With the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics, tapping into Britishness is a strand among British chocolatiers this year, with many of them making a point of using patriotic British ingredients in their creations. With his new Eat London collection of six ‘flavour changing’ chocolate bars, Damian Allsop is also exploring the idea of identity in a characteristically innovative way, drawing inspiration for his flavourings from London’s rich, multi-cultural history.
Each Eat London bar is named after an area associated with a particular ethnic community and flavoured with ingredients used in that community’s cuisine which are matched with an appropriate chocolate. The packaging of these little bars is jauntily cheerful, with a silhouetted London skyline outlined against an array of different colours for each bar, ranging from lilac to scarlet. In a nice touch, each of the chocolate bars themselves have a London outline shape embossed on them, so as you bite into them you really are eating London.
With China Town, a milk chocolate bar flavoured with ‘roasted peanut, soy sauce and fresh ginger’, peanuts are a muted presence, adding a subtle crunch, while the ginger was dominant from start to long finish. Brick Lane offers Asian flavours in a milk chocolate bar, with basmati rice crisps adding both a pleasing crunch and slightly nutty flavour, and a subtle mango sweetness coming through at the finish. Edgware Road, a dark chocolate bar, is inspired by the city’s Middle Eastern community, combining fragrant ras-al-hanout spice with chunks of honey crunch; the effect being a sophisticated take on a Crunchie bar, with the spice cutting through the sweetness of the honey crunch. For Brixton Hill, evoking the Afro-Caribbean community, a bitter coffee hit is succeeded by mellow banana, with the coffee nicely counterbalancing the sweetness of the milk chocolate.
My two favourite bars of the collection were each very different from each other. The starting point for Allsop’s Grovesnor Square is that this part of London home to the American Embassy. The bar which, with its caramel colour, is a noticeably dark ‘white’ chocolate creation, has a soft, fudgy texture. On biting, the sweetness is quickly cut through by a fragrant cinnamon and then a sour lemon fizz pops in the mouth – a witty chocolate homage to that iconic American drink, Coca Cola.
Soho Square, inspired by London’s Italian community, is a beguilingly sophisticated dark chocolate creation. On biting into it, a lovely tang of raspberry sourness is released, followed by the distinctive aromatic flavour of basil which lingers in the mouth.
Throughout the collection, Allsop plays not only with flavour – combining them within the bars – but also with texture, from the discreetly subtle crunch of the Soho Square bar to the pronounced chunkiness of the Edgware Road bar with its substantial bits of honey crunch. Food, of course, is famous for its ability to evoke places and eating the Eat London chocolate bars takes one on a delicious journey. From the pleasurable fun of the Grosvernor Square bar to the sheer elegance of the Soho Square bar, Allsop in this cosmopolitan, inventive collection of bars demonstrates the range of his chocolate creativity with great flair and wit.