You know that feeling when you've been locked inside a chocolate shop? No? You clearly haven't been on one of Hotel Chocolat's secret Lock-Ins.
I was made aware of the Lock-In events back in January while watching Channel 5's documentary 'Chocolate Dreams - Inside Hotel Chocolat.' I knew I had to book myself onto an event so I scanned the Hotel Chocolat website and found two events that caught my eye.
How it works
Lock-Ins are fun events that are actually free, but require a deposit that is then returned as store credit during the event.
Here's how it works:
- Browse the available events°.
- Book your ticket(s) and pay a small £10 deposit per person per event. These events are attended mostly by couples but I am proof that you can attend on your own and still have a good time. It's a kid-free zone too.
- You'll receive an email confirmation of your place on the event.
- Turn up at your chosen store at the date and time printed in your email confirmation letter. Also take a printed copy of that confirmation too, as you'll need to sign in to the event. Be aware that the door will be locked (the clue is in the name), so you'll have to wait to be let in by the store team. It's all very cloak and daggers.
- Enjoy the hospitality at the event. There'll be Prosecco, chocolate tasting, and, if you're lucky, some extra treats.
- At the end you'll have time to browse the shop and make your purchases. Your £10 deposit is returned to you in the form of store credit, so you'll get £10 off a £10+ spend.
My Hotel Chocolat Lock-In Review
I booked two events - one in the small branch in Cardiff and another in the larger outlet store in Bridgend. Each had a different theme.
'Patisserie Through a Chocolatier's Lens' Lock-In
I was a lock-in virgin, so diligently turned up around 10 minutes early to my 7.15pm session, as did half of the 14 people attending this event. We all did the same thing and had the same confused look on our faces as we all tried to get into the shop via the locked door. The clue is in the event name, really! Still, none of us expected the door to actually be locked.
I was greeted by Assistant Manager Peter. As he ticked my name off the list, I was offered a glass of Prosecco, orange juice, or water by Store Assistant Lauren. While we waited for everybody to turn up, we talked amongst ourselves.
Once everyone had arrived, Peter cracked on, explaining a bit about the history of the Hotel Chocolat brand. Apparently, not many people he's entertained in Lock In events realise Hotel Chocolat actually owns a swanky Saint Lucian hotel. I sit at the other end of the spectrum where I constantly dream of jetting off to this beautiful Caribbean island, immersing myself in chocolate massages galore, feasting on cocoa infused recipes, and taking part in bean to bar chocolate making experiences at Boucan.
Samples of Chocolat Cream Liqueur° and Salted Caramel Cocoa Vodka Liqueur° were dished out by Lauren while Peter explained the process of taking cocoa from the tree to the finished chocolate products, with assistance from an information card. He explained how cocoa pods draw flavours from regional factors as well as by subtle things like their neighbouring trees and plants.
From there we briefly sidestepped into farming and ethics. For instance, did you know that Hotel Chocolat buys it cocoa beans wet both to reduce the labour required by the farmer, and to increase the money paid to the farmer for their cocoa beans? The company's current marketing campaign of 'more cocoa, less sugar' also highlights the company's stance on responsible chocolate manufacturing.
Next came a bit of unexpected interactivity. We turned into an army of winnowers and grinders as we squeezed apart cacao beans, collected up the cocoa nibs, and ground them into a fragrant cocoa paste. At this point in the factory, the paste would be separated into cocoa butter and cocoa mass ready to use in recipes.
Now we understood how chocolate is made, we had to learn how to taste it properly. If you've hurriedly chomped down chocolates all this time, you've been doing it wrong. You need to let your taste buds adjust with the first bite, ideally just letting it melt naturally. We tried this technique with a tasting baton and the room filled up with lots of 'oohs' and 'yums.'
Now it was time to taste test. Patisserie was the theme of the night, so cake-inspired chocolate recipes were on the cards. As a Hotel Chocolat addict, I had tried all the flavours included in the evening, but it was still interesting hearing the feedback from other participants to compare against my own.
