Category Archives: chocolate

Product: Cocoa Farm Shiraz Infused Wine Chocolate Barrels

For the first time I have been offered a free sample of something. You’ll notice one or two other local sites will also be writing about this. Rather than taking the approach of simply offering the product for review, an incentive was added, in the form of a prize for the ‘best’ review. What a great way to ensure that the odds of a negative review are reduced. Such is marketing…

UPDATE: And it’s been drawn to my attention that some people didn’t feel the need to disclose the freebie or incentive. Hmmmm.

The Cocoa Farm brand will be known to some for their colourful packaging and presence in some organic food retail shelves. Cocoa Farm is owned by Farm by Nature, a small Melbourne company. The product received for review was small barrel-shaped chocolates with pieces of currant ‘bathed’ in shiraz. Well, most people know that I’m fairly clear about what I think about food, so here we go…

These chocolates are fairly pleasant, but nothing to rush out for. I don’t know the price point, so can’t comment on their quality:cost relationship. The chocolate is 36% cocoa solids and 11% milk solids, with a strong, very pleasantly fruity aroma from the wine and fruit. The chocolate has a coarse snap, with a very dry texture and it is slow to melt, resulting in a thick pastiness, reminiscent of Cadbury Dairy Milk at best. The few pieces of currant are small, fairly dry pieces with pleasant acidic and fruity notes from the wine.

I guess they would make an okay gift for some audiences. The flavour profile is quite acceptable and many will enjoy it (though I doubt anyone would really say ‘oh, shiraz’ if they hadn’t seen the wrapper), but the texture is poor — no aspiration to much quality evident there.

In the UK, sending product to bloggers seems to have been a successful strategy for Hotel Chocolat. But they haven’t used quid-pro-quo incentives (as far as I know) and, to be frank, their product is light-years better. Although Farm by Nature can be congratulated for being ahead of many companies by thinking of harnessing the power of bloggers, you’d probably want to be careful about the quality of the product you want to promote.

Gânache Chocolate (Melbourne), and a hangover

I awoke to a hangover. A dull pain knocked at the back of my skull. Had I been an alcoholic hypocrite? Heavens, no! This was a very special hangover.


The preceding evening had seen me attending my first ever PR event. That’s right, a night of schmoozing and freebies. It was chocolate. We all have our peccadilloes.

The event was the formal launch of a new brand and venue for chocolate in Melbourne. Gânache Chocolate, in South Yarra. A new venture for Arno Backes, once known for his involvement in Melbourne chocolate shop and now-chain Koko Black.

Gânache (ok, should be Gânache Chocolate, but I doubt anyone will call it that for long) is billed as a chocolate lounge, with a teaching-space-to-be upstairs. This could be very interesting. The pralines (individual chocolates) are stunning, even if I didn’t feel every single one was successful or perhaps equally impressive.

Backes is using a range of couvertures, whereas Callebaut dominates among the chocolatiers who aren’t conching their own chocolate. Certainly, Backes has Callebaut on display and sale in the shop, but when asked about his chocolates, he reeled off a long list of respected couvertures, including Felchlin (not one I’ve seen mentioned in Australia before).

The pralines generally have very thin shells — some of the thinnest I’ve seen — which makes them both beautifully delicate and also a little fragile in warm hands. I couldn’t fault any of them on texture, whether ganache, caramel, butter cream or something else. The range of flavours is interesting, though not testing many boundaries. Novelty is primarily in the execution of familiar categories, with the exception of the very good geranium ganache (think pungent rose with a hint of citrus), and perhaps the ‘oriental spice’ ganache (delightful, strong with clove, and perhaps more reminiscent of southern German Lebkuchen rather than anything ‘oriental’). Gânache certainly gives Koko Black, Haighs, [EDITED due to spam from the shop mentioned, name now deleted] and others a run for their money, and probably wins on most counts. Monsieur Truffe is probably the strongest competitor in quality.

