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REVIEW: Chocolates by The Chocolatier (Aneesh Popat)

24 Oct

One of the highlights of Salon du Chocolat‘s London debut was Aneesh Popat’s impassioned talk and tasting session, introducing his exquisite chocolates and ganaches.

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Aneesh Popat at Salon du Chocolat

Applying chemistry to his art and challenging tradition – much like a certain Mr Blumenthal – Popat has quickly made a name for himself with his unorthodox techniques and experimental flavours.

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Talking chocolate with evangelical passion: Aneesh Popat

“Chocolate is a superfood and we should eat it everyday!” proclaimed the artisan chocolatier during his fervoured presentation – immediately gaining my approval and agreement. Not that I need any encouragement to partake in a daily chocolate fix: I’ve had that one down pat since I was seven!

However, I now have a reason to feel less guilty… Under the brand name of The Chocolatier, Popat produces his critically-acclaimed confectionery without any cream or butter – making them far healthier alternatives to other chocolates on the market.

Able to produce the most velvety creations using only chocolate and water (the trick is in the emulsification process and the generation of small particles), Popat’s dairy-free treats contain approximately 40% to 50% less calories than traditional chocolate. Depending on if you’re a glutton or a weight-watcher, you can choose to eat twice as much or stick to a healthy diet. I’m Team Glutton all the way!

Despite these vegan roots, the omission of dairy in no way impairs the flavour or quality of Popat’s chocolates or ganaches (believe me, my palette can detect even the slightest flaw within my fix of chocolate). In fact, so delicious are these dairy and gelatine free truffles, it’s not unusual to find them being showcased within Michelin-starred restaurants; a testament to the quality and flavour of The Chocolatier range.

Surprisingly, Popat isn’t from a science or food background … the former Mathematics graduate (he earned his degree at Nottingham university) went on to study Philosophy, in India, before returning to the UK to launch The Chocolatier, only two and a half years ago.

Pining for Fir Tree Truffles (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun)? Or how about a delicious Baked Bean Truffle instead … all the flavour but without the gas and bloating afterwards? Popat produces these unconventional truffles using no more than chocolate, water, fruit or vegetable purees, herbs, spices and lots of science. Incidentally, the Fir Tree Truffles were flavoured by obtaining a pine tree, removing the needles, boiling them and capturing the aroma (steam) to infuse with the chocolate. I told you the dude liked chemistry.

For the tasting session at Salon du Chocolat, Popat presented three unique flavours to sample, beginning with a smooth, sensuous Raw Coconut Bean which, Popat revealed, wasn’t tempered above 42 degrees to ensure its delightful texture and flavour: another nugget of science for you.

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Raw Coconut Bean Truffles by The Chocolatier

Our second treat was an eye-wateringly acidic Beetroot, Red Wine Vinegar and Hazelnut ganache (the first bite was mild but the second packed one heck of a punch). All the flavours came through in stages, unfolding like a three course meal, reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s bubblegum – quirky and definitely fun!

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Beetroot, Red Wine Vinegar & Hazelnut Truffle by The Chocolatier

To finish, we devoured a marvellous Mince Pie Truffle, produced with an actual Mince Pie (pastry included) and caramelised banana ganache – a triumph and my favourite treat of the day!

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Mince Pie Truffle by The Chocolatier

Provenance, of course, is paramount to The Chocolatier and his ingredients are all carefully sourced, including working with chocolate brand Duffy’s original beans to produce a truffle especially for Salon du Chocolat. I would’ve expected nothing less from such a master of chocolate.

Quirky, fun, decadent and healthy, The Chocolatier‘s confectionery deserves to be on any Christmas wish list this December. It’s the ideal gift: you can eat them as an indulgent treat during the festive period or hold off until January, when you’re trying to lose the extra kilos you’ve gained from troughing through all that turkey, stuffing and cake. Now, it’s not often I get to say that about chocolate!

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Top Thing of the Week (August 19th – 25th)

25 Aug

Due to ill health, I was stuck at home for most of this week and can’t produce a Top 5 selection of weekly highlights.

That said, I was forced to venture out on Saturday to attend a one day course that had been pre-paid months earlier. It was a Hand Reflexology class at The Central London College of Reflexology on Drury Lane.

A full review of my experience will follow soon but, in the meantime, I confirm that aside from learning a fantastic new skill, I came home feeling a lot better than when I left. All hail alternative therapy!

INTRODUCING: The Chocolate Museum in Brixton

3 Jul

In a quiet lane off Brixton’s High Street lies a deliciously decadent treasure: The Chocolate Museum. An inconspicuous, grey exterior hides a quaint selection of memorabilia, curated by founder Isabelle Alaya.

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The award-winning chocolatier is also the creator of Melange Chocolates and has an infectious passion for one of the UK’s most devoured treats! Alaya insisted on opening the museum in a borough with Ghanaian and West Indian diaspora – reflecting the cocoa growing communities across the globe.

