Well, there's no getting away from it now - Christmas is fast hoving into view.
Okay, let's get all the sighing, "oh my god-ing" and "it's too soon-ing" over with now, shall we? ............. pause ............ Right then, feel better? Let's get on with the review, just in case you were considering investing in some of these lovely goodies.
Hotel Chocolat is - you won't be surprised to hear - a company who grow their own cocoa and manufacture chocolate products. However, there is more to them than that, as it seems they also have a real genuine Hotel in Saint Lucia, West Indies! So it's not just a name!
They also appear to be engaged in a programme of helping to improve the livelihoods (Kind of like "Fair Trade") of local cocoa farmers both in Saint Lucia and Ghana. All of which is good to hear, in the light of recent dreadful news regarding child labour on cocoa plantations.
So, it isn't altogether unexpected that their chocolate products are - pretty much - all aimed at the high end chocolate market, both in price and quality. It's no good going to their website hoping to pick up a Galaxy-sized housebrick of a bar of chocolate for less than £2 - that just isn't going to happen.
However, if you are either looking for something a bit above the ordinary or you habitually do your weekly shopping at Waitrose & Marks & Spencers - or even Harrods, god forbid! - then you are the perfect customer for Hotel Chocolat. (At the risk of alienating any readers who indeed are lucky enough to shop regularly at Waitrose et al. *chuckle*).
I was sent two chocolate products to review - the "Santa's Secret Pick-me-up Gift Bag", plus a box of their "Alternative Mince Pies".
Dealing with the Alternative Mince Pies first, these were a success with everyone in the house. Described as "milk chocolate cups, filled with layers of praline and salted caramel", they live up to their description in everything except the praline. We were expecting a hard praline, but instead found a soft almost ganache-like praline which tasted completely lovely, but the overall impression was one of squishiness (albeit gorgeous squishiness) rather than texture.
However, the comment regarding the praline isn't a criticism of the recipe, but more a recommendation regarding the written description, which could have been more accurate. After all, when you're spending £7.50 on 95g of chocolate, it's good to know what you're getting!
Moving on to the "Santa's Secret Pick-me-up Bag", I have to admit to feeling a little dissatisfied with the description versus the reality, once again.
The bag is described as "Beautiful little fabric gift bags finished with thick golden ribbon and filled with Christmas specialities for surprise treats or goody bags for your guests or work colleagues! Contents: Mini wreath, 70% dark chocolate bar and two milk truffle stars".
From both the description and the accompanying photograph, I was expecting something a bit larger. However, having looked again, I notice that each bag contains just 160g of chocolate products. At £10 per bag, that makes each gram of chocolate approximately 6p. Transposing that into High Street chocolate, would make your average 125g bar of Galaxy, £7.50 instead of the current £1. Which I hope gives you some perspective.
The whole thing turns upon whether you consider a neat little linen bag with lovely thick gold ribbon, worth the extra financial investment.
The products inside the bag are totally delicious and our favourite of them was the Mini Christmas Wreath. I am sure that its description will have your mouth watering - "The crunch of caramelised hazelnuts and cookie pieces, with colourful flashes of succulent cranberries, all stirred into our mellow 40% milk chocolate and a little 70% dark chocolate to add even deeper chocolaty notes". I can tell you - that chocolate was so thick, it was not easy to break into pieces! You just can't eat this baby in a ladylike fashion - it's a case of bulging cheeks and lots of "mmmmnnnn-ing".
The 70% Dark Chocolate Bar was very cute, depicting a Christmas penguin - and slipped across the tongue as easily as penguins slip across the ice. Being decadent and luxurious in flavour, it was fun to have it presented in such a way.
The two milk truffle stars were nice, but a bit of a nonentity when viewed in the shadow of the mighty wreath. Still, they were gloriously chocolatey and truffley and did what they were expected to, so who could ask for more of them, really?
Overall, I was very glad to have received both products and would like to thank Hotel Chocolat for the opportunity of enjoying their products and reviewing them here on Rhubarb & Ginger. One last word - I've just noticed on their website that they do Christmas Hampers. So there you are - if you've got someone who you really really want to impress, why not push the boat out!