So, no disappointment and a lot of enjoyment in the pralines cabinet. Unfortunately, a block of dark chocolate with whole hazelnuts didn’t match the rest of the experience. The chocolate tasted very much like Callebaut Select, with cocoa content around 55%. It’s a fairly hard, slightly waxy dark chocolate with a slow melt and very noticeable vanilla aroma. Strangely neutral, it works fine as an enrobing chocolate, but I’m not a fan of it as an eating chocolate. There is quite a range of blocks available so I can’t comment on the others.

The lovely Donna Le Page (PR wiz) enjoying the chocolate. And my sister going in for the kill.

I had dragged my sister along as my guest and she buzzed around the praline cabinet like an earnest researcher, returning to me regularly with updates of ‘you must try X’ and ‘best to leave Y’. She had sampled fully two-thirds of the cabinet while I had become slightly poorly after my first ten pralines. Ten points for devotion to duty, sis!

At speech time, plates of teency cakes came out, plus a lovely truffle on a chocolate spoon. All were impressive and delicious, though it was noticeable how many people were queasy after so much pre-speech chocolate. I soldiered on, though the richness of the cakes quickly brought me to a halt. They’re good, perhaps a little sweet for some people. Well crafted.

The space is attractive and the lounge concept could work. It’ll be interesting to see it with normal clientele. I hope they can keep the atmosphere enjoyable, as Malvern dames and hordes of chocolate-loving international students (presumably) descend on the place. Backes will be acutely aware of the comparison with Koko Black, which seems to me to be in danger of becoming a chocolate Starbucks.

Gânache Chocolate deserves to be a wild success, based on what I experienced on Tuesday. I’m not sure just how much better than some of the competition it is, but it is certainly no laggard and if Arno Backes and his co-conspirator, Sian Mackenzie (his partner), can stay true to their concept then there’s much to look forward to.

Gânache Chocolate, 250 Toorak Road, South Yarra VIC 3141, 03 9804 7485

Storing your chocolates in style

How do you store your chocolate? At various times I’ve made sure my chocolate was happily resting in the following places:

  • my tummy
  • my mouth
  • my hand
  • chucked to the back of a cupboard
  • (rarely) the fridge
  • an Esky (insulated box)
  • an insulated bag

Of course, my 5kg block of Callebaut is hard to store anywhere but on the dining table, though it is now down to 3kg, so almost fits in my insulated bag.

Meanwhile, some people have waaaaay too much money to burn and invest in the likes of this:


Yes, that’s right, for a mere USD 825 you too can have this lovely ‘vault’. And if you’re thinking that’s excessive, consider how much the chocolates from Richart cost, and you’ll see it’s not too much of an ask to spend that little bit on the box. Ho ho ho.

I wrote about Richart’s chocolates at the end of 2007. They were distinctly yummy, a tad too delicate at times, exquisitely presented, not for everyday eating unless you have a poodle and a millionaire nearby.

Source: thanks to Stickyfingers for drawing this to my attention.

End of year notes (with extra chocolate)

Well, well, listen carefully. The last breath of 2007 has been exhaled. As well as wishing all a wonderful 2008, I think it’s time to clean out all the pieces of deliciousness which I didn’t get around to writing up properly {embarrassed look on face}. Think of this as being the end-of-year/start-of-year food porn clearance.

But first let me say that I’m glad to see the back of 2007. It wasn’t my favourite year in many respects. This year I had to teach myself not to care about stuff, which doesn’t come naturally. I waved goodbye to The Age Epicure (though waving isn’t two-fingered enough, if you get my drift). I juggled four jobs with less to show for it.

On the positive side, I ate lots of wonderful chocolate (though found that disciplined chocolate tasting really spoils the fun). I designed this website with lots of encouragement and support (thanks, Harry!). I enjoyed the enthusiasm of Melbourne’s and Australia’s foodblogging world. I acquired a lovely white Macbook on which something new for the site is currently brewing. I ate some of the best olives ever (thank you, Simon!). I drank champagne with hibiscus flowers (thank you, Debbie!). I ate at the infuriating (Fat Duck) and inspiring (Interlude. Thanks, Robin!) ends of the ‘new cookery’ spectrum.

I’m hoping 2008 will involve more enjoyment and less crap for all of us.

