As the capital plays host to a chocoholics dream come true - the UK's first international festival devoted to chocolate - chefs are creating exotic and unusual dishes flavoured with the pungent bean.
At the Four Seasons on Park Lane, the executive chef Eric Deblonde started experimenting with chocolate in savoury recipes when he had to cater for a Spanish banquet. "I created a spicy pineapple chocolate drink and things developed from there," says Eric, who explains that using chocolate in savoury recipes has been popular in Mexican cooking for years. "In France," he adds, "we would add chocolate to finish off a pigeon dish - to give it a bit of power - and I started to try this with other game as well."
Eric has now created the afore-mentioned afternoon-tea menu inspired by chocolate, including sandwiches with spicy duck with chocolate kumquats, and monkfish and leek civet with chocolate. "People do raise an eyebrow when you first use chocolate in a savoury way, but I think we are getting more used to it," says Eric. Although that won't mean that he'll be tucking in. "I'm just not a chocolate man myself," he admits. "If I did have anything sweet it would be a simple tarte tatin."
The International Festival of Chocolate, which the organisers describe as many people's "greatest fantasy", will be the largest gathering of chocolate experts and producers ever held in the UK. With a diminishing number of shopping days to Christmas, it's well timed.
Top chocolatiers and chefs, including Eric Deblonde, will be performing in the Chocolate Cooking Demonstration Theatre, whilst students from the Royal College of Art will be sculpting huge blocks of Cadbury's chocolate.
The festival isn't just about eating chocolate, either. There will also be a chocolate bar where you can sample everything from hot to cold, alcoholic to non-alcoholic chocolate drinks.
International Festival of Chocolate, The Royal Horticultural Halls, Greycoat Street, London SW1 (01634 296005) Fri 27 to Sun 29 Nov. pounds 5 in advance, pounds 7.50 on the door
The Four Seasons (left)
Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London W1 (0171-499 0888)
The Chocolate Afternoon Tea (pounds 21.50) is served in the hotel lounge. As well as savoury sandwiches, there are French pastries, chocolate drop- scones, white and dark chocolate sorbet and spicy pineapple drinking chocolate.
1 Pont Street, London SW1 (0171-259 6116)
Chef Stephen Whitney does a duck and bitter chocolate soup, which he says is great on cold winter days.
50 Earlham Street, London WC2 (0171-813 2233)
72 Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 (0171-267 0718)
Also opening on 18 Nov:
The Old Granary, Queen Charlotte Street, Bristol (0117-905 800)
Belgo chef Richard Coates has, in the past, experimented with white chocolate and halibut and asparagus with white chocolate - they also serve a chocolate schnapps.
13 Heath Street, Hampstead, London NW3 (0171-794 8386.)
Chef Michael Gresslin is a bit of a traditionalist when he uses chocolate. He puts it in desserts, but he does add something else to pep it up a bit - curry powder. Manager Robert Holland admits that when customers try their curried chocolate fritters, with caramelised bananas and honey, the smell can be a bit off-putting at first, but he says the taste is worth it!Reuse content