot again it could be quite a cool place to hang out, obviously based on your tolerance for the aforementioned group of people. There was also a nice lady called Rose there doing jerk chicken but unfortunately I was too full from Viajante to eat any.
You need to sign up for membership here, it's £5
and when you're done the website says "Thanks, yeah". Hackney-keeping it real!
Dalston Roof Park
The Print House
18 Ashwin Street
E8 3DL

viajante bar

So the bar at Viajante has only been open for a couple of months but it has a very cool, laid back vibe. Nuno Mendes (chef patron) tagline at Bacchus (the restaurant he used to own on hoxton street) was "fine dining in trainers" and that's exactly the feel in the bar. In fact the one person who was tarted up in shiny six inch stilletos and skin tight dress looked conspiciously out of place.
The bartender, Alex was happy to talk through the extensive cocktail list and make recommendations, I ended up going for the Matcha Fizz and the Breakfast Martini(£7.00). The martini had just the right balance of sweet and sour and the matcha fizz was beautifully refreshing. J got the Green Traveller(£7.50), artfully finished with precise dots of basil essence which apparently was an emulsion rather than an infusion. I had a sip and even these strong flavours worked fabulously without overpowering the rest of the drink.
We also sampled some of the bar menu, I had the lobster and bacon roll (£9) and well, it wasn't quite what I was expecting. I thought I was going to get something like what I had at Pearl in New York, a soft buttery roll filled to bursting with mayo and lobster. What I actually got was a dense, heavy sourdough type bread topped with bacon. I actually don't think this worked, the saltiness of the bacon and the heaviness of the bread overwhelmed the delicate sweetness of the lobster. J got the dry aged burger on a brioche bun with vanilla onions(£8.50) and this was much better. I was worried the vanilla and brioche would make the whole thing too sweet but it just gave the meat extra depth and flavour. I loved this and would definately order it again.

Patriot Square
Bethnal Green
London E2 9NF
+44 (0) 20 7871 0461

Sunday, 11 July 2010

dishoom-it's got that boom boom pow

Dishoom is a new Bombay style cafe in covent garden based on classic cafes such as Leopold's. The interior has little authentic touches, such as a replica of the clock in VT station and 1950's black and white photos of the owner's relatives.
They give you crisps and dips to start, I really liked the tamarind one, just the right balance of sweet and spicy. We decided to skip starters and go straight to mains. We got grilled masala prawns which were big and juicy and bursting with flavour, I would definately get these again. We also got dill salmon tikka, again succulent and moist and spicy lamb chops. All these were hits as were the sides of garlic naan, larded with butter ( I never knowingly pass up extra fat although there is an option without for the more health conscious!). The misses of the evening were probably the lamb biryani which sadly had very little meat in it and the ruby murray of the day, chicken nawabi on the day we went, which I was expecting to have a bit more kick and flavour to it. Wine is served in tumblers, which although authentic does mean that it gets warm quite quickly, especially with the weather we've been having in london lately. Service was lovely, warm and friendly without being crazily over attentive. (Cantina Laredo take notes!)
We got kulfi to finish and it was much better than the chocolate fondant, I would probably stick to the Indian style desserts rather than the western ones.
I really enjoyed Dishoom and would happily go again, although I was sad they didn't serve more snack style food such as bhel poori. But I spoke to the owners Amar and Shamil and they said that they wanted to keep their menu brief so they could focus on getting a few things right and that is a philosphy I can totally get behind.
Dishoom is the noise they make in Bollywood films when someone throws a punch and, based on this showing, Dishoom is knocking their competition out.

Estimated cost of dinner per person about £25 excluding drinks and service

Disclaimer: I didn't pay for this meal as it was a preview evening

12 Upper St Martins Lane, WC2H 9EF