Down to the food now…


I ate this…


I’m very interested in high-cocoa milk chocolate (hence the first selection above). Valrhona and Michel Cluizel provide reliable satisfaction (though not at Australian prices! Imagine, for a moment, that a block of either costs less than EUR 4.00 in France — at most AUD 6.70! Now prepare for the sticker-shock next time you go shopping in Oz.)

The second pic shows one of my favourite middle-of-the-road Belgian brands, popular in France but alas almost entirely unobtainable in Australia (I saw some gift boxes at The Barn in Rozelle (Sydney) a few years ago). Café Tasse does a wonderful range of large and small blocks and tiny mini-tablets.

Meanwhile, I was enchanted by the meticulous presentation and packaging of the chocolates from Richart. There are seven flavour collections, including the Balsamics, the Citrus, and the Herbaceous. Intriguing. And expensive! Each of the chocolates is a tiny cube, a mere 15 mm across, filled with flavoured ganache. Individual flavours include things like ylang-ylang, basil, cinnamon, fennel, ‘bouquet exotique’, thyme, lemon, etc. The range was very interesting, with complex notes in many directions, though too often failed to deliver enough oomph to be special. I’ve complained about excessive subtlety in ganache flavourings previously.

richartbox.JPG richartteaser.JPG

In Lyon, one of the premier chocolatiers is Bernachon. A kind soul had recommended that I try one of their palet d’or (see below). These are large (from memory, approx 7 cm in diameter) thick discs of firm dark chocolate-crème fraîche ganache, flecked with gold (my personal value increased with every bite). I’ve seen similar pucks around France and never felt tempted… and I must admit I only bought this at the kind soul’s behest. Well. What a stunner! Rich, complex, fragrant. You could eat one a day and die happy (and prematurely, and broke).


They also do a range of cakes, including this delightful (if a tad butter-creamy) thing of caramelised pistachio paste, pistachio cream, kirsch flavoured chocolate cake and more. Mmmm.


Amongst their chocolates there were some curious ovoids called, um, Romanoffs? Mendelsohns? Mussorgskys? Something like that. A flavoured chocolate paste enrobed in a coloured, gritty sugar shell.



At the shops of Jeff de Bruges I discovered reasonable chocolate, and lovely little boxes of dragées (sugar almonds). Interestingly, Sydney now sports an outpost. Who’d have thought?

drageesboxes.JPG drageesopen.JPG

This year I did disciplined tasting of many chocolates from the UK and France. Ones I haven’t written about previously were from Jean-Paul Hévin, La Maison du Chocolat (LMdC) and Michel Cluizel. Cluizel is the only one available in Australia. I’ve seen the pralines (bonbons) in only a couple of places. They don’t quite equal the quality of Hévin or LMdC. Hévin is highly regarded and the pralines were mostly well-judged and interesting, though I had my only horrendous-French-customer-service experience ever at the hands of one of their staff. LMdC is a long-standing chain with a strong international presence and, despite this, has a product which stood clearly above the others, much to my surprise. They could open a shop in Australia. I wouldn’t complain…


2007’s travel was very much about catching up on things I’ve skipped previously. Finally time to visit the pâtissier Gerard Mulot. His macarons are excellent (I think he’s won a prize) and the tarts were delectable. An additional positive: despite his renown, the shop in Paris’s 6th arrondissement was relaxed and unpretentious.


A new place for me was the outstanding Pain de Sucre in rue Rambuteau (3rd arrondissement). Macarons (stunning), marshmallows in a cornucopia of flavours, bread and delighful tarts.

Chocolate and hyssop. Lime.


So there we go… some food porn. Live vicariously through my pictures if you wish:)

Thanks for reading.

– DM

On chocolate, child slavery and a newspaper

Something interesting is going on at The Age newspaper in Melbourne. In the space of eight days, the newspaper has published two pieces about slavery in the West African cocoa growing industry. In September it also published a piece about this issue by a prominent Christian activist and anti-slavery campaigner from Britain, Steve Chalke.

