Last night I was lucky enough to try the full cocoa experience at Hotel Chocolat's new restaurant, Roast and Conch. Roast + Conch have restaurants in both London and Leeds and I was very excited to experience real chocolate in my home city, Leeds. The restaurant is a new addition to Leeds and I feel very proud to have such an incredible restaurant/bar and experience available to everyone in the city. The photographs will hopefully help share my experience with you, all I'm going to say is, this is so much more than just a restaurant or bar, you're in for a delicious ride...
On arrival, we were taken to the on-site chocolatiers and taught about the art of chocolate making. We were educated on cocoa beans and shown how Hotel Chocolat use them - Hotel Chocolat has been my favourite chocolate shop for a long time so it's too exciting that they've now opened this new venture. They explained to us that long before anyone added a grain of sugar to cocoa, the beans were loved simply for their deep, savoury richness, they were roasted, shelled and eaten like nuts, and crushed for use as an infusion, garnish and subtle spice, and this is what Roast + Conch do throughout their bar and restaurant.
We tasted the cocoa beans in their purest form, before they were turned into chocolate.
I asked a lot of questions, for example how did the chocolatiers get into such a cool job and what is their favourite chocolate - they've tried so many exciting flavours and their knowledge on chocolate is just next level.
We tasted the Vietnamese chocolate, which got me super excited as I'm going on a trip to Vietnam this Easter. I usually just eat chocolate for pure pleasure, so it was really nice to take my time and properly taste the chocolate and see how different it tastes when it doesn't have loads of added sugar and additives, it's weird, but you can almost taste the sheer care and passion that's gone into the making of these chocolates. The Vietnamese chocolate was probably my favourite, it had such a fruity flavour and then a zesty after taste, really peculiar but super delicious.
We were shown the process of roasting and conching (hence the name). I was interested to learn that it takes about 48 hours to make chocolate from the start and they make their chocolate on site.
It's really exciting that the chocolates are made in front of you, in store and actually it's quite magical because I've never seen it done before.
Next we were taken to the bar where we tried Roast and Conch's special spirits and cocktails.
The shells from the chocolatier aren't wasted, instead, they're used at the bar, as garnish or to add extra flavour.
We tried an abundance of drinks, including the Hotel Chocolat cocoa gin and my favourite, the cocoa ale. I'm not a large spirit or ale drinker, but even I liked these drinks - cocoa vodka is well worth a try.
The cocoa bitters natural flavouring for cocktails tasted divine, it has such a yummy toffee after taste.
The hand picked selection of drinks at the bar is truly mind-blowing, but do not fear, the bar staff are more than helpful and will sit with you and talk you through everything you need to know. Joe was serving us and we couldn't have asked for a better bar man, his knowledge about alcohol was more than impressive and he clearly has a passion for the company.
I went for the chocolate soother cockail, which has real chocolate inside it (oh my gosh). I could live on chocolate/cocoa cocktails, I'm not sure I want to go back to normal cocktails after this experience.
This is the most delicious cocktail, the bitter taste of the alcohol is taken away by the rich cocoa, but this isn't at all sickly, it's actually quite soothing.
The cocktails are quite expensive, but the sheer passion that goes into them (not to mention the taste) makes it worth the extra pound or so.
The bar has a Caribbean feel to it, even more so when you notice their extensive collection of rums, from all over the world.
I could happily have spent all night at the bar.
But it was time to move into the restaurant...
Up the winding stairs, away from the bar, is a beautifully intimate restaurant, the restaurant is quite big, with lovely big glass windows and you can see the Leeds streets through them, but somehow, it still feels intimate and romantic.
The restaurant has a really romantic feel to it, particularly the booth that we were sat in, we stayed there all night, no-one rushed our meal and our waitress Victoria, helped us with everything. She told us what her favourite dishes were and helped us decide what to eat - we literally couldn't choose, everything sounded too good.
The menu is West Indian inspired and everything has a hint of the cocoa bean in it. Again, Victoria taught us so much about Hotel Chocolat as a company and the cocoa bean, it's clear that Roast + Conch train their staff very well and choose staff who are genuinely passionate about working there.
You're given pure cocoa beans on your table to taste, grind, crush - whatever you fancy. This would be the coolest place to come on a first date.
We were given this cute little soup before our starters came, it was really soothing.
I probably shouldn't have had another cocktail, but I couldn't resist the pretty pink - a feminine cocktail which was very similar to a Bellini, fit for a princess, it even comes complete with an edible flower. I'll definitely be bringing my girlies here on our next night out, I can't wait to sample more of the girlie cocktails - they're so much more natural and tasty than the standard student cocktail.
We ordered from Cocoa Nib Bread with dips, they come with chocolate balsamic, cocoa pesto and nib butter (nibs are the crushed beans - sorry if my technicalities are wrong, you have to experience it to believe it). The bread alone was delicious and had a nice crunch to it and cocoa butter shouldn't taste so good on bread (I'm used to putting it on my skin) - but it did and does. The pesto is the best pesto I've ever tasted, if cocoa adds so much flavour to things, I feel like it should be a staple in all kitchens.
