This was published before I became vegan.
After a dreamy introduction into cacao cuisine a few months back at Hotel Chocolat’s flagship restaurant Roast & Conch in Leeds, my husband, Peter and I were literally brimming with excitement at the promise of more endorphin-releasing cocoa-enhanced everything on our return for lunch.
And what’s more, we even got a chocolate lesson and tasting session beforehand at the Hotel Chocolat School of Chocolate! Best. Date. Ever.
So good in fact that I’ve been re-living this refined Willy Wonka experience to all my (envious) friends and family since!
So let’s start at the beginning, arriving at Hotel Chocolat, a chic gift shop and cafe are located on the ground floor, with the Roast & Conch restaurant upstairs.
Love the minimal industrial feel to the shop-very cool!
We made our way to the Chocolate Lab by the cafe and we’re introduced to our cocoa teacher, the passionate and engaging resident chocolatier Isobel from their dedicated Hotel Chocolat School. Best job ever huh?!
Best school in the world!
Taking our seats with another couple, water was poured and we were ready to learn (if only real school had been all about chocolate, I might have enjoyed it a bit more!)
From a history into chocolate (I was top of the class having made a documentary on chocolate at Uni) we learnt about the process from tree to bar and tasted as we went (ah-mazing)!
…I discovered milk chocolate can still have high cocoa content (theirs is 75%) and we sampled chocolate enhanced with chilli as well as chocolate with notes of vanilla, coffee and more.
Most importantly we learnt the 4 crucial chocolate connoisseur stages of Look, Snap, Smell and Taste. I’m a professor of chocolate now (probably)!
We then went on a world tour of chocolate tasting tiny chunks of loveliness from Ghana, Trinidad, Venezuela, Madagascar, Peru, Ecuador and Dominican Republic, it was a real education and true to its name, an absolute divine tasting adventure.
Such a fun and joyful way to spend 2 hours and particularly with the one you love (all those passion-releasing vibes from eating cocoa make it the ideal date)!
At the close of the session, you get to take something home too- a beautiful box of Hotel Chocolat chocolates along with a certificate on completing the adventure and 10% off purchases made in the shop! Nice.
And some of these dreamy bites came home with us! It would be rude not to, right?!
I can’t recommend The Tasting Adventure enough-and we can’t wait to sample the Bean to Bar Experience too in the coming weeks where we’ll be making our own chocolate bars!
Then it was upstairs, happier than ever from the perfect appetisers of chocolate pre meal, with a bounce in our step and a buzz for what was to come…
Our knowledgeable, pleasingly-theatrical waiter greeted us warmly and ensured there was nothing we left wanting throughout our meal, even taking a picture of us both below!…An absolute star!
The setting reflects the cocoa: inviting, relaxed oak surroundings, low hanging lights, industrial style charcoal table tops, imprints of glasses remaining-markers of past joyous times enjoyed that made me smile!
And now for the food…WARNING, look away now if you’re hungry or get ready to salivate on your screen!
The starters were OUT OF THIS WORLD, I’m trying not to shout but it’s impossible, you all need to know how incredible the crispy duck confit potato cake, braised red cabbage in a cocao-orange sauce really was!
Basically the best marriage of flavours I’ve ever experienced in one dish together, the tangy orange biting through the cocoa with the smooth duck and delicate potato making it a party in my mouth. I might have swooned!
I would return just to eat that alone.
Peter devoured the tuna tartare (literally, I looked away for a second and it was gone)- a bed of tuna served with cacao guacamole, lime-ginger dressing and delicate crispbread wafers.
Practically an abstract piece of art, this was a masterpiece Peter loved, tangy and refreshing, the lime dressing a perfect marinade for the tuna, it was the perfect light starter.
Then it was onto the main course…
‘Choc au Vin’ for me (love what they did there)-jointed corn fed chicken casseroled with bacon, onions and cacao red sauce that made me think of family dinners in front of the fire at Christmas. Perfect basically.
…Further heart warming with a wine I fell head over heels for too-the Portuguese Terra Do Zambujeiro, a rich full bodied 2009 red with flavours of cocoa, leather and spice. Winter in a glass.
Peter went for the Market fish (salmon that day) with creole-cacao spices, almond puree and Jerusalem artichokes. Perfectly cooked, the cacao spices made this a distinctive, utterly original, mouth-watering dish.
The 10 Saints Craft Beer from Barbados, a cocoa infused beer was its ideal companion!
Sides were white chocolate mash (sounds so wrong but tastes so right) and roast kohlrabi, onions and almond cream for Peter (I think he was being selfishly-calculated with all these nut-garnished dishes)!
Then it was drum roll time for dessert (anyone who has eaten here before will know how epic the dessert menu is)…. I’m drooling just writing this post!
We wanted everything (of course) but opted for the show stopper that was the dessert created for the BAFTA 2014 film awards dinner (well if it’s good enough for the stars huh)-50% milk chocolate mousse, cacao beer caramel, roasted mixed nuts and almond dacquiose… (Peter was so smug at the fact he was having nuts (again) meaning I couldn’t steal some of his!
I did appreciate the view though. Wow!
Don’t be too concerned about me either… I had chocolate soup for my pudding-a soft meringue- floating island with sliced bananas (I asked for no toasted almonds) and caramel drizzle.
It was torture just waiting for Peter to snap away before I could sample it. By sample, I mean eat it all.
Served cool, I actually wanted to dive in and live on that little chocolatey island.
Quite possibly the most jaw droppingly, tongue tingling dessert I’ve eaten. Ever.
By rights my blood sugar levels should have hit the roof by now but due to the high cocoa content and quality of ingredients, I didn’t experience a head rush or crash, so impressive after the chocolate tasting session and desserts.
You might also wonder if the cocoa was too much, overpowering or perhaps sweet especially in the savoury dishes. No, no and no.
Cocoa has been used since the Aztecs, it is only sweet when sugar is added and it works beautifully in savoury dishes, how it was originally intended.
You never feel overwhelmed by cocoa at Roast & Conch, it’s always a romantic whirlwind of a meal, a unique experience that transports you to another plain- original, fine cuisine that will simply leave you wanting more and more.
Roast & Conch, I salute you!
Disclaimer: We were gifted The Tasting Adventure and lunch at Roast & Conch in return for this honest review.