Oddly, The Age’s sister publication in Sydney, the Sydney Morning Herald, has published none of these. Nor have competing newspapers shown any interest at all in the cocoa+slavery issue (I’ve searched through the News Limited stable, including

ABC radio has done one piece in the last six years, and that was an interview on The Religion Report with the same British campaigner on 26 September this year. I’m not aware of any television reports (certainly none at the ABC).

I’m wary of campaigners and bandwagons, and was therefore rather suspicious of The Age’s sudden repeated interest in the issue. I haven’t yet found a particular source for the information repeated in the articles, so although it might smell of press-release journalism, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Are we dealing with (1) a newspaper driven campaign, (2) familiar sloppy editorial control, or (3) a successful lobbying campaign which is only finding resonance at The Age? The issue of slavery in the cocoa industry is not new by any means (most of the material you’ll find out there relates to studies and media reports from the late 1990s/early 2000s. There have also been initiatives to combat slavery at an industry level and from other, especially religious, organisations. Many Australian religious organisations (Caritas, Salvation Army, etc) have cocoa+slavery material on their websites and do appear to have been concentrating on chocolate this year (and Hughes is known to write on issues of interest to Catholic organisations). I would venture a guess that this is because of, in part, the Stop the Traffik campaign led by the abovementioned Steve Chalke.

Why now? I haven’t found any new findings or comments about deterioration in the industry. In fact, it seems that there are indications of a reduction in (and/or original overstatement of) the levels of slavery since the first reports 5-10 years ago. It has also been found that, although slavery definitely exists in the West African cocoa industry, the vast majority (over 90%) of the children being forced to work are not slaves but instead local family members. That’s an issue of child labour. A report (Nkamleu and Kielland, 2006) prepared as part of the UN/ILO assessment of child labour in the cocoa industry observed that more than 50% of children (6-17yo) in farmer families in Côte d’Ivoire were involved in the cocoa production process, many of them in hazardous activities.

The piece in The Age by Steve Chalke deliberately confounds slavery and child labour. Juliette Hughes’s piece does little other than to say ‘hey there are some ethical issues here’, while the piece by Carmel Egan also mixes up slavery and child labour, though actually states figures which show the difference in numbers.

I’m not writing this to engage in a debate about the morality of eating chocolate — clearly there are enough people out there telling us not to, unless it’s Fairtrade (or equivalent) — but instead to draw attention to the sudden attention the slavery issue is getting in one newspaper. If anyone can throw any light on what’s going on, I’d be very interested.

– DM

New product: Belgian chocolate at Coles supermarkets

Rarely does my heart skip a beat in the confectionery aisle of an Australian supermarket. In France or Germany I could happily fill a shopping trolley with a chocolatey smile on my face. In Australia I mope my way down the aisle, pausing only for the occasional stop-gap measure to allay my chocolate cravings.

For those who don’t know, there is no decent chocolate available at an average-consumer pricepoint in Australia. We get to choose from Cadbury’s oddness (though much better than the product of the British namesake), Mars’s mediocrity (in the form of Dove) and Nestlé’s disappointments. Beside these are Lindt and the marketing success of their Lindor balls, and just occasionally Milka (no reason to cheer).

To be fair, I think I should mention those supermarket lines that are my accepted craving suppressants. For sweet-caramelly-greasy fixes: Lindt Excellence Milk, Nestlé Double Blend (milk, emergencies only). For cocoa-everyday fixes: Cadbury Old Gold (the original version: 45% cocoa solids; not the dry, gritty 72% one). With bits: Lindt Excellence Orange Intense (excellent!), Cadbury Old Gold Roast Almond, Nestlé Noir Intense Cherry. (Note that the Lindt and Nestlé Noir are outside the everyday chocolate pricebracket.)

I’m telling you all this to set the scene for a new product at Coles supermarkets. A housebrand Belgian chocolate You’ll love Coles – Belgian milk chocolate in milk, dark and milk-fruit-nut. Australia is experiencing the start of the luxury housebrand product phenomenon; something which started in the UK about seven years ago. Alas, the psychology of premium products and supermarkets in Australia doesn’t readily lend itself to actual, real, serious quality on a supermarket shelf. Whereas the UK supermarkets Tesco and Sainsbury introduced quite impressive premium housebrand chocolates to their shelves, I wasn’t about to hold my breath about the Coles version.

