From the moment it arrived on Leeds’ streets, Hotel Chocolat’s Roast + Conch restaurant and bar always held intrigue for me.
Through the window, you can see its deep brown banquette seating and a warm orange glow of light and you know that inside they are cooking up food and drink in honour of the beloved cocoa bean. My first visit and taste – a nightcap of salted caramel hot chocolate – gave me goosebumps and lived up to all expectations.
So imagine how quickly I said ‘yes’ when invited to a blogger evening to try out the new menu.
Roast + Conch serves up Anglo-West Indian food, inspired by the 1745 ‘Rabot’ cacao estate in the Caribbean, which Hotel Chocolat bought 10 years ago. Their menu, first seen in the open-air cocoa estate kitchen of Hotel Chocolat’s Boucan restaurant in St Lucia, brings back the cocoa bean as a subtle savoury spice and garnish.
Not only that, cacao enhances their cocktails, and if you just want a bar of the good stuff you can see chocolate being freshly made from beans roasted and conched by chocolatiers right in the restaurant, and buy it at the Hotel Chocolat shop at the front of the house.
I got there late (thanks, Leeds post-work traffic) so some of the best-looking food had been swept up – their mac ‘n’ cheese with leek and mushroom encased in a cacao-nib infused pastry, a case in point – but I still had chance to taste a couple of dishes while I caught up with some of the other bloggers over a glass of cool, fresh prosecco.
We all know how chocolate tastes, but how would it be in its raw form – cacao – and how would this add to the mix of flavours in savoury food? Is the menu just a gimmick for chocolate lovers, or does the cacao really add something to the food?
I had ‘fish run down’ – cod in a light spice sauce – and rare tuna with lime juice, guacamole and cacao-nib flatbread. They were both pretty divine. The cacao gave neither a sweet taste, just adding to the complement of herbs, spices and garnish to give a deep, satisfying flavour.
Dessert was an incredible cube of chocolate, made with 78% cocoa from St Lucia, dense yet light and and filled with a macaron which oozed sweet sauce as you reached the centre.
Apart from the cacao, Roast + Conch uses locally-sourced ingredients and has an open kitchen so you can talk to the chefs. If you get chance, do. They’re really knowledgeable and passionate about what they’re cooking – with good reason!
Next, it was downstairs to the bar where we could watch chocolate being made, although I missed it – too busy yakking (I know) – and sample their specialist cocktails. I tasted the Hotel Chocolat gin and tonic – cacao gin, tonic and orange twist – and Rabot rum sour – golden rum, lime, nutmeg and cacao bitters. As with the food, there was a special kick, something more to their drinks than you’d find in your typical cocktail bar. It makes the flavours more interesting, without knocking them out of balance.
It was such a pleasant evening. I left with a happy palette, bag full of Hotel Chocolat treats and a promise to myself to be back soon.
Need to know: Roast + Conch is at 55 Boar Lane, Leeds, LS1 5EL. Their ‘school of chocolate‘ opened on 1 October, experiences from £50.