- Strawberry Cheesecake°: This layered white chocolate shell was filled with strawberry cream tasted of fresh, tart strawberry. The creamy white chocolate came into the mix soon after but it was the strawberry flavour that lingered long into the aftertaste.
- Mousse au Chocolat°: This featured a milk chocolate mousse inside a dark chocolate shell, dusted with cocoa powder for decoration. Overall, it verged on a bitterness, in part thanks to that dry coating. Given a bit of time, the fruity notes of the dark chocolate shone through.
- Rhubarb & Custard Chocolate°: The idea of a rhubarb chocolate garnered a surprising number of groans from participants, but I love the vegetable. Rhubarb and custard are best friends and this classic combo worked very well in this layered milk chocolate. It had a similar style of filling to that of Strawberry Cheesecake, only swapping out the strawberry for rhubarb, making it less tart in the process.
- Chocolate Carrot Cake°: One participant summed this up succinctly - "like a slice of carrot cake squished into a chocolate." Indeed it is. Beautiful, vibrant creamy layers in this milk chocolate imparted a strong nutmeg flavour, with hints of carrot and walnut too. It really did taste like the real deal.
- Brownie Chocolate°: This was by far the heaviest chocolates on trial. A dinky cube of chocolate pecan brownie smothered in 50% milk chocolate might sound tame, but it was incredibly dense and very rich. I needed a lie down after this one.
- Tiramisu°: What better way to conclude our food flight than with a classic Italian dessert, compressed into a chocolate bite? This coffee-cream-chocolate blend encased in a milk chocolate shell had all the hallmarks of Tiramisu, including a nice smooth coffee flavour and a slight bitterness in the chocolate. I think I would have preferred the rich coffee caramel to take a mousse form but the caramel helped to create the right mouth feel.
Flavours came thick and fast, with only a few moments between each one to cleanse palates with bread or water. Surprisingly full after just six chocolates, the remaining 20 minutes were devoted to retail therapy.
Everybody received a £10 discount off their purchase, and there was also a 10% discount on top on the night. I really liked that there was absolutely no pressure from Peter or Lauren to buy anything. That hands-off approach certainly worked as the vast majority of people spent in excess of the £10 rebate, myself included.
In preparation for my next Lock-In, I redeemed my £10 on three selectors - Rare & Vintage 80% Supermilk Pure° from Ecuador; Rare & Vintage 95% Dark° from Aracataca, Colombia; and a Rare & Vintage 100% Dark° from Ecuador. I was hoping to find a Rare & Vintage bar from the Boucan estate but the Cardiff store had sold out. I spotted delicious-sounding 70% Dark Chocolate Covered Cherries° so also picked up a bag of those.
Overall, it was a really enjoyable experience. It was good chatting to other Hotel Chocolat addicts, and even better tasting half a dozen chocolates. If you're a Hotel Chocolat fan but have not tried a Lock-In experience, you really ought to book one right now. Like right this second. Go on - I'll wait!
'Rare and Vintage' Lock-In
This review will follow once I've taken part in this Lock-In. Come back soon!
2020 Lock-In Themes
Lock-Ins are themed and that theme changes based on the date. The line-up for 2020 is:
- January – Vegan.
- February – Not Just Hot Chocolate; and Valentine's Lock-In.
- March – Caramel Six Ways; and The Best of The Best
- April – Easter; and Hot Chocolate & More.
You can find the latest events scheduled here°. At the time of writing their were special events planned for the duration of the Edinburgh Festival in August, and there were also collaborative events with Majestic Wine.
Fancy being locked inside a chocolate shop too? Book your tickets here°.
Have you tried a Lock-In? What did you think of the experience? Let me know in the comments below.
Disclosure: I paid £20 to reserve two different Lock-In events at my local branches. At each event, I received a £10 discount on Hotel Chocolat products. I was not asked for a review. My opinions are my own.