Coles Belgian milk chocolate block

Lucky, too, for the Coles product is no great bonus for the Aussie supermarket experience, despite the surprisingly good pricing (under A$4.00/250g). The milk version (26.5% cocoa solids) is very sweet, with a mild cocoa flavour. It has a nice snap, with a quick melt, and the mouthfeel is smooth and thick; quite delightful in comparison to the products mentioned above. You can’t expect much of this sort of low-cocoa milk chocolate, so at least the textural positives are a winner. The dark version (46% cocoa solids) is sweet and a bit waxy, with a strong vanilla note and reasonably good melt. It is rather insipid and I don’t feel like eating the rest of the block. The milk-fruit-nut version is just sweet, with the added sweetness of the fruit drowning out the already pale cocoa notes.

A little bit of googling revealed that Coles is sourcing this chocolate from the Belgian company Italo-Suisse, who in turn source their couverture from Callebaut. Callebaut is a great place to start for excellent chocolate (their couverture is used by a large number of quality chocolate producers and chocolatiers), but somewhere along the way — either in a custom formula requested by Italo-Suisse, or in the addition of other ingredients (more sugar?) by Italo-Suisse — it becomes an unimpressive product designed to appeal to overly sweet palates and seduce with the uncommon (in Australia) long, creamy mouthfeel. What a pity. Still, a better option than many other things on the supermarket shelf.

– DM

Chocolate 2007 – London

L'Artisan du Chocolat
[This is the first article about travel. Others: London/UK, Paris.]

I was in the mood for cocoa bean product. I set off with a sheaf of addresses under my arm. Chocolate from here to eternity. Well, Melbourne to London, Paris and Lyon, more like. I knew there would be ups and downs; disappointments and cries of delight. I wasn't sure where (or if) I would find satisfaction.

This is the first instalment of my Chocolate 2007. What I ate in London. It wasn't all from London, but it was all English. Well, it was all sold by English producers.

Later instalments will cover other places, and I'll add links to those articles.

I do not pretend to have the experience and vocabulary to adequately analyse the flavour profiles of chocolates. Nonetheless, I have a good nose, eat a hell of a lot of chocolate, and endeavour to describe things in a way which gives some idea of why I like or dislike a product.


Hotel Chocolat | Prestat | Charbonnel & Walker | Montezuma’s | L’Artisan du Chocolat

Last time I lived in London, people seemed to talk about Leonidas and Godiva at the luxury end, Charbonnel & Walker and Prestat too, and Thorntons as some sort of non-supermarket mid-range special thing. By 'people' I mean 'the general populace'. There might have been other purveyors. Indeed, The Chocolate Society has been around for over fifteen years. At that time, Charbonnel & Walker and Prestat were both beyond my means, while Thorntons was officially banned from my household because of the very sweet, gritty nature of many of its products. I don't consider British Cadbury to be chocolate in any meaningful sense (indeed, I'd rather eat my toenails), so I'll leave that there.

Hotel Chocolat

My London friends live, in 2007, around the corner from a new purveyor. Hotel Chocolat. Although I trust my friends' taste implicitly, my eating-Britain track record meant that I ventured into this 'Hotel' with scepticism. Unfounded scepticism, for Hotel Chocolat really is quite impressive as a chocolate retailer. Hotel Chocolat is a retail brand associated with both a long-standing mail-order product, The Chocolate Tasting Club, and now a surprising number of shopfronts. There is a certain British tackiness to having a producer of good chocolate in a so-common-in-Britain chain format, and their very skillful marketing adds to this big-business impression (a number of British foodbloggers received tasting samples in the mail at Easter, for instance. And I'm jealous).

Hotel Chocolat - shop
Source: Hotel Chocolat

The brand is clearly pitched at a broad, self-indulgent market, as the products range from fairly gimmicky through to seriously well thought out blocks of single estate chocolate (GBP 4.25/75g). There are lots of pralines (bonbons), numerous coloured and flavoured blocks, and a rather dizzying range of simpler blocks of chocolates (GBP 2.90/100g). The prices are within typical ranges for this sort of retailer.

