Sampling some of the world’s finest chocolate in Mayfair sounded like a glorious way to spend a Sunday afternoon, so I headed down to the May Fair Hotel for Chocolate Unwrapped, the first show dedicated solely to delicious cocoa goodness. It was like entering Marie-Antoinette’s boudoir, with an intoxicating scent of chocolate and tables laden with exquisite morsels and pretty, shiny wrappers – I was in heaven!
Part of the UK’s Chocolate Week, Chocolate Uncovered featured exhibits from 25 of the country’s most respected and innovative chocolatiers and talks from Rococo founder Chantal Coady, the MD of Hotel Chocolat and Visit Mexico. Samples were unlimited and plentiful and aside from atempting a full-on sugar coma, you could peruse dessert cookery books from Foyles and admire the incredible chocolate sculptures by renowned artists and chocolatiers.
I adored Rococo’s fragrant earl grey and rose scented chocolate bars, Paul Wayne Gregory’s salted caramels, Pacari’s cocoa nibs and Paul A. Young’s gooey ultimate chocolate fudge brownies.
Being the geek that I am, I had to make it an educational trip, so I attended the talk given by Visit Mexico and the co-founder of the authenic Mexican restaurant Mestizo, on the history of chocolate and its importance in Mexican cuisine.
I discovered that cocoa was drunk by the ancient civilisations of Central America, including the Aztec and Maya communities from as early as 2000BC. It was taken back to the court of Spain in 1527AD and eventually reached England in the 1650s and, like gin, was used for medicinal purposes.
But the main part of the talk was the celebratory role that chocolate plays in Mexican culture – chocolate skulls are exchanged like Valentine’s roses on the Day of the Dead and mole (pronounced ‘molay’) is laboriously prepared for weddings, funerals and religious holidays.
Mole is an aromatic sauce that usually accompanies different kinds of meat and is created using a blend of onion, garlic, tomatilla, dried chilli, nuts, seeds, spices and of course, chocolate. There are many different kinds of mole originating from various regions in Mexico, all with different colours and flavours.
We sampled the brown Mole Poblano, slow-roasted with chicken and it was one of the most complex, flavoursome sauces I’ve ever tasted. It reminds me a lot of my favourite Iranian dish, Fesen Joon – a textured sauce made from ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses and served with chicken.
Chocolate Unwrapped’s chocolatiers will be hosting a series of talks, tasting sessions and demonstrations around London for Chocolate Week. There will be also chocolate-themed afternoon teas and set menus at selected restaurants as part of London Restaurant Festival.