Hotel Chocolat Rabot 1745 100% Chocolate Bars

Hotel Chocolat Rabot 1745 100% Chocolate Bars

It has taken me a while to even want to appreciate what a 100% chocolate bar has to offer because my first few tries were not very pleasant. After all, when all the sugar is removed there is a really good chance that the resultant chocolate is going to be extremely bitter and unpalatable. But when it is done properly, it can give the real flavour of the beans a chance to shine.

So with that in mind during my last visit to Hotel Chocolat, I made a beeline for their Rabot 1745 Collection because they usually have some rather interesting things hidden away there. And after a little bit of looking around, I settled on three 100% bars from very different geographic locations. The bars themselves are rather small – just 35g – and packaged simply in a cellophane wrapper with a paper label keeping it shut. There’s really not much difference in the look of the bars – all very dark with a nice sheen to them. All come with brief tasting notes on the labels, but I’ve always found those to be unreliable although they can give a rough idea of what to expect. Here’s the rundown of the three bars.

Hotel Chocolat Rabot 1745 100% Chocolate Bars

Saint Lucia Island Growers 100%

This is one of those 100% bars that really tastes like a 100% bar. The tasting notes say that its bark is worse than its bite, but I’m not convinced that is the case. It is very bold, aggressive and hard to do anything with except nibble tentatively. Rather than the promised antique oak, I get lots of harsh whisky notes that are not very pleasant. Their other lower percentage Saint Lucian bars are much better, and I can’t help but think some sugar would mellow this right out.

Dominican Republic Conacado Cooperative 100%

Having had bars made from Conacado beans before, this was a bit of a surprise because this was a lot more robust than I was expecting. Again, there’s some whisky with big coffee notes thrown in – it starts strong and stays strong, with just a few fruitier hints right at the end. Not bad at all, but still one best enjoyed in small doses.

Peru Pichanaki 100%

This is the pick of the trio because it doesn’t possess any of those overly hard edges that the other two did. The chocolate has a smooth earthiness that slowly gives way to a red wine richness that lingers for quite a while leaving behind a wonderfully rich chocolaty taste. It is surprisingly moreish for a 100% bar and well worth seeking out.

So the world of 100% chocolate is still a mixed bag which isn’t for the meek, but it does pay dividends if you are willing to take the plunge.

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Paul A Young Valentines Chocolates

Paul A Young Valentines Chocolates

Valetine’s Day is one of the chocolate industry’s biggest events of the year, but we don’t often see a great deal of creativity going into Valentine’s products. There are countless heart shaped chocolates in red packaging, but it’s rare to see much attention paid to the flavours themselves.

This collection from Paul A Young caught my attention partly because it looks fabulous (Paul’s chocolates always do), but mainly for the thought and attention to detail that has gone into creating it. The theme of the collection is romantic city destinations, so the first thing Paul and his team is to come up with a set of destinations that both had romantic connotations and distinctive flavours that would work in a chocolate. That probably ruled Cleethorpes and Slough (two of my favourite chocolate destinations) out from the start.

Paul A Young Valentines Chocolates

The wonderful thing is that they’ve managed to come up with a set of destinations and chocolates that fulfil both criteria, and they’re really rather good. They are:

Marrakesh – Mint leaves, tea and rose petals, Varhona 72% Venezuelan chocolate.

Paris – Fontaine Absinthe, lump sugar and water, Valrhona 64% Dominican Republic chocolate.

New York – Vanilla cheesecake, Valrhona White chocolate, Madagascan Vanilla bean, digestive biscuit, Valrhona 72% Venezulean chocolate.

Seville – Marmalade ganache, toasted almonds, Valrhona 64% Madaagascan.

Lisbon – Pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tart) truffle, Madagascan vanilla bean, Valrhona white chocolate, Caramelized milk chocolate, wafer pieces.

Istanbul – Pistachio, honey and fig caramel, 67% Michel Cluizel Saint Dominique.
Copenhagen – Romkugler, chocolate cake, Appleton estate rum, 70% Valrhona.

Dublin – Guinness truffle with soda bread, 65% Duffys Dominican Republic.

Edinburgh – Glen Moray Port cask whisky, oats and salt, 83% Duffys Ecuadorian.

London – Sacred distillery Gin, Bermondsey tonic water and lime, 64% Michel Cluizel Papua New Guinea.

Venice – Mascarpone, basil and limoncello, Valrhona, 66% Caribbean.

Paul A Young Valentines Chocolates

From the descriptions alone, you can tell how much work has gone into this collection, but as is often the case with Paul A Young’s chocolates, the flavours themselves are surprising, delightful and delicious.

I love all these chocolates, both for the flavour combinations and the meanings behind the chocolates. Stand outs for me are the ‘London’ Gin & Tonic chocolate, the ‘New York’, which really does taste like a cheesecake, and ‘Venice’ with it’s creamy texture and subtle Limoncello flavour.

Paul A Young Valentines Chocolates

As if creating a unique collection of chocolates wasn’t enough, you can also buy this Pink Praline Brownie. I’m fairly certain the inspiration for this came from chocolate maker Pralus’ famous “Praluline” – a brioche loaf stuffed with sweet, pink praline pieces. The Pralus brioche is one of my favourite foods in the world, and they’ve been replicated faithfully in this brownie.

If I have a problem with it, it’s simply that there aren’t enough praline pieces and it’s difficult to see them, so they don’t have quite the visual impact the brioche has. That’s a minor issue though, and like most Paul A Young brownies, this one is delicious and the praline adds both texture and flavour to the mix.