Hotel Chocolat - pretty block
Source: Hotel Chocolat

With such an ambitious range there is a reasonable danger that the focus on quality is lost, even with a large producer. Consider that the single estate 'Purist' range alone contains thirteen different bars, four of which are flavoured. Indeed, I’ve read that some of Hotel Chocolat's products are sourced from other European producers, including the German company Coppeneur, so there is even more scope for variability in product.

With the exception of a truffle with gritty couverture, I was quite happy with what I tried: three standard bars (Venezuela 43%, 72% and Ginger, Ebony (72%) and Orange) and a number of the pralines. All of these were good for their price bracket. Not exceptional, but clearly better than the mostly mundane 'luxury' products of many major chocolate manufacturers (Lindt, Nestlé, etc). Perhaps a little overpriced in comparison to the excellent Belgian brands Dolfin and Café Tasse which are generally around the EUR 3.00 mark for 70-85g. Hotel Chocolat is probably pitched below the main consumer focus of those two brands.

I also tried one 'Purist' bar — the Milk 62%. Many people regard this as an impossibility when I first tell them: how do you make a milk chocolate with 62% cocoa solids? You reduce the sugar content. This block had min. 19% milk solids. It was bitter but with a touch of creaminess — an unfamiliar combination in block form, perhaps more familiar if presented as a truffle. It's made from a Trinitario bean grown on volcanic soil in St Lucia. I would assume that the soil is in part responsible for the rather unusual flavour profile of this chocolate, with a dry and initially cold profile, gradually bringing out black tea leaves, cocoa and a touch of orange perhaps. Not really something I need to revisit. And especially at the price.

Despite my feeling of commercial overreach and slight overpricing, I would welcome it if something like Hotel Chocolat made a foray into Australia. As it stands, Australia is suffering from a gaping hole in the middle of the chocolate market. More about that in a later article in this series. (I'll add the link to that when it appears on the site.)

Charbonnel & Walker, Prestat

Two long-standing chocolate purveyors in London are Charbonnel & Walker (henceforth 'Ch&W') and Prestat. Both present their wares in attractive packaging reminiscent of decades long past and vie for a monied, snobbish market. The brands were a surprise component of the redesigned David Jones foodhalls in Melbourne and Sydney a few years ago, with that retailer's own bonus markup to make the prices even more unrealistic.

Located in the Piccadilly Arcade, a stone's throw from HRH Prince Charles's digs at Clarence House, Prestat has a small old-fashioned arcade shop. The selection of loose chocolates was more modest than I expected. An attempt at conversation with the sales assistant wasn't a failure, but any enlightenment about brand differentiation (interested tourist wanting to know how Prestat and Ch&W differ) was not forthcoming, as the Prestat assistant claimed never to have tried any of Ch&W's wares. These little revelations (whether as truth or marketing rubbish) just piss me off. Little better than a sports coach who doesn't know anything about another team's players, claims of ignorance of a close competitor's product smack of mediocrity.

I permitted the assistant to guide me to a handful of chocolates — three 'customer favourites'. Double mint: very dark mint-flavoured couverture with a firm mint fondant with pasty mouthfeel. Coffee mint: firm fondant, milky coffee flavour. Banoffee: Sweeeeeet. Banana and caramel. Kiddiefood. Violet cream: quite firm (not hard) fondant, somewhat violetty.

No reason to return. Old-fashioned is good, but why pay the price for too-firm, pasty fondant?

Onwards to Charbonnel & Walker, whose main shop is also in an arcade, the Royal Arcade, in Mayfair (a little northwest of Prestat, in other words). Ch&W have a somewhat more modern-refined air than Prestat, but the packaging is designed to evoke a similar era. They have a wider range of boxed and loose chocolates and associated products. The sales assistant was charming, but largely unknowledgable about anything beyond Ch&W's product. She freely volunteered that she had no knowledge of chocolate until 'just recently' when she joined the company. Marvellous. I had nothing against her, but certainly wonder about a company at this level which doesn't train its staff to converse intelligently about the basics of chocolate (and I wasn't being demanding). I found I wasn't interested enough in Ch&W's range to warrant a purchase beyond a violet cream. The fondant was rather firm and the violet clean. Slightly more incentive to return to Ch&W than to Prestat, but the feeling of snob-value pricing is too great.


