Sunday, April 05, 2009

A recent experience has demonstrated the great resilience of the human body and spirit in times of adversity; in spite of Thursday's overdosing on chocolate*, I found myself almost fully recovered by Friday evening, and managed to make my way down to the South Bank chocolate festival yesterday.

It was, as one might expect on a sunny London weekend, incredibly crowded.

First up was the customary recce of the festival. There were a number of top chocolatiers present, including Britain's Best Chocolatier (for the third year running) William Curley, Damian Allsop (chocolate provider for the G20 summit, and a favourite of Choc Star's) and Amedei (my favourite high-end chocolate brand). Choc Chick, seller of chocolate-making kits, Co Couture, award-winning chocolatiers from Northern Ireland, and Cocoapod, seller of novelty chocolates (as in chocolates with messages on them) were also present.

Clockwise from top left: William Curley, Amedei, Damian Allsop and Cocoapod

Choc Chick demonstrating how their chocolate-making kit works

Choc Chick: the finished product

I tried some of Choc Chick's chocolates, and, to be honest, I preferred the ones made from Chocolution's Mayan Magic chocolate-making kit. Choc Chick's were just a little too sweet, so anyone wanting to use their kit should probably go a little easy on the agave syrup.

There was also a Chocolate Bar (hee) serving up alcoholic drinks, and Green & Blue, a wine shop selling hampers pairing Italian wines and Green & Black chocolate.

The first chocolate goodie I sampled was a mini chocolate moscavado salted caramel egg from Damian Allsop. I didn't like it too much, to be honest. I've tried a couple of sea salt caramels, but I've got to say that I still don't quite see the appeal they hold.

As you can see from the little collage (I hope), the moon was out, and, summoned by the great Choc Star chocolate signal, were-choco-monsters of all shapes and sizes had turned out, so much so that Choc Star had sold out of brownies, some ice-cream flavours (Nutella and vanilla), and chocolate sauce.

A ten minute wait later, I had made it to the front of the line and said hello to a very tired-looking Petra. Clearly, business had been booming. We had a brief chat before I went off to enjoy my order. I strongly suspect that if I'd continued talking to her beyond the time it took to fill my order, I'd have been lynched by the choco-monsters behind me.

The interior of Choc Star's van. Petra's elbow is on the right, and a Mayan Magic kit on the shelf above.

Clockwise from left: 'High-rise' millionaire's shortbread, chocolate ice-cream and straight-up hot chocolate

I tried the 'high-rise' millionaire's shortbread (£2.50), chocolate ice-cream (£2) and small straight-up hot chocolate (melted 70% chocolate with steamed milk, £2.50). The ice-cream was delicious, and the shortbread was incredibly buttery and chocolate-y. I'm fairly certain it's one of the desserts that need to be classified as 'a heart attack waiting to happen', just below deep fried Mars Bars in terms of potency. The hot chocolate was a little disappointing; I felt it needed just a little bit of sugar, and would have added some myself if it had been available.

After wandering around for a bit more to use up some calories, I decided to bite the bullet and try the chocolate chilli from the Santa Fe Mexican stall. Well, I've eaten dark chocolate with red chilli peppers before, and, besides, I'd read (from allrecipes, I think) that dark chocolate was a traditional ingredient in Mexican chilli, so I wasn't too worried about how this would taste. I'll also admit to having been egged on by bellaphon's comments that he'd 'chickened out' of trying this when he visited the festival the day before, because this girl does love a challenge.

Taster portion of beef chilli (£1.50), served with rice and onions

The chilli wasn't the greatest I'd tasted. It was more like bolognese sauce. However, there was a distinct non-unpleasant aftertaste which added depth to the dish. I'm going to try this when I cook chilli con carne next time.

Then it was off to grab some dinner.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. You didn't think I left the festival empty-handed, did you? Nope. I got the last bag of Damian Allsop's mis-shapes for £3.50 and Amedei's I Tartufi box of 12 pralines selling for a special introductory price of £7 (recommended retail price of £19). I've got a veritable chocolate treasure hoard in my fridge now: several bars of Amedei Chuao, a couple of Michel Cluizel bars as well (including their incredible Cafe Noir bar and chocolate champignons) and a box of Booja Booja Around Midnight Espresso organic chocolate truffles, so I'm not too sure how I'm going to finish all of that without doing some serious damage to my figure!

* If you're wondering how I recovered from the chocolate hangover, my chosen remedies were (no, not hair of the dog) the other foods starting with 'ch': chilli and cheese, though not taken together, obviously! If you don't have South-East Asian food to hand, then I strongly recommend Marks & Spencer's Cornish Cruncher (strength 7 on the cheddar scale, formerly only from 1 to 5) which does wonders for a tired palate!

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