Thursday, 17 September 2009

69 Colebrook Row and Paul A. Young chocolates


A few days ago, Timeout London announced the results of their Eating & Drinking Awards 2009. Like most of these 'best of' awards it's a mixture of the bafflingly arbitrary and downright predictable - there are very few people I know who would argue that the brilliant Harwood Arms shouldn't have won Best New Gastropub this year, but Lola Rojo on Northcote Road for best Spanish Restaurant over any of the Brindisa joints? Last time I went to Lola Rojo I paid £10 for a very odd plate of potato soufflés and tomato foam which they laughably called 'patatas bravas'. It was like tapas re-imagined by someone who'd applied to work at El Bulli but was rejected for being too pointlessly experimental.


But it's the choice of Best Bar that, perhaps inevitably, causes the most controversy. The crucial difference in bars as opposed to restaurants is that you can get pretty much the complete experience just popping in for 15 minutes and ordering a martini, whereas you can't really say you've 'eaten at' a restaurant unless you've sat down to a three course meal over a few hours. So whichever criteria you consider to be the most important in a bar (décor, clientele or the way the barman twists his lemon peel), it's likely you have the budget to visit far more of them in the space of a year than you can mid to high-end restaurants. And more customers means more opinion. And more opinion means more controversy.


And there ends my disclaimer for the decision behind this year's Timeout Best Bar, because I really can't see what the judges saw in 69 Colebrook Row. It's perfectly good, of course - a tiny little neighbourhood bar, a well stocked drinks cabinet and staff who if not experts are at least fairly competent. But it was when I saw the barman timidly pouring out a shot of gin into a little metal measuring cup before dumping it in the shaker that I knew this could never be up there with the best of them. The drinks, too, were timid - a bland house martini using Martini Extra Dry and a cerignola olive instead of the far more tasty combination of Noilly Prat and a twist of lemon, and a champagne cocktail which omitted the usual angostura-soaked sugar cube and brandy for a subtle floral note. Maybe it's just that I'm not a Tony Conigliaro fan; I was similarly nonplussed with the praised heaped upon the Shochu Lounge beneath Roka on Charlotte Street - when everyone was talking about molecular mixology all I noticed was overfussy and overpriced fruit cocktails. Or maybe I'm just far more difficult to please these days. I blame Rules.

That said, at £7 a drink you don't have too much to complain about, and it was still a perfectly pleasant way to whet our whistles before an evening tasting the world's finest chocolate at Paul A. Young. An ebullient, endlessly entertaining man, Paul survived longer than most in the kitchens of Marco Pierre White's various restaurants before setting up his own artisan chocolaterie. Everything is handmade using literally the finest chocolate the world has to offer and last night was kind enough to invite a group of food bloggers to try some of his latest creations in his tiny shop on Camden Passage.

To go through every different type of chocolate we ate last night wouldn't make particularly interesting reading, but it was extraordinary how what are essentially the same three varieties of cocoa beans (Criollo, the most sought after and most expensive, Trinitario, widely used, and Foresero which makes up the bulk of the big manufacturer's output) can be combined in such a way to produce such remarkably different end products. My favourite was a 70% dark chocolate called Toscano Black from Italian producer Amedei - fruity foretastes combined with a rich butteryness at the back of the mouth; a very satisfying tasting experience. Paul also let us try some of his signature truffles and ganaches, including the award-winning (and heart-meltingly wonderful) salty caramel truffle, the shocking marmite-flavoured (yes, really) truffle and the even more experimental but nonetheless successful port and stilton. Hey, don't knock it 'till you've tried it. They are also the first people outside the US to stock Tcho artisan chocolate from San Francisco, who arrange their dark chocolate into flavour groups such as 'citrus' and 'earthy'.

We were shown around the tiny (albeit spotless and immaculately organised) kitchens where all the chocolates are hand made every morning, and Paul proudly showed off some of the amazing chocolate leaves he's made (using moulds crafted from actual leaves) for a special autumn window display. He also gave us a sneak preview of his next project - recreating a mayan ceremonial skull using tiny squares of alternating black and milk chocolate. It promises to be spectacular. Paul will also want me to mention his new book, Adventures with Chocolate, out on October 8th published by Kyle Cathie, which is the least I can do in return for such a fascinating and enjoyable evening. Many thanks to Paul and his crew for making it happen, and consider me your latest chocolateer.

69 Colebrook Row 7/10
69 Colebrooke Row on Urbanspoon

Apologies for the lack of chocolate pictures - I was snapping away but if there's one thing the iPhone is singularly incapable of photographing it's small dark objects in a dark room. I will edit the post with proper pictures ASAP.

17 comments:

eatmynels said...