The starters arrived promptly, we shared the 'Not-So-Scotch' egg, a free range hen's egg cloaked in softened pearl barley and penny bun mushrooms with a cocoa-nib crust and roast leeks and garlic. Easily the best scotch egg I've ever had. We couldn't get enough of it.
We also went for the Yorkshire pudding, filled with slow-cooked pulled pork, garlic mash and red wine cocoa gravy. What an adorable starter, not to mention how well presented the food is, almost too beautiful to eat.
It was time for the mains, I went for the chicken roti, Roast and Conch put their spin on this traditional Saint Lucian staple, a home made cocoa-nib wrap filled with ground provision vegetables, slowly cooked in curried coconut sauce cocoa pilau rice, crunchy sweet potato crisps, raita and a green leaf salad.
I kind of felt like I should have been in the Bahamas eating this, it really did have an exotic feel to it. None of the food that I ate felt particularly unhealthy, something I was worried about as most of you know, I've been trying to get toned and fit (read how here) but at Roast and Conch they use cocoa before it's turned into chocolate so you get the rich flavours, rather than the added calories.
Jack went for the Roast + Conch hamburger - how could he not? The burger comes complete with hand-chopped rump steak, with a twist of cocoa, confit of onion, vintage cheddar and crisp, dry cure bacon. This comes complete in a homemade 'cocoa pod' bread bun, with sweet potato ribbons and onion rings. This comes in at £15.00, I think this is pretty reasonable for such an incredible burger with such exquisite ingredients. It's worth noting that they don't give you a steak, drizzled in chocolate (that's what I expected), it's so much more thoughtful and tasty than that.
We went for the white chocolate mash as a side - everyone raves about this and I can see why. It didn't taste sickly, it just tasted a lot more flavoursome and I feel like every sunday roast should come complete with white chocolate mash now.
After too many cocktails, it was time for some tap water - even the tap water is displayed beautifully.
My dress is from MissGuided, lots of you asked on Instagram! (I love it) Similar here for just £20.00.
After too many cocktails and a lot of food, it was time to open the menu one last time *sobs* and reach for the desserts. For the first time in my life, I didn't have room for a dessert. Hotel Chocolat (or Roast and Conch) clearly appreciate this, and if you don't want to try (or don't have room for) their brownie, pecan pie or the chocolate mousse collection (they have so many amazing desserts, but I'd have gone for one of those if I had room) they're more than happy to bring you The Tray Of Temptation - anytime you feel like a hit of chocolate, just call over your waitress and they'll bring you a selection of 16 creations made by the chocolatiers.
Jack went for the billionaires shortbread and the passionfruit Valentines special, aw.
I enjoyed my praline treat.
As we left the restaurant, we had a quick look around the shop. It's worth noting that the staff are all incredibly helpful and friendly, you don't feel at all obliged to buy anything, it isn't like a gift shop at the end of a museum where they force you to walk through it, me and Jack chose to stay and have a look. I didn't realise that Hotel Chocolat even make their own cocoa butter toiletries, as an avid beauty lover, I had to show you my favourites...
I'll certainly be heading back to treat myself to some of their natural products so that I can review them for you all. After seeing just how much love and passion goes into their food, I'd love to test out their equally beautiful toiletries.
We had one final look at the Valentines range (I wish I saw this before as I could easily add half of this to my Valentines day gift guide).
I got a little bit excited when I saw that you could actually but the cocoa beer, cocoa gin and my favourite, the pesto. I bought my Mum some Valentines chocolates and we got a discount because we'd eaten at the restaurant, result!
We waved goodbye to Boar Lane's new and more than welcome addition, Roast + Conch, both blown away by what a night, and what an experience we had. This wasn't an ordinary Friday night and this certainly isn't an ordinary restaurant, whether you're just popping in for a hot chocolate, a few cocktails, a hand made chocolate or the full experience, I can hand on heart say that these staff will cater to your every need. Roast and Conch can't be described as a bar, a restaurant or a shop, it's everything you could want rolled into one. I felt relaxed and cared for all evening, there was nothing stuffy about the place, everyone was smiley and friendly. I am so impressed by the establishment that I am hoping to email the founders of Hotel Chocolat, their staff are impressivley trained, but not in a robotic way, they all have a genuine passion for the company and for the cocoa bean - it's so lovely to see such a fresh addition to the high street and one that I hope will extend to a high street near you soon. I was nervous that I wouldn't like the food, scared that it would be too rich and sickly, but the cocoa just adds an exciting flavour and it really is something that everyone could enjoy.
Thank you so much to Roast+Conch for having me, a night I won't forget for a long time. I can't wait to visit again.
Do you like Hotel Chocolat? Have you ever heard of/been to Roast+Conch? Do you like the idea of this? Are you a chocolate lover?
Lots of love, Em x
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