Whilst out and about on my travels a while ago, I tracked down the Bellina Chocolate House in Cambridge. Located in newer premises on Bridge Street (having moved from a small side street which is also home to a fantastic cheese shop), Bellina sell a wide range of novelties, bars and individual Belgian chocolates.
I decided to select a small handful of their Belgian chocolates – some unusual, some more common – to see how their ‘top end’ products measure up to others we’ve reviewed here.
First up is a dark chocolate filled with pineapple cream – still something of a rarity (which is why I chose it). The shell is goos and thick (as you can see) and the filling is light, soft and very creamy and carries the pineapple flavour extremely well. When you bite into this chocolate the initial flavour comes from the soft, light centre, but as you chew it, the darker flavours of the cocoa start to mingle with the pineapple. A very pleasant take on what is still quite an unusual pairing.
Next up we have a milk chocolate (the only one I chose) which is home to that modern classic, the salted caramel. Having tasted some of London’s finest salted caramels I was interested to see how this Belgian version measured up, and I’m pleased to say it does pretty well. Obviously the choice of milk chocolate makes the overall taste somewhat sweeter than the darker efforts I’m used to, but there’s enough salt in the caramel to deliver that salt/sweet tongue teaser that’s an essential part of a good salted caramel. Okay, so it’s not up there with a Paul A Young dark salted caramel, but I’m pretty sure it’s my first enrobed in milk chocolate, and it’s pretty good.
I can’t remember if I chose the next chocolate for the flavour, or for the bright red adornment on the top.
It’s not often you come across something this bright on a chocolate, but the reason I wanted this one was because it was a coffee praline, and coffee can be a bit tricky to get right. I’ve tasted very good coffee chocolates and downright awful ones (a Ukranian bar springs to mind) so this was chosen as a benchmark chocolate, as it were. I have to say, it was okay. Not stunning or spectacular, but certainly not terrible, the coffee flavour was natural, full flavoured and didn’t overpower the overall taste of the chocolate, but I didn’t fall in love with it. Perhaps I’m just not a big coffee/chocolate fan after all.
Last up was a lemon cup.
The top part was a strange greeny yellow colour – not the most attractive colour for a food, particularly confectionery. It looked like white chocolate gone wrong, but as it turned out it was just there to stop yet another soft, smooth filling from escaping.
And what a filling. Bite down on this and POW! – lemon comes zinging out to play over your tastebuds. Of course lemon and dark chocolate isn’t such a novelty, but it’s been a while since I sampled something like this, and I did enjoy it quite a lot. Good balance between citrus, sugar and chocolate, with the citrus/chocolate balance being held throughout. Jolly good.
So overall the chocolates are pretty good, if a little pricey (well they are handmade and imported from Belgium) but it isn’t that I have an issue with. The shop itself is pleasant enough, but I did rather feel as though I wasn’t exactly welcome. Perhaps it was a bad day, or maybe I took the proprietor by surprise, but I didn’t feel as though my attempts to extract information were welcome. Attempts to gain more information from the website were a waste of time, since the site is down (and has been foe a while) and ‘Belgium Chocolates’? Really? Oh dear.
Overall, I’d say decent chocs, done well by someone in Belgium but being sold at a premium by people who really need to brush up on their customer relations if they want to get any return business. I know Cambridge is one of those towns with an awful lot of passing trade, but there’s a Hotel Chocolat shop down the road selling an enormous variety of products, and the staff there are considerably more welcoming.