First, the shop. What a beautiful place. Located on gorgeous Motcomb Street in poshest London (Belgravia, for the uninitiated), and opposite another fabulous foodie destination, Ottolenghi, Rococo is an oasis of all things chocolate and... well, Rococo. It was warm, inviting, visually appealing in every way, and wonderfully spacious. A real browser’s delight.
And it doesn’t just sell chocolates. It sells a range of teas, coffees, and hot chocolate (well, of course) – all with the option of truffles in accompaniment. Mmmmm.....
The workshop itself was divided in half: one half devoted to actually making the ganache, and the other half an introduction to chocolate and a tutored tasting by Chantal Coady, the woman who started Rococo back in the eighties, straight out of art school. Talk about having vision.
I opted to start in the group making the ganache – a fortunate decision, as it turned out, as we overran... So we got the benefit of even more time with the chocolatier, the lovely Laurent, than planned.
Not a moment of that time was wasted. Laurent was an excellent tutor – engaging, amusing, but absolutely dedicated to the process of making perfect chocolates. This wasn’t just a ‘play’ session – this was for real. Gulp.
We learnt about the chemistry of making the perfect ganache, and then learnt how to look for the signs of it all going right or wrong at every stage. And it requires a fine and experienced eye. The tiniest amount of graininess (imperceptible to all of us except for beady-eyed Laurent) to the chocolate/cream/butter mixture indicates trouble – with the patience of a saint on a very generous retainer, Laurent showed us how to use a hand blender and the microwave to rescue it.
Finally, after much beating and cajoling, the mixture turns from being slick and shiny to something more ‘fulsome’, for want of a better word, and with more of a sheen than a shine. And this is the perfect ganache – not a stodgy mix of the ingredients, like the truffles I’ve made before using a Nigel Slater ‘recipe’, but a smoother-than-smooth liquid emulsion. A perfect blend of fat and water. Genuine magic. Alchemy, even.
We each then poured our glossy ganaches into plastic cartons for chilling in the fridge (so that the ganache could firm up) before going back upstairs to the shop for the second part of the afternoon.
in that there container is a minor fortune's worth of ganache. The couverture alone that went into it was about seven quids' worth. And yes, I am going to eat it all. And no, I don't need any help.
And then, the tasting. For Chantal, it’s all about ‘character’. Invariably, she said, she thinks of different types of bars as having their own distinct personality, and this is how she remembers them. The case in point here was Rococo’s Manjari bar, a feisty, lively ‘lady in red’ (her words, not mine) head-turning bar – the Penelope Cruz of chocolate bars. And so it was. We tried about 4 others in addition, including a typical English ‘gent’ bar (I wish I could remember which that was – her point was that it was quite traditional in taste, like a good claret, but without a particular punch or spiciness), as well as the GCC’s own bar – a delicious, very ‘pure’ tasting bar.
And then she proved to us that darker isn't always better – something that many people believe, apparently – by having us taste an 85% cocoa dark chocolate. Perhaps we would have believed anything she said, being in the presence of someone so knowledgeable and impressive, but I don’t think so. The chocolate lacked ‘roundness’: it was very blunt in its taste, and the taste didn’t really develop in the mouth on melting. At the same time, the texture was less smooth than others we tried, being almost muddy.
And finally, a shock. She gave us one more chocolate bar to taste, and asked us what we thought it tasted of. For me, it tasted just like a bar (the producer of which shall remain nameless) I'd tasted a couple of weeks ago or so – mouldy. And that’s what it was. Apparently, lesser producers are will use even mouldy cocoa beans in their production, and then hope to mask the taste with cranking up the proportion of other ingredients such as vanilla, or worse, vanillin. This tasting – and the one I did earlier - was proof that it’s a strategy that doesn’t work. One mouldy bean, said Chantal, wrecks the whole batch of chocolate, and should never be allowed to past muster. Evidently, not all chocolatiers are as scrupulous as she is.
The day finished with a go at making truffles from our ganache – by scooping them out with a melon baller (harder than it looks - the scooping is fine, but it's the getting them off the baller that's the tricky part) and then rolling them in cocoa or tiny flakes of chocolate.
my truffles. Which sadly didn't survive the journey home too well.
the best chocolate bars in town
But now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off for a mouthful of Penelope Cruz...