I was in Holland a week or so ago, and my constant quest for local chocolate makers resulted in me finding one of the five shops Van Beek & Specker have in Rotterdam.
Apparently these two families have been working together for around seven years and have a total of five shops in the Rotterdam area. The company web site is only available in Dutch, and using Google to translate the site threw up some rather unusual interpretations (some of which were definitely wrong) but it would appear that the company have an Irish chocolatier. They also sell a wide range of patisserie (quite common among chocolate makers) and can custom make cakes and chocolate items to order.
As is my wont, I selected a small handful from the cabinets.
Something of a change here. No salt, but plenty of sweet honey in this caramel. It’s a pretty big, fairly hefty looking chocolate but as soon as it’s in your mouth it begins to melt rather quickly. It’s quite a sweet mouthful, with more sweetness coming from the milk chocolate shell. The caramel has a slightly grainy feel to it, with the honey bursting out the moment your tongue finds the caramel centre.
Oddly enough the centre of this chocolate was much more liquid than the previous caramel. It was very smooth, with a silky mouthfeel, and the coffee flavour was subtle with good depth but it never dominated the overall taste. The nougat seemed to be the ‘fin’ at the top of the chocolate, although there was an element of chewiness in the base. I really liked this one.
Now I know the Dutch are the biggest race in Europe, but even I found the size of this chocolate a little intimidating. (It positively dwarfed the Chocablog standard 20p!)
Beneath the thick dark chocolate shell there lay a healthy dollop of smooth, slightly sweet caramel which had good texture but wasn’t exactly bursting with flavours. There was a hint of burnt sugar, but little else. A pinch of sea salt might have made a world of difference to what was a pretty bland caramel. Shame.
Port Wine Truffle
A good, thick dark chocolate shell gave way to a dense, dark truffle filling which seemed to contain caraway seeds. The alcohol flavours weren’t too strong, but there was enough to let you know you were eating a boozy chocolate. The little seeds (and there were a few) were a little off-putting at first, mainly because I hadn’t expected to find them inside, but they added a little something to the overall taste. I liked the dense richness of this one, plus the fact that it didn’t deliver a huge blast of alcohol at first bite – the flavours developed as the centre melted away.
Another thick dark chocolate shell, home to a creamy, slightly bitter chocolate filling with a subtle raspberry flavour. The fruit flavour was quite delicate and sat alongside rather than on top of the cocoa flavours. A fairly average fruit ganache, in my opinion.
I’d have to say that these chocolates were good, but not stunning. Well made, thick-shellled (and at times surprisingly large) pieces with some good (and some very average) flavours, Van Beek & Specker are obviously one of Rotterdam’s premier chocolate makers, but they’re not really innovative or experimental. That said, the majority of customers don’t go into a shop looking for something unusual (and after four years of reviewing I’ve done a lot of ‘unusual’!) and if you happen to be looking for a good range of ‘conventional’ chocolates made by a family firm on the premises, then Van Beek & Specker have probably got just what you’re after.