In light of National Chocolate Week, Michael Holland sinks his sweet tooth into chocolate-coated beef and white chocolate mash
I was surrounded by a bunch of wine buffs, chocolate bloggers and epicurean carnivores at a huge table in the Argentine steak chain Gaucho’s Tower Bridge tasting room. Three pieces of chocolate lay on each person’s side plate. In came Phil, the restaurant’s wine expert, bringing with him head sommelier Zack and a very nice bottle of Vina Patricia Malbec from Gaucho’s 80 year-old vineyard in Argentina.
We were invited to try the first piece of chocolate with the Malbec. I was in immediately, sucking on the bitter chunk of 70 percent dark that countered the sweet tannins of the wine: it was a pairing brought together in wedded bliss in the Garden of Eden. I looked around to see that the others had just taken a small piece of their chocolate, and had just a small sip of the wine! Come on! Catch up, people!
This process was repeated with a coffee and vanilla chocolate to extract the oak influence of the Vina Patricia, then a violet flavoured chocolate that lifted the floral side of the wine. What with the richness of the chocolate and the full-bodied Malbec I felt myself drift away into some kind of nirvana state.
The two chocolate bloggers next to me updated their Twitter and Facebook accounts before one produced his own chocolate – a 100 percent Madagascan. He snapped me off a piece, like a hashish dealer in the casbah! That little number sent a rush of blood to my head so I quaffed some sparkling water to bring me back down to earth. As I took some time out to look at the Chocolate Week menu my head began spinning all over again!
At this point Sam the chef entered the fray and talked us through the first course: braised beef cheeks with lamb sweetbread popcorn in almonds and breadcrumbs, humita and chocolate jus. The beef was so tender you could have puréed it with a touch of a fork; the sweetbreads a succulent sideline with the whole dish brought together with the humita, an Argentinean creamed sweetcorn dish. The chocolate jus was so subtle we all wanted it to be more chocolatey, but then that would have spoilt the dish. This course was complimented with the very rich and intense Molina Mortero Malbec. Against all odds life was getting better.
Sam reappeared to talk us through the second course: slow cooked pork belly, white chocolate and vanilla mashed potato, and chocolate chilli pork Matambre. I felt a little squeamish at the thought of that mash but my fears were unwarranted; it just tasted like a very, very creamy mashed potato. The pork was exquisite and the chilli dish was an instant hit of hot spice! All brilliantly cooked but I don’t think they should all be on the same plate; one of the meats could have been exchanged for a vegetable. The wine to accompany this was an Atamisque Malbec, made from very old vines in La Consulta, Uco Valley. Atamisque is oaked by the winemaker, which generates a strong presence of vanilla and chocolate – the perfect match for this dish.
In both courses the chocolate addition was superbly subtle, there was no cocoa overkill, and only the most highly trained palate would guess there was even chocolate involved. It was all very cleverly done and I was becoming more and more impressed as the Malbec flowed more and more…
There was no hiding the chocolate in our dessert: white chocolate mousse with milk chocolate crumble, fresh and frozen fruits and almond praline. It looked a picture and tasted like heaven. I could hear angels harmonising above me as the mousse dissolved in my mouth.
Phil had chosen the Zuccardi Port Malbec to accompany this and we unanimously decided this was the best tipple of the night. This is the one I will be hunting down for indoors.
We all sat there sipping away at the Zuccardi, warm in our own little glows, until we strolled off to our beds, knowing there would be sweet dreams.
The Chocolate Week menu will be at Gaucho, 2 More London Place, SE1 2JP, from Oct 14 – 20 for £65 pp. http://www.gauchorestaurants.co.uk/