Sunday, 14 February 2010

The Chocolate Tart

An afternoon of chocolate making. Can you imagine anything much more heavenly? Sadly, we will not be recommending The Chocolate Tart to our friends and family. We weren't entirely sure what to expect, though the Boy was told that the doors would open promptly at 3pm and not before. This rang true as a growing crowd of chocolate lovers grouped on the road outside, clamouring to get in. A rather unwelcoming start, maybe, but I was reserving judgement.

Nether the less, first impressions were good; the class was held in the Tart's obviously recently converted modern kitchen cum office, decked out in the company's signature fushia pink on the walls with cool stainless steel benches to work on. We were offered refreshments and told to don rather unattractive plastic blue aprons. Ah well, I thought, not quite like the photos on the website but at least I won't feel guilty for getting it dirty! Our first task was rather sensual - dipping truffles in silky melted chocolate with our bare hands! We were taught the technique to truffle rolling which seemed to involve no thumbs or little fingers and slathering your palms in chocolate. Wonderful! The Boy and I were gamely chatting to the couple we were sharing our work bench with and generally having a good time at this point.

Next up, we set about choosing flavourings for the fondant to fill moulded chocolates that we would fill later. All sorts of alchemy ensued with various combinations - from the good, Raspberry and Blood Orange, to the down right ugly, Coffee and Tangerine - with varying degrees of success. We companionably swapped and bartered our precious vials of essence - making suggestions and tasting each others concoctions. Chocolate is a definite friend-maker.

So far so good but I've neglected to mention that we had a photographer in our group. Now I wouldn't have minded if it had simply been a well-meaning amateur who wanted to get some tasty photos. This, however, was different. We were introduced to Marko, an obvious friend of the proprietor/teacher, who took pride of place at the front of the class. "No one minds having their picture taken, do they?" she asks, presumptuously. Actually, it might jeopardise my modelling contract. (Joke.) It quickly becomes clear that he's taking publicity shots for the business. This makes me fume on principle - surely it is common courtesy to notify your customers in advance if you're going to be taking photos for your website? You're told if there are going to be fumbling students present at your NHS doctors appointment, for goodness sake! Here we were, having our senses assaulted by periodic bursts from the photographers enthusiastic hot shoe and paying for the privilege (remembering that these classes are not cheap at £70pp for three hours). Not exactly the relaxing, romantic Valentines experience that we'd hoped for.

We came away with around 1 kilo of chocolate each, as promised. But the whole experience left (forgive me!) a rather bitter taste in our mouths. The chocolate and other products was of good quality but it was the actual experience that left us disappointed. The hosts were inhospitable - rushing us between stages and then dropping us completely when we needed guidance. The class was obviously too big; not only was the kitchen crowded and the teachers stretched to breaking point but there was not enough equipment to go around. The afternoon lacked the dynamic, professionalism and prowess that we had been expecting.

In short, try out some chocolate recipes in the comfort of your own home and enjoy the opportunity to relax. Don't bother with The Chocolate Tart.

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