Split over two small floors, the basement museum sits beneath a street-level café, which offers a range of mouth-watering chocolates for purchase (including an earthy Bergamot and Cinnamon variety which, incidentally, bakes very well in a chocolate brownie).

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The exhibit itself is a compact affair, dedicated to the history of chocolate in Britain (from Fry’s to Cadbury), and requires no more than 20 minutes to view – great for fidgety kids!

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Subsequently, the venue is a popular destination for school trips, attracting large groups during term-time. As well as enjoying the museum, pupils are also taught to make chocolate truffles – a fun-filled, messy, highlight of their day!

The museum runs a popular schedule of regular events, from Italian-inspired The Aperitif (a monthly cocktail and buffet night) to a range of workshops suitable for all ages. From hen groups to children’s birthday parties, Isabelle and her team create bespoke packages to suit all budgets.

Don’t end your visit without ordering Isabelle’s incredible hot chocolate – chunks of rich, dark chocolate, melted slowly into warming milk. Served in a white cup, it looks like molten brown lava and smells unbearably good! The flavour is as gratifying as one would expect: indulgent and nutty.

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The Chocolate Museum & Café, 187 Ferndale Road, Brixton, London, SW9 8BA.

Please visit the museum’s website for opening hours. Entry is free although donations are welcome.

REVIEW: Ethical Canapé Workshop at Made In Hackney

1 Jul

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The kitchen counter was laden with a rainbow of vegetables and sauces. A tantalising aroma permeated the air – the smell of goat’s cheese and vegetable tarts baking in the oven. As the hum of excited chatter grew increasingly loud, two eager students added garlic and herbs to a blitz of Salsa Verde. The blender whirled as other students sliced slivers of courgettes and carrots into elegant towers. The class was in full swing and we were on a roll: Making Ethical Canapés was inspiring work.

Under the tutelage of chef and supperclub extraordinaire, Ian Ballantyne, the Sunday workshop at community kitchen Made In Hackney was a delicious extravaganza of flavour, colour and fun.

It was Ian’s first class for adults at the venue, which is dedicated to teaching people (including teens) how to grow and cook healthy food. Occupying two floors, the stylish kitchen is only one half of the not-for-profit organisation. The basement facility is located under their shop above, which is stacked with a magnificent selection of healthy and natural foods.

Stepping into the kitchen, we were dazzled by an array of raw ingredients, from herbs and avocadoes to apples and onions. Ian had us paired up for chopping, slicing and mashing in no time, steadily preparing the ingredients for the next stage – compliling the canapés.

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We started by soaking rice paper wrappers to make exquisite vegetable spring rolls, filled with shredded carrots, spring onions, apple and cucumber. Topped with a sprinkle of one of Ian’s homemade sauces, including a heady garlic concoction, each bite of crunchy veggies and squidgy paper was addictive. Fresh ingredients never tasted so good!

With Ian’s relaxed style and infectious enthusiasm, we were inspired to try bolder combinations. Courgette strips wrapped around tangy goat’s cheese, pomegranate and guacamole? Cool. Bread slices loaded with butternut squash, herbs and onions? Lovely. Cooked potato discs topped with Salsa Verde, apple and carrot? Exquisite.

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Priced at a £5 donation – a definite under-charge for what was worth much more – the workshop was lively and inspiring. We were actively encouraged to experiment, make mistakes, push the boundaries and take risks – a free reign that was liberating and fun!

With only nine students in total, the intimate class was a great way to meet new people and gain new skills. Best of all, the sense of achievement at the end – when we got to eat the fruits of our labour – felt exceedingly wicked! Highly recommended!

Top 5 Things Of The Week (June 24th -30th)

30 Jun

I’ve decided to launch a regular rundown showcasing the Top 5 new things I have discovered or experienced each week. It always amazes me how many moments there are in my day where I find and enjoy something new. This week was full of some amazing discoveries, from food to workshops, and blogging about them gives me a chance to remind myself of all the wonderful little things in life that are there to help us through even the worst or most mundane days or weeks. Here are my highlights from the past seven days:

#1 Pork Pie By What The Dickens

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The dapper trio that form ‘What The Dickens’ have managed to do the unthinkable; make me eat – and like – a pork pie. Read my separate blog post about my newfound love of pork pie for the full explanation of my bias against the traditional British grub and how a delicious, Christmas-spiced variety bought from these gentlemen has revolutionised my summer picnic menu.

#2 – Ethical Canapé Workshop with Ian Ballantyne at Made In Hackney

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A full workshop review will follow soon but, suffice to say, learning to make canapés with ethically sourced local ingredients under the guidance of supperclub extraordinaire Ian Ballantyne was fun, educational, inspirational and a great way to meet new people.

