Euro Chocolate Road Trip - London Day 2

There is a lot to like about London but hotels are not one of those things.The hotel that is hosting Chocolate Unwrapped The May Fair has a very nice lobby with a happening lobby bar scene at night. I suppose you could call it a boutique hotel. And I am sure that the rooms are very nice, but I am equally sure that they are quite small for what they cost. And that’s the dilemma of hotels in London. In the US in most cities I can go to a budget hotel brand and even for a modest price (under US$100/night and often far less), be guaranteed that my room will measure at least 100 sf, have a separate full bath, and most likely have cable TV with at least 1 premium channel. In the UK, you’d have to pay at least 200GBP (about US$320 at the current exchange rate) for the same amenities.Even with the generosity of ChocolateLife members, spending that sort of money on hotel rooms on this trip was not in the budget. So I opted for a budget hotel in Earl’s Court just a few steps from the Earl’s Court Tube stop on the Piccadilly line. While I was expecting a shared-everything experience, the hotel lived down to expectations by also including one of the hardest mattresses I have ever had the displeasure of trying to sleep on and maid service that could only generously be called slapdash with poorly made beds, towels not replaced each morning, and no replacement bar of miniscule soap. The included breakfast provided the option of brown toast and white toast (though brown bread (not wheat bread and there is an important distinction there) was not available two of the three mornings), corn flakes and brown flakes (bran flakes), instant coffee or tea, and the miserable vaguely orange-flavored juice-like substance that passes for orange juice.What a way to start a day. Not.However the place was very inexpensive (39 pounds a night) for London and it was very convenient as most of what I wanted to do including getting to an from the airport was easily accessible from a stop on the Piccadilly line.Sunday dawned cloudy and miserable and left the hotel with well-deserved haste. I walked the 50 or so meters down Warwick Rd past the Earl’s Court Exhibition Center to the Earl’s Court tube stop and descended into the London Underground. A few minutes and a few tube stops later I popped up at Green Park which is right on Piccadilly Rd across the street from the Ritz.

The Ritz’s famous lightbulb signs at night.There’s a story to be told about the Ritz at night shot that starts in the US where I downloaded a photography app for my iPhone. The app is the one that was used to take the 2×2 photos used in these blog posts.A new member of TheChocolateLife is Warren Laine-Naida British-born Canadian artist currently living in Germany. In addition to being a world traveler, Warren is a practicing visual artist a sculptor using chocolate as a primary medium with experience in the food world currently working as the web master for a private university. He is also a part-owner of a bookstore in in suburban Toronto. My kind of guy.Warren and I met almost immediately upon my arrival at Chocolate Unwrapped on Saturday and discovered very quickly that we were kindred (vagabond) spirits. We agreed to rendezvous after the close of the show to talk. I ended up returning to my hotel to check in and clean up after a fashion, check out the claim of free WiFi access in the rooms (turned out to be true), and check in to see if there was urgent e-mail. I had intended to take a nap, too, but the bed (very hard) and a pillow that can only be described as underachieving thwarted my efforts to sleep. Incredibly, I would have to be a lot more tired than I was.After learning that we would have needed to shout ourselves to hoarseness to take an overpriced drink in the May Fair bar, Warren and I went around the corner to The Clarence on Dover St for a pint or three. Below are two shots of what I ordered the first taken when I placed the order for the first pint and the second when I placed the order for the third. Whee! (Well, I figured, it would also help me sleep.)

{hard segue} Earlier, while waiting for Warren I walked around the neighborhood. One block over from the Clarence is Old Bond St which is filled with name stores. Just a bit further along is Upper St James and between there and the short walk to Piccadilly Circus you’ll find the London home of La Maison du Chocolat and Laduree.{end of digression} Sunday morning at Chocolate Unwrapped was just as busy as Saturday afternoon and I managed to spend time talking with Keith Hurdman the master Chocolatier for Thornton’s. In one of several very-small-world experiences it turns out that New York chocolatier Rachel Zoe Insler (Bespoke Chocolates) worked with Keith. Thornton’s is a large fish in the smallish pond that is high-end UK chocolates and I enjoyed tasting several of their bars especially the Tonka bar. Tonka is a bean that is illegal in the US because it contains coumarin (which is used as a precursor in the anti-coagulant warfarin (among others). It is often used as an inexpensive (though inexact) substitute for vanilla, and the Thornton’s bar had not only a clear Tonka flavor (which is actually closer to new-mown hay) but also some very appealing warm spice notes.

Also present at Chocolate Unwrapped was Leeds-based newcomer to the UK chocolate scene Lauden Chocolatier. Lauden’s founding chocolatier Sun Trigg is entirely self-taught. Of the pieces I tried, the one that stood out was the Lemon, made using fresh lemon juice. The lemon flavor was bright and clear and intense, lacking only the acidity of lemon juice itself. The packaging is also uniquely attractive, clear lucite boxes. They’re just entering their second holiday season barely more than a full year old and the future appears to be just as bright as their flavors.

At this point of the day it was time to head to the Charing Cross tube station to catch a suburban rail train to Ashford in Kent. There I would meet with Gerard Coleman the chocolatier for Artisan du Chocolat AdC) and Anne Weyns, his partner and ChocolateLife member. The purpose was to tour the factory and taste chocolate in advance of the Sophisticated Pairings tasting program I was conducting on Monday night. I’d brought with me from New York a selection of balsamic vinegars and artisan salts as well as an olive oil. We’d taste these as well as items purchased in London but first we needed to taste what I brought against AdC’s chocolate bars. I was also looking forward to visiting their production facility.

The production facility did not disappoint and it was an example of how it is possible to combine modern manufacturing techniques with handwork to create work that still deserves to be called artisan. Because AdC sells to several very large accounts, they were required to implement food safety procedures that most small companies would find crushingly onerous. Rather than shy from these requirements, AdC have used the experience to become better chocolate makers (Norman Love has the same thing to say about his work on G for Godiva).AdC is also a very unusual chocolatier because they make a very large percentage of the chocolate they use from liquor. They have a 300kg refiner-conche and they use it in unconventional ways to give them greater control over the final product than most chocolatiers have. For example they make a matcha green tea chocolate bar. They add the tea leaves into the refiner-conche using the ball mill to grind the tea leaves as the chocolate is being refined. Not only is the chocolate an unusually wonderful color but the taste of the tea comes through with a clarity that is missing when the tea is added to an already finished chocolate. More on AdC in the next post as I will be covering the tasting class.I arrived in Kent shortly after 5pm and caught the 9pm train back to London. By the time I made it back to Earls Court and the hotel around 11 (via Piccadilly tube – see below) even the very hard bed could not keep me from quickly falling asleep.

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