Paul A Young Valentines Chocolates

Also in the Valentines collection is this Dessert Dome. A cute Madagascan chocolate dome with a heart on top that’s packed full of an intense raspberry reduction. It’s a substantial piece that is easily enough to be dessert on it’s own, and something that’s sure to appeal to lovers of fruit flavour chocolates.

Paul A Young Valentines Chocolates

Finally, for those who like the traditional, there are solid milk and dark chocolate hearts decorated with gold and silver leaf. They’re very pretty, but if you’re thinking of buying me a Valentine’s gift, I’d much rather have the Destinations box of chocolates… please?

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zChocolat Valentines Day Ruby Box

zChocolat Valentines Chocolate

Valentine’s Day is something you either love or hate, but if you’re going to give a gift, you’ll want it to be something that makes a bit of an impact. A tin of Quality Street or a bar of Dairy Milk just isn’t going to cut it. But an assortment of French chocolates in a beautiful hardwood box might just do the trick.

zChocolat Valentines Chocolate

Presentation really is everything in zChocolat’s world. These chocolates come in an embroidered bag with a little pocket for your personal message. The bag isn’t strictly necessary, but as well as providing a little bit of extra drama, it does help protect Chocolat’s trademark wooden box inside.

zChocolat Valentines Chocolate

We have reviewed one of these zChocolat boxes in the past, and much of what I said then remains true. The chocolates are very nice, if not spectacular, but the fact that I’m still using that box as a money box and it still looks as good as it did two years ago speaks for itself.

zChocolat Valentines Chocolate

The box is divided into two layers. The first layer contains zChocolat’s signature chocolate range; fifteen numbered chocolates. These chocolates – a range of pralines and ganaches form zChocolat’s core range and are made with a mix of Venezuelan and Ivory coast origin chocolate.

zChocolat Valentines Chocolate

The second layer consists of 12 chocolate hearts. There’s a dark chocolate ganache in a white chocolate shell, a milk chocolate hazelnut praline, a dark chocolate with vanilla caramel and a red-painted white chocolate heart with bergamot ganache.

zChocolat Valentines Chocolate

All the chocolates in this collection are well made and tasty. But the thing you really need to know is the price. These 27 chocolates will set you back a cool £103.36. If you’re judging it on the chocolate alone, that’s over £3.80 per chocolate, and for that money you really could find better quality chocolates elsewhere.

zChocolat Valentines Chocolate

But that kind of misses the point. These aren’t chocolates you buy to eat yourself. You buy them to give as a spectacular Valentine’s gift when you want to make a real impression with someone you love. You could almost say that the chocolates themselves are secondary to the packaging; a visually stunning collection and a box they’ll want to keep forever.

zChocolat Valentines Chocolate

In fact, with all the optional extras available (everything from wrapping, engraving and even a concierge service), you could take the cost of this box to well over £180. There’s no doubt it’s a spectacular gift, but overdo it and it might start to look like you have more money than taste.

zChocolat Valentines Chocolate

That said, if you can afford them, zChocolat’s boxes do make a great gift. You’re not getting the best chocolate in the world, but they’re tasty enough and the presentation is truly wonderful.

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Soma Chocolatemaker Pineapple Ginger Twig

Soma Pineapple Ginger - Package

While I’d never claim to be the easiest person to buy gifts for, there are definitely a few safe bets which will always keep me happy. And that’s probably why every Christmas, one friend always stops off at Toronto’s Soma Chocolatemaker to pick up some bits and pieces for me.

In addition to replenishing my stash of their wonderful Dark Fire chocolate (I was getting a little twitchy not having some in the house for emergencies), she also got me one of their special Chocolate Twigs that they make just for the Festive Season. This year they had Coconut Caramel with Maldon Salt, Mudslide (with Kahlua, Baileys and Whisky) and Pineapple Ginger, which is the one I was given.

Soma Pineapple Ginger - Bar

The twig came very well disguised in a cardboard mailing tube, making it hard to know just what was hiding within. Whilst the name conjures up mental images of slim, slightly irregular chocolate fingers, that wasn’t the case when I opened up the tube – these really aren’t very twig-like at all. Instead, there was a single chunky bar of chocolate, between six or seven inches in length and an inch wide. More a plank than a twig, but that’s just splitting hairs. Or logs.

There’s a lot to take in from the outside with this particular variety. One side is very knobbly thanks to a layer of souffletine – those small crisp cereal balls – which adds plenty of crunch to the bar. But the real stars here are those advertised on the outside: the pineapple and the ginger because they are the things that dominate the proceedings.

Soma Pineapple Ginger - Detail

The chocolate is nice and dark – no percentage stated but I’m thinking about 60% – but it isn’t one of Soma’s big bold chocolates because it is happy enough to hold back and let the added stuff do the heavy lifting. Ginger is the most obvious flavour with its distinctive tingle, and then after a bit of chewing there’s the sweetness of pineapple sharing the spotlight. It is a great combination that I wouldn’t necessarily associate with Christmas as it made me think more of sunnier, tropical climes which isn’t a bad thing to be thinking about during a Canadian winter.

It is definitely the kind of bar which needs to be nibbled rather than eaten in one sitting because it is a little on the sweet side. Plus the dimensions of the twig make it easier to cut chunks off with a knife rather that bite at. It might even be designed to be shared, but sharing Soma’s chocolate isn’t always the first thing that comes to my mind at least.

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