A Tale Of Two Salons

Salon du Chocolat

October was a busy month for chocolate lovers with an array of shows, festivals and conferences going on. The highlight for me was Salon du Chocolat in Paris, but it was proceeded by the inaugural London Salon du Chocolat at Olympia.

Seeing Salon come to London was bittersweet for me. The French organisers of Salon du Chocolat took over ownership of Chocolate Week in the UK and with it, our much-loved annual chocolate show Chocolate Unwrapped. Salon in London replaced Chocolate Unwrapped and moved the whole shebang to Olympia’s National Hall.

Salon Du Chocolat London

Some of the feel of Chocolate Unwrapped was present in the new show, with some previous exhibitors opting to take smaller tables rather than more formal trade show stands. Some aspects of the French show were incorporated too, with a gala evening and fashion show, showcasing dresses made from chocolate by top chocolatiers and designers.

Salon Du Chocolat London

The show also saw the launch of Cocoa Runners, the new bean-to-bar subscription service that I’m involved with, so I got to see it both from the point of view of an exhibitor (a lot of hard work!) and a visitor (a lot of fun!).

Salon Du Chocolat London

Overall, the show was great. A few exhibitors came over from France, along with a good mix of familiar names. If I had one criticism, it would be the venue. Olympia lacks soul and personality, and that was tangible walking around the show. At times, the space felt more like a business trade show rather than an exciting chocolate experience. I’m sure Salon du Chocolat have plans to expand into the space next year, but personally I think it would do a lot better at a more interesting, intimate venue.

That said, it’s great to see a chocolate show that has so much potential to grow, and what it lacks in intimacy, I’m sure it will make up in sales for the exhibitors – and that, ultimately, it was the UK chocolate industry needs.

Oh. And there was a woman in a chocolate bath.

Salon Du Chocolat London

Over To Paris

Two weeks after Salon in London, the show moved to its spiritual home in Paris, where it’s both much more established and significantly bigger. To put that into context, Salon Paris was divided into three halls (main hall, confectionery and trade), each of which were 4-5 times the size of the London show. On top of that, it also hosted the finals of the World Chocolate Masters, a prestigious event where chocolatiers and pastry chefs from around the world compete for the title of the best in the world.

World Chocolate Masters

The show can be both awe-inspiring and a little stressful. There’s far too much to see in a single day, so if that’s all you have, you really need to be smart about planning who you want to see and successfully navigate through the tens of thousands of visitors.

Making Praluline

Highlights for me included Pralus, where they bake their famous “Praluline” praline brioche on the stand (above) and Pierre Marcolini, where they had installed a mini chocolate factory and were making chocolate from the bean. It was also great to catch up with our old friends from Marou, and have the chance to sample some fabulous chocolate from the Pacari range that isn’t currently available in the UK.

Salon Du Chocolat Paris

With so much to see, everything quickly becomes a blur, but one chocolate did stand out – Cacaosuyo from Peru were selling a 70% chocolate made with fine Piura beans, and it was absolutely wonderful – bursting with sweetness and cherry notes, it was almost like eating the fruit in chocolate form.

I always question whether it’s worth the time and expense of visiting Paris for Salon du Chocolat. It’s hard work, and often changes little from year to year. This year however, there was a noticeable improvement in the organisation, and there were lots of new things to try. Next year can only get bigger and better!


Hotel Chocolat Coffee Bûche

Hotel Chocolat Coffee Bûche

The other week we were invited down to Hotel Chocolat’s Monmouth Street Roast + Conch shop for a sneak preview of their Christmas range (about which I shall write more later) and as ever Angus Thirlwell gave everyone a big bag of lovely things to take home at the end of the evening – most of which were decidedly Christmas-themed items.

This, however, was not especially festive, so in order to stop myself from directly referring to Christmas in early November I thought I’d ease my way in with a look at this Bûche Bar.

There is a more festive Cherry Kirsch & Hazelnut Bûche available, but we were given this triple-chocolate-gianduja layered coffee version and as any regular readers may guess, I did have my doubts. I’m not entirely sure exactly how many coffee-chocolate variations I’ve tasted over the past few years but I do know that there haven’t been that many, and for a good reason. It would seem that coffee and chocolate, while perfectly good bedfellows, aren’t always that easy to put together in bar/truffle/block form. (Memories spring to mind of the dreadful Coffee Creams rattling about in the bottom of a tine of Roses, or sniffed out and sneakily replaced in a bag of Revels.)

Hotel Chocolat Coffee Bûche

Of course times have changed and the world of chocolate is a brighter and better place these days, so I left my preconceptions in a corner and sat down for a taste.