A relatively new kid on the chocolate block, Montezuma's has a shop in the new buildings at the western end of Old Spitalfields Market, near Liverpool Street Station. It appears to be pitched as a 'fresh young thing' with a touch of cheeky hipness and a definite philosophy, as reflected in the text on their website. The firm is based in West Sussex.


A small range of pralines sports exciting-sounding flavours and cute names (Scurvy, Irish Tipple, Fitzroy). Montezuma's chocolate bars are also novel: peppermint and vanilla, nutmeg, and more.

Staff were young and friendly, but I didn't get the feeling that there'd be any intelligent choco-talk. I might be doing them an injustice.

The chocolates were, broadly, enjoyable. The truffle centres were sometimes clearly and cleanly flavoured, though the vanilla one in particular seemed underendowed. Scurvy is stunningly fruity and perfumed, and reminded me clearly of a Fry's Five Centre Bar (for those who know/knew them). Two of the bars I tried were good: Orange and Geranium (73% cocoa solids) was brightly floral (a little heavy at first), while the Milk Chocolate: The Dark Side (54%, organic) showed warm cocoa notes, with strong hints of chocolate ice-cream and cake. Nice melt and good thick mouthfeel. Alas, one bar really disappointed: Strawberry and Sweet Paprika was distinctly anodyne. A fruity sweetness and the occasional minute piece of strawberry were the sole non-chocolate elements of this bar. The sweet paprika was indiscernible by four tasters. I can't understand how a manufacturer can produce such a dud next to a range of good stuff. Nonetheless, at GBP 1.85-2.20/100g for the bars, the best items in the range are very well priced. The truffles are about GBP 3.00/100g which is also good, though I'd need to try more of the range to be convinced of the value. Choose carefully and you'll be happy.

L'Artisan du Chocolat

Getting serious now. L'Artisan du Chocolat is probably the UK's most prominent serious quality chocolate brand at present. They make their own couverture and have a strong reputation for very fine pralines and other products.

L'Artisan du Chocolat

Notwithstanding the seven-year-old child nagging his mama to buy 'another' bag of Tasties at GBP 5.50 for 150g (what the rest of the world would call Smarties, though that is, of course, a trademark of Nestlé), the shop in Lower Sloane Street wasn't as dauntingly exclusive as I had feared, and the aroma and display of chocolates was seductive. The pralines take the (increasingly common) form of uniform filled rectangles with an identifying pattern on the upper surface, and cost between GBP 5 and 10 per 100g, depending on how you buy them.

The pralines (all from the 'Couture' range) were rather variable, though clearly all of a much more impressive standard than any of the previously mentioned producers and with a lovely ganache. Still, it was odd that my sample ranged from the bold and fruity Rose, clearly evoking Turkish Delight rosiness, to the almost absent Lavender. In between were Moroccan Mint (mild and hard to characterise), Violet (so delicate as to disappoint), Madong (smoky and interesting), Green Cardamom (delightful), Tobacco (intriguingly hot and fruity, reminiscent of chewing tobacco).

Another product, the Liquid Salted Caramels, has received a good deal of praise in Britain. They were good, but by no means earth-shatteringly amazing. I think the novelty of a chocolate ball with a runny caramel centre perhaps seduces people too readily.

If I had the ready cash, I would make L'Artisan du Chocolat one of my regular haunts — by choosing the successful varieties for my palate I could happily grow squidgy on this producer's diverse range of yummies.

And finally

Alas, I arrived on the wrong day to sample Paul A Young's wares in Camden Passage. The shop was closed. Very sad, as I'd been building up to this final tasting before moving on to Paris. C'est la vie and all that. There will, I hope, be another opportunity.

– DM

[This is the first article about travel. Others: London/UK, Paris.]