Being from the West Midlands originally, I’ve visited Cadbury World more than my fair share of times – celebrating various birthdays, school trips, foreign-exchange visits, heist attempts… – so I know my stuff when it comes to Chocolate and how it’s made.
The factory tour starts with a brief introduction to the humble cocoa bean, then there’s a fountain which looks like two glasses of milk perpetually being poured into a vat, then you go on a mildly exhilarating tour of a model village occupied my anthropomorphic cocoa beans, watch an old advert of a woman eating a Flake in the bath, and finally you get to the end of the production line; nose full of smells – and get given a Curly Wurly to whet your appetite before being herded into the gift shop to buy a yard of Freddos and a ruler that looks like a Dairy Milk.
When we arrived at our table at Roast & Conch, and received an introduction to the concept, our waitress taught me more about Cocoa in 2 minutes than I’d learned in my entire childhood of Bourneville pilgrimages. You see, Hotel Chocolat’s high-concept restaurant boasts a menu where every item contains chocolate.
The menu combines British and Caribbean cuisine, and during the introduction it was explained that cocoa beans were used to season the dishes, rather than add sweetness – we weren’t going to find Creme-Eggs benedict on the menu, or superfluous squares of chocolate thrown on top of things for the sake of it.
We were shown a small plate of cocoa beans on our table and invited to crack them open and have a taste. Sure enough, the first thing you notice is a familiar smell of dark chocolate, followed by an intensely bitter, nutty flavour.
This introduction to the concept was indicative of the high level of service at Roast & Conch; upon arrival we were greeted by a member of staff who took our coats before showing us to our seats, our waitress didn’t hesitate to keep topping up our table’s water throughout the meal and brought an amuse-bouche to the table before our first course – obviously not make-or-break factors, but appreciated details nonetheless.
While I’m not usually a fan of gnocchi, I decided to stray out of my comfort zone and take a friend’s advice to try the Sweet Potato & Cocoa Nib Cornmeal Gnocchi (£6.5) starter – tentatively billed as served with “Pumpkin and Nutmeg Air”.
Nowhere near as pretentious as the menu makes out, the “air” was in fact a ridiculously smooth pumpkin puree which formed a bed for the nicest gnocchi I’ve tasted. Substituting sweet potato and cornmeal for the usual potato and flour made it really tender, and the cocoa nibs gave it a real bite.
I can say with total conviction that eating this gnocchi felt nothing like chewing an eyeball, which is something I’ve not been able to say about gnocchi before. They’re welcome to quote me on that as well.
Being a big lamb enthusiast, I couldn’t resist the 8-hour Lamb Pepperpot (£15) main – the meat was cooked to the point where it disintegrated into layers of silk in my mouth, and the cocoa nibs perfectly complemented the rich, sweet umami taste of the lamb gravy.
If I had any criticism, it would be that the ground provisions – root vegetables – in the stew were perhaps too thoroughly cooked, a little bite to them would have added a welcome variety of texture.
My partner had the Mac & Cheese Pie (£12) which was presented inventively in an open-topped crust made from cocoa nibs, with hard-cheese crackling on top; a welcome change from the standard practice of slopping an earthenware dish of the stuff under a grill with some cheese on top.
The Macaroni itself was delicately flavoured with Gruyere and truffle oil, and surprisingly light but still felt like a satisfying main course.
We shared Green Beans and Sauteed Spinach (Both £4) which were both tasty, but a very rich addition to my main course. I felt like the Pepperpot would have been better with Sweet Potato Ribbons (£3) as a bit of respite from the cocoa nib onslaught.
After a palette-cleansing Ginger Fizz cocktail (£7.95) we were able to move onto the desserts. Considering the ubiquity of chocolate on the rest of the menu it was no surprise to see more of the same on the back page, however some of the offerings were surprisingly understated. There was no tacky Fudge Sundae or Death By Chocolate in sight.
We opted for the Ganache Tart (£6) which was served with a brilliant hazelnut praline ice cream, and Pecan Pie (£6). The latter was my favourite of the two, due to the welcome but unexpected addition of raisins, and an amazing pecan brittle on the side.
At £74 for two people (including drinks and service) Roast & Conch isn’t cheap, and it’s not the type of place we could visit regularly – but taking into account the really high standard of service, the atmosphere, inimitable food, and the experience of the concept, it makes the restaurant a great choice when you’re after something a little bit special and different.
They haven’t got a car in the shape of a Creme Egg outside though, so Cadbury World has still got that going for it.