We are promised ‘Luscious layers of latte, cappuccino & espresso in a bûche – ideal for slicing and sharing’ – three types of coffee flavoured chocolate – and that had me all the more intrigued. How well would the three different layers stand up?

You’d be right in thinking that something designed for slicing and sharing would be easy to cut through – the knife glides through his bûche like it would through a block of pâte, revealing the three strata which get darker as one goes down through them. There’s also an added surprise in the form of feuilletine scattered through the cappuccino layer, adding a delicate crunch to the middle layer, a very good idea given that we’re talking a triple-hit of gianduja here.

I’m very happy to say that the three layers work really well. The differences between them are distinct. From the milky white chocolate latte to the darkest (50%) espresso you can really discern the coffee flavours intensifying as you work through them, and the additional crunch in the middle layer was welcome in terms of texture and flavour. It’s a smart idea adding those little fragments of feuilletine to break up the gianduja up. Had it not been for them, this could very easily have become overwhelmingly rich very quickly.

These Bûche bars are meant to be left lying about so that you and your guests can casually lop a piece off as the fancy takes you. I left mine lying around and managed to get through it in a couple of days with very little in the way of help, and at £9 a bar it might be wise to hang back until the festive season, although I would imagine one of these and a round of top notch espresso coffees would finish off a dinner party very nicely indeed.


Beryl’s Black Bitter

Beryl's Black Bitter Chocolate Tablets

You won’t have heard of Beryl’s Chocolates unless you’ve traveled over to the Far East, where they enjoy quite a big market in Malaysia. Their website tells us that they use Ghanaian cacao in their products. It also provides a brief ‘chocolate encyclopaedia’ which serves to offer answers to some of the more frequently asked questions about cacao in general – mostly lifted from other sources, but a nice touch nonetheless.

Oh, and the Beryl’s Song. I can’t recall ever having visited a chocolate maker’s website and being treated to the company song before (in this case a woman singing over a little light jazz piano while Voiceover Man lists some of the products on offer) and was mildly disappointed to find that there wasn’t a Japanese version of the song on the Japanese version of their site!

Beryl's Black Bitter Chocolate Tablets

This little box of ‘Black Bitter’ miniature slabs is a strange creature. Inside the cardboard box is a foil sealed plastic tray – apparently a favoured packaging method in Malaysia – which is home to 34g of chocolate. The listed ingredients are given as ‘Dark Chocolate (100%)’ followed by a breakdown of ingredients, but no mention of actual final cacao content, which is mildly annoying.

The chocolate is most definitely not 100% cacao, but it is dark and it is slightly bitter, but I would be surprised if this chocolate had as much as 72% cacao. It’s a decent enough product but compared with some of the dark chocolate coming out of the UK, Europe and America, it doesn’t really shine. There again, in terms of pricing it wasn’t premium chocolate. The initial dark chocolate flavours are there but there’s also an underlying sweetness which reminded me of the Patchi chocolates I bought in Qatar a couple of years ago. Unlike the Patchi chocolates this doesn;t have that slightly greasy finish (thank goodness)

Over the course of several years’ traveling hither and yon it has become apparent that the Far East and Middle East still have a way to go before they catch up in terms of producing fine chocolate. I do have another Beryl’s offering on hand – I just hope it’s better than this effort!


Ambriel Dark Quinoa

Ambriel Dark Quinoa - Wrapped

Despite having come across some bars of Ambriel Chocolate before, they aren’t the best known of companies. And their generic packaging doesn’t give much in the way of clues either. The chocolate in made in Switzerland and is organic, fair trade and all the other kind of things that make it a regular fixture in all my local health food stores. But that’s about it. Nevertheless, I found it hard to resist their Dark Quinoa bar just because it was my first sighting of quinoa and chocolate together in a bar.

Ambriel Dark Quinoa - Bar

The quinoa is actually puffed into little crisps which provide a lovely texture but pretty much no flavour to the bar – it also looks rather impressive too with its endlessly bumpy back. A bit of digging around on the Canadian distributor’s website revealed that the beans are from Bolivia and the Dominican Republic and the cane sugar is from the Philippines, and that translates into a rather earthy tasting chocolate which isn’t too sweet considering it is only 61%. But it doesn’t have much in the way of depth – it is almost like the chocolate simply exists as a vehicle for the quinoa because without it, it would be a very dull bar. As it is, it is upscale version of a Nestlé Crunch bar and not much more.

Ambriel Dark Quinoa - Detail

Did that stop me from eating the whole thing? Well, no it didn’t and thanks for asking. And would I pick it up again? Probably not – the novelty of the quinoa wears off by the midway point and then there’s just the unmemorable chocolate left to deal with.


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