#3 – Cupcakes by Rebel Bakery

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I love anything which takes the normal and turns it on its head and the guys at ‘Rebel Bakery’ do this brilliantly with their range of sweet treats made with vegetables. A vanilla sponge has courgette in the mixture, while chocolate is made with carrot. Try both flavours in the stunning Rebel Burger cupcake; fun, delicious and different.

#4 – Ceramics Glazing With Doodle Designs

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Who knew that painting quirky porcelain shapes could be so much fun? North London based ‘Doodle Designs’ offer classes for all the family and there’s nothing more satisfying than making your own ceramic ware – from brooches to ornaments – before getting to paint them in a range of pretty colours: I can’t wait to see what my pieces will look like after their final firing!

#5 Doughnuts By You Doughnut!

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Why did no-one tell me about these guys before? Their freshly made, airy doughnuts with a delicious choice of toppings including nuts, sugar strands, marshmallows and chocolate or caramel sauce are sinfully good!

REVIEW: Jewellery Week Free Workshops

22 Jun

As an Arts and Crafts enthusiast on a limited budget, I always keep a beady eye out for free workshops in London that will allow me to try my hand at new skills. Jewellery Week is one of my favourite events in the annual calendar because aside from showcasing the amazing work of up-and-coming young designers, the organisers always ensure a mixture of workshops and tutorials are offered as part of the schedule.

This year, I was able to partake in no less than three workshops – at no cost. Previously, I’ve had to travel to Islington or further inwards but the action finally came to the heart of North London as part of Open Studios and Art Trail events which were incorporated into this year’s Jewellery Week.

Over a single weekend (June 8th & 9th), the trail led me on a wonderful journey through the multicultural areas of Palmers Green and Southgate, hopping from coffee shops to high street retailers showcasing local jewellery designs and handmade wares. Space Gallery, on Southgate High Street became my second home for the weekend and was where I tried out three new experiences.

Workshop #1 – One of the things on my Bucket List happens to be Glass Forming so you can imagine my excitement when I saw this listed as part of the program. I signed up immediately and counted down until the day. Unfortunately, due to a difficulty with insurance (it was unobtainable!), the workshop ended up being a demonstration rather than an interactive class. That said, watching Ruth Berenbaum of Fyrbox turn tubes of Pyrex into marbled ornaments using coloured crushed glass and a fearsome looking bunson burner was spectacular.

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Workshop #2 – A Ceramics workshop hosted by Doodle Designs offered the chance to make both ornaments and brooches from porcelain, which looked and felt very similar to slabs of clay. Feeling like a kid with a new Play-Dough kit, I had my own area to roll, shape and stamp this putty into a range of pretty designs which I eventually handed to tutor Christina Stavrinides to be fired for free. There’s even the option to paint my creations before a second firing next weekend (for a £5 fee) which I will, of course, partake in.

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Workshop #3 – I’ve tried my hand at making metal jewellery before but the Silversmithing masterclass by Steve Wager FIPG of S.E.W Ltd was one of the most interesting and exciting workshops I have ever attended. Listening to him explain the history of the trade and the reasons behind its decline in the United Kingdom was genuinely fascinating. Plus, I got to try my hand at making a spoon which involved a wonderfully cathartic session with a hammer! Of course, I managed to whack my thumb, but that was all part of the fun! It was amazing to see a tiny, thin piece of silver repeatedly bashed, heated and cooled (a process known as ‘annealing’) to transform it into a spoon. I’ve already resolved to try more Silversmithing classes and can’t wait to have another try. Steve is one of the UK’s last remaining fully-fledged silversmiths/goldsmiths/jewellers. He was made a Freeman of the City of London and of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths upon completion of a five year apprenticeship served under his ‘master’, Algernon Asprey. Yes, Asprey, as in the Crown jewellers on Bond Street! Take a look at some of his mesmerising work:

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A tiny piece of silver turns into a spoon in three stages

The benefits of funded Arts and Crafts initiatives are multiple; community driven, they bring people from all demographics together in creative environments to learn, socialise and discover.

I feel passionately that more free workshops for both adults and kids will have a positive effect on society. Learning to create something is calming and stress-busting as well as keeping your brain and limbs active, helping with coordination and concentration. And let’s not forget the satisfaction generated by producing something original by hand – it’s confidence boosting and creates a sense of self-worth. Furthermore, the social barriers that are broken during a class where everyone is embarking on the same creative endeavour can only be a good thing. My experience is that you end up conversing with, and helping, all kinds of like-minded people who wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to socialise together elsewhere. It’s not often that you see strangers in every age group – from child to pensioner – laughing together outside of a family circle.

I hope that Local Authorities will invest more into the Community and Arts sectors but I fear government cuts will render this difficult. Still, it’s not impossible and it’s time Council representatives had a look at how best to create more opportunities for families and adults to develop new skills. I hope to get back on the Open Studios and Arts Trail next year, with lots of family and friends who have enjoyed hearing of my recent experiences, so let’s hope Enfield Council and Jewellery Week both have the vision to support it and keep up the good work.