It sure is cold in London. I've been having at least one hot chocolate a day. It is some compensation for the amount of time it takes to get dressed in seven layers and still find myself cold. My two favourite hot chocolates so far have been at Rococo Chocolates (it's a blend which includes Grenadian Chocolate) and Maitre Choux, who use Valrhona and have just opened their third boutique on the Kings Road in Chelsea.
I have been eating out a lot to make up for missed time with my holiday and hospital recovery. Some highlights:
1. Comte Fries at Levan in Peckham. All of our vegetarian lunch dishes were sensational but the Comte "fries", made with polenta, are so unbelievably moreish and exactly the standard of food I was missing while we were in Barbados.
2. I went to Hubbard & Bell on the invitation of a friend Natalie Seddon who designed a menu for them. I chose the lentils with tempura tofu, bok choy and sugar snap peas and it was one of the nicest healthy lunches I've had in a long time. The chocolate clementine marquise I undid my virtue with afterwards was also pretty great.
Hubbard & Bell are also part of the Taste Tripper Coffee Explorer Pack and you get 50% off food on Sunday night and all day Monday!
3. This week I went to try the new healthy menu at Pho. I eat here at least a few times a year with my own money, but this was an invitation. They've made dishes with cauliflower "rice" and with strips of courgettes instead of noodles. I loved them. The flavour was as good as their regular dishes and it felt good to be eating more veg. I do always find most pho and ramen too full of noodles and too lacking in veg. It is lower in calories so won't keep you full as long unless you add a side, starter or dessert. No real problem there!
4. I went to Pachama East during their soft launch. They've got some kinks to work out but if you decide to go at some point don't miss ordering the tapioca marshmallows. One of the most interesting textures and flavours for a starter. It's also on the menu at their sister restaurant Chicama on Kings Road where I had a faultless meal in 2017.
5. A friend and I had lunch at Ottolenghi's newest restaurant, Rovi. We ordered a mix of vegetarian plates. The highlights were the tempura herbs and stems with a schezuan, mandarin and lime vinegar (such a great change from a savoury salt sauce) and the hay-smoked pink fir apples potatoes with creme fraiche.
1. The cinnamon bun at Hideaway. At £5 (before service!) this tipped the scales at worthiness of price (the rhubarb brioche was a truly stomach churning £9) but as a one-off to try it was special - laced with cinnamon, perfectly crispy and flaky and also soft and moist with tiny chunks of sweet, sharp apple. Absolutely worth trying once.
2. Cocoa Butter Chai at Chai By Mira in the Triyoga in Kingly Court - this would have made my top hot chocolate though it's not a pure hot chocolate like the others. A blend of Mira Manek's Chai, peanut butter and cocoa. This is pure heaven, and even better with her "not fudge" on the side. (I bought our chai drinks but Mira happened to be there and after chatting she gave me the sweets before she left.)
3. Johnny from The Pudding Stop in St Albans sent me a few of his new cook-at-home puddings. The baked cookie dough was so comforting on these freezing days. They aren't cheap but they are perfectly portioned (they look small but end up being just right) and made exactly how they should be at home, but probably better than most of us can make.
4. The lovely Bruno Bakes has returned to London and opened in the back of a cocktail bar on Brick Lane (no. 202). Please go and seek him out as he makes such interesting and delicious things. I bought his chocolate almond babka which was excellent and his Pistachio Pistachio Cake which could not have had more pistachios in it, a real treat.
5. I ventured to SECakery's six-month old cafe in Dulwich because I won a tray of salted caramel brownies through an Instagram competition and stopped for a hot chocolate. As we were there until close the lovely owner sent my friend and I away with their S'mores Cookie Sandwich, too. It was gorgeous. A really thick dark chocolate ganache that balanced the sweetness of the fluffy torched marshmallow and homemade chocolate chip cookies. I definitely want to go back to try more of the menu.
I hope you don't mind it being a long one! If you ever have any questions about places I've eaten, please just ask. I prefer not to write about what I don't like so it's possible I've been to more places than I mention and tried more things on the menu that I cover. :-)
Later this week I'll send some Valentine's gift suggestions!
See what I'm seeing tasting on Instagram @jennifer.earle (more in stories than in the squares!).
Say hi on Twitter @chocolateguide.