Time for another tale of chocoincidence, choco-karma or whatever you wish to call it…
Picture this, it’s a hot day in August and I’m in Bath town centre. My dodgy knee has decided it doesn’t want to play and so when my fellow holidaymakers decide they want to nip to the supermarket up the hill, I suggest it might be better if I just hang out near the centre of town and do some people watching until they return. As I stand loitering by a Post box, a large gentleman in a T-shirt and apron approaches and deposits his post. Only when he turns his back to me do I see that his t-shirt bears the legend “I Heart Chocolate” on the back (in appropriately chocolatey script). Naturally my curiosity was aroused and I decided to follow him. (As you do).
Luckily for my bum knee, it’s only a minute or two before he makes a right turn into a shop, and as I reach the premises I’m delighted to find that he’s a chocolatier. After a brief introduction, I discover that he is none other than Phillipe Wall, a Belgian chocolatier and co-owner of House of Minerva. (That’s him on the left of the photo).
We begin to chat and with characteristically Gallic enthusiasm, he tells me how he and his partner founded the shop. It’s a Micro Chocolate Factory and uses Valrhona chocolate as it’s base product, which is then used to make hot chocolate as well as various novelty shaped bars and of course a variety of truffles and ganaches. (They also sell champagne). House of Minerva’s web site, whilst not the swankiest of designs, does have a good deal of information about events and courses on offer. Basically what we have here are two guys who love their work and want to share it with the rest of us.
As I’m in holiday mode and unable to conserve a large amount of chocolate, I elect to buy only a small number of the wide range of chocolates on offer, opting for flavours I haven’t seen before, or those recommended by my new friend M. Wall.
First up is a dark ganache with Tea (not an advertisement for a 90′s band). The chocolate is a well balanced, slightly citrussy tasting blend whose initial sharpness is very quickly tempered by a rich and very delicately flavoured filing with a light mouthfeel. The tea flavouring isn’t too powerful. allowing the cocoa flavours from the chocolate and the filling to intermingle on the palate, giving a very satisfying finish. Not the strongest tea chocolate I’ve had, but a very good blending of flavours nonetheless.
Second up is a cognac ‘log’. It’s also a dark chocolate, and again the alcohol element is never allowed to overpower the chocolate flavours. Where something like Skellig’s rather splendid Brandy Plums uses the booze to give a strong ‘kick’ to the flavours on offer, this (like the previous choice) uses the flavour of cognac very subtly. It’s primarily about the flavours of the chocolate. Not an unusual pairing, but done well.
My third choice was a milk chocolate ganache with Lemon and Coriander, chosen because they’re both flavours I like (a coriander bar featured in our 2008 Chocsters) and also because I hadn’t come across the two together before. This one packs a serious lemony punch from the off, and it’s only as the filling melts and spreads across your tongue that the more subtle coriander taste begins to make itself known. The lemon is light, fresh and surprisingly upfront, making this a definite favourite.
For my final choice I asked Phillipe to recommend something, and he suggested the Poire William. Now in my experience pear and chocolate is still a pretty rare combination, so I was more than happy to act on his recommendation. I didn’t know it at the time, but unlike all of my previous choices, this was a liqueur chocolate, and as such it has the sugary inner shell to keep the alcohol from making a mess of the chocolate. This of course means that there’s a lot of sweetness to this particular confection – not my favourite. Having said that, the pear liqueur was a first. The flavour isn’t perhaps as ‘peary’ as the Lindt Pear bar I reviewed a while ago, but there’s no doubt that this is what you’re tasting.
So there we are. If you’re in (or near) Bath, I can highly recommend popping in to House of Minerva. You’ll find plenty to please the palate – champagne, hot chocolate, bars, truffles, ganaches and a range of excellent Valrhona bars as well – and of course the ebullient and very friendly Monsieur Wall.