Tony Conigliaro is a genius - he managed to distill the 'dry' taste to add to his martinis by extracting the tanins from grape seeds....

Patrick said...

I remember DH reviewed 69 Colebrook and quite liked it. There always seems to be some odd decisions in awards like this.

Dan said...

Have to agree on the Paul A Young chocolate tasting evening, one of the most interesting and entertaining evenings I've had as a food blogger and was completely blown away by the quality of the chocolates and the whole thought process that goes into making them.

Kavey said...

What Dan said, "one of the most interesting and entertaining evenings I've had as a food blogger" and a real pleasure, as I'd previously posted a blog entry review of some of Paul's chocolates, which I bought after meeting him at the WoM's chocolate tasting event back in easter. He truly was a fantastic host.

Ollie said...

One of the best events I've been to. That caramel was indeed a heart-melter.

Chris said...

eatmynels: If he is a genius, then he needs to employ better staff, because those cocktails were pretty ordinary.
Patrick: I'm trying to find the DH post but it's not there - I'm not sure they have been?

Caz said...

I LOVE Paul Young's chocolates, the marmite one was shockingly amazing. The only thing is I was annoyed at how expensive they were. After reading about the time and care and quality of ingredients that goes into it I don't think I'll be as reluctant to hand over all that cash next time.

The Ginger Gourmand said...

I'm with you, Dan, Kavey and Ollie...a really well conceived evening. Paul is a great bloke and stupidly knowledgeable (about chocolate)! I learnt so much (and went home high as a kite...who knew chocolate could do that?!). Was it a chocolate hangover I had the next day or was I just really tired...?

Patrick said...

Hi Chris

DH's review is here: http://www.doshermanos.co.uk/2009/07/69-colbrooke-row-hitting-it-out-of-park.html

tim_g said...

when you say 'timidly pouring gin into a shot measurer' - is that because you think measuring spirits is a bad thing? they do that every good bar i've been to. getting the proportions right is a pretty important thing.

Chris said...

tim_g: A good bartender should be able to free pour the exact amounts every time. Using a measuring cup slows the process down and makes you look like a newbie :)

tim_g said...

o man we're going to have to agree to disagree here.

i agree that it can be ok to freepour if yr making a martini but if yr making something with 4 ingredients and some of them can be in .5 oz, you need a measurer! if there's even a little bit too much of 1 ingredient then it throws the balance off entirely.

Chris said...

tim_g: You've got me thinking, but I'm pretty sure I've never seen anyone at any of my favourite top bars (Rule's, Claridge's, even the Match Bars) using measuring cups. Makes it look like you don't know what you're doing in my opinion. A top barman should be able to freepour with enough precision to never need one

Anonymous said...

I have to say I love 69 Colebrooke Row. I had some fantastic (admittedly alcohol free) cocktails.

Although what possibly made this one of the best bars I've been in in this year was the fantastic lady singing gorgeous tunes accompanied by a piano. I can't wait to go back.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris Love the blog!!

But:

Granted agree with you about Rules, Brain is fantastic, yet comparing what Brian does at Rules to 69 hmmm.. the styles are completely different and what I know of Tony and 69 is he/they uses many modern techniques to push the boundries of cocktails which they do in such a subtle and deft manner without the gelatine/caviar/molecular crap
that in my eyes is refreshing an means that at least somebody is moving cocktails forward in an intelligent manner rather than coping what chefs do!
The Champagne cocktail drink was
the no5. champagne cocktail, where he translated the notes from the perfume to food essences. This drink for me was single minded genius and for me show this deftness with flavour and aroma it was a perfect balance so to compare it to a regular champagne cocktail is to misunderstand the referance and the mutation.

Regarding his work at Roka (where he single handedly started the ice revolution in UK) considering he left almost 4 years ago and the place moved more towards the Zuma fruit drinks, hmmmm (no. 2) real pity!!

I myself like the fact that a bartender measures the spirit as it lends the old world way of doing things but also means that you don't get the sloppiness I have had recently at the match bars.... (hmmm no. 3)

All the best and keep up the good work!! JJ.Thomas

Chocolate Reviews said...

As a food blogger myself, I must admit that Paul not only has his chocolates spot on, but is keen to speak to anyone about them. He's so enthusiastic about them and it was a pleasure to watch him make some of his chocolate tablettes.

A huge fan here.

Anonymous said...

Clearly you don't understand that the measuring of cocktails is intentional and not necessary. I think it lends to the dated charm that is the theme of the bar. Also, as TimG stated, the drinks at Colebrooke Row are complex and depend on EXACT measurements. That is why you can't get the drinks they make anywhere else.. I think SOME people just hate on others hype. Let them be grumpy while we enjoy our drinks!