The lighter way to enjoy chocolate
Sophie Morris visits The Northall's artisan chocolatier Damian Allsop and discovers a new way to enjoy chocolate.
It does Damian Allsop a disservice to call him a chocolatier. He is a creative, an artist and a gastronomic wizard. I’m trying not to gush too much, but tasting one of his chocolates, which he makes for a roll call of top restaurants, is not something you forget in a hurry.
For weeks after I try his caramelised banana and passionfruit ganache, I am dragging it out from my “favourite eating memories” recess and rehashing the experience: the perfectly smooth oblong chocolate gives way to a melting warmth of the caramelised banana chocolate filling, which has the burnt, sticky notes of a banoffee pudding.
Then, just as you’re sinking into the gooey pudding comfort blanket, comes the sharp exotic tang of passionfruit.
It is too easy to describe Allsop as a Willy Wonka, but the hat certainly fits in this case. His problem-solving approach to chocolate, coupled with a dreamy inventiveness has led him to develop an entirely new method of making chocolates.
After years working as a head pastry chef in Michelin-starred restaurants such as Gordon Ramsay’s Aubergine and Giorgio Locatelli’s Locanda Locatelli, in 2002 he was introduced to the exclusive Chuao chocolate from Amadei.
Like water for chocolate
Allsop didn’t want to lose the quality of this wonderful chocolate’s flavour, and noticed that the ingredients usually mixed with chocolate to make desserts and ganaches, such as cream and sugar, did just that. He decided to find a way to mix water with chocolate to make his products, thus preserving its flavour.
“Chocolate is as complex and exciting as a single malt whisky or a good wine,” explains Allsop in his Kent chocolate factory, where he is giving lovefood.com a crash course on the structure of chocolate and his unique methods. “Chocolate is a very egotistical and high maintenance product.”
He lovingly describes how different cocoa pods are: they might be green, yellow, red or brown; some are smooth, others ridged. They are quite hard to grow, and the various processes, that end with the pods being roasted, pureed and ready for use, affect the flavour – just as in wine production.
Good quality chocolate should have three distinct notes. First, the acidity or bitterness; then fruit flavours, which might be berries or orchard fruits such as plums and apricots; and finally, the nutty, coffee or toasty hits to round off.
Once Allsop had discovered his water method, he realised he could mix his chocolate with other ingredients without losing the integrity of its flavour.
He sells his own range online and in some specialist shops and Liberty and creates bespoke items for restaurants including Claude Bosi’s Hibiscus, Angela Hartnett’s Murano and London’s swankiest new hotel, The Corinthia in Whitehall.
We’re here with Garry Hollihead, executive head chef of The Corinthia, to sample Allsop’s creations for the hotel’s restaurants and bars. Hollihead decided to use the best of British food in The Northall restaurant and knew that Allsop’s chocolates would complement the mix perfectly.
Of the other chocolates we try, the Macae dark, an unadulterated ganache, is sublime. The Tonka bean, a South American spice, brings bitter almond and honey notes to the party.
Then there are the freeze-dried raspberries - coated in white chocolate inside one of Allsop’s pieces of high-tech machinery, which most resembles a cement mixer but is, of course, far gentler with its quarry – with chocolate mint, for which the essential flavour of fresh mint has been extracted and preserved in frozen form.
The water isn’t just any old water: it is local, certified organic spring water, filtered next door to the factory.
“We use it for clarity of flavour and provenance,” explains Allsop. “Like with wine, every step of chocolate production adds something and is very important.”
Another benefit of this method is that the resulting chocs are much lighter than if they had been made with cream and sugar – therefore there’s a better chance you will enjoy a few after a big meal. As if we needed more excuses!
We are au fait with the custom of after dinner chocolate, but ordering chocolate in a smart bar, to accompany a cocktail, is an unusual prospect. I refer you to the tequila slammers served in The Corinthia’s seductive speakeasy, the Bassoon Bar.
This is no Jose Cuervo served in a cheap shot glass. Allsop has interpreted the infamous slammer into an amazing chocolate: a plastic pipette of tequila pokes out of a round truffle dusted with shards of sea salt.
Squirt the tequila down your throat, bite into the salty end of the chocolate and then polish off the rest, which provides a hit of vibrant lime. As well as perfecting a lighter way to enjoy chocolate, Allsop has pioneered a tastier way to enjoy tequila. Can’t argue with that.
Also worth your attention:
The most unusual chocolate flavours
The most delicious dark chocolates
Bruce Poole’s hot chocolate pudding
The best way to melt chocolate
Elizabeth David's chocolate mousse
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