Rabot 1745 is Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris’s magnificent creation – the founders of sought after British brand, Hotel Chocolat. They envisaged what no one had dared master, a menu inspired by cacao, dishes that make you say, ‘That shouldn’t work, but it does’. It’s common knowledge that New Yorkers would leave the land of opportunity for a fleeting trip to the duo’s very first restaurant, ‘Boucan’, which sits nestled, halfway up the hill, in the rainforest, on the island of Saint Lucia. I was intrigued to find out more about their signature ingredient and why it was having such a postive effect on a diner’s palette. I dodged past the ale hangouts of Borough Market and trudged over the cobbles in search of Rabot 1745 – The ‘Boucan’ of London. The name? All part of the good story – Thirlwell and Harris spent four years restoring the 250- year-old Rabot Estate cacao plantation on the island of Saint Lucia.
On arrival, I’m transported to the cacao plantation. Panels of wood offer a snug backdrop for diners. Slabs of milk chocolate leather hug one wall and the bar is inviting, not ostentatious. You won’t find starched linen here, it’s relaxed dining at its very best. Contemporary lights resemble giant half eaten truffles and produce a honeycomb hue throughout. Diners are given a two- hour slot to feast. The fact that I could only get a table at 5.15pm on a Saturday evening just proves that Londoners can’t get enough of the cacao infused dishes.
I’m greeted by waitress‘Monika’, who welcomes my questions. She tells me their current chef has quite the portfolio, having joined them from glitzy Harrods and the menu is changing in two weeks’ time. Monika can barely contain her excitement – a nearby diner is about to find out that they have just won a trip to Saint Lucia, with a visit to Boucan thrown in. She spoke cheerily over the company’s developments, she loves her job.
The table napkins are an educational accompaniment, which detail ‘The power of the cocoa pod’: Sun-ripened, shade-grown, sustainable super-crop. Other chocolate makers discard everything but the beans – Hotel Chocolat use it all.
The pulp tastes like lychee and is used in sorbets and cocktails; the bean, after being fermented and sundried is delicious. Then there’s the shell of the cocoa bean, mellow and chocolatey and used in teaolat infusions, gin and beer and even in their body scrub at Hotel Chocolat’s Saint Lucian Spa. Lastly, the Nibs of the bean, which, reveal flavours of cocoa, oak and tannin. The chocolatiers grind the nibs for hours to make chocolate, and it’s the nibs which are used as a savoury ingredient in many of the restaurant’s dishes.
My chocoholic dining pal went for a ‘Praline Soother’ to kick things off: Absolut vodka, coconut milk, praline and white chocolate.
I knew I was going to be having something from the ocean, so I chose a glass of Chenin Blanc, which, was described as: ‘bright’ ‘mineral’ and ‘honeydew’. I also sampled the cocktail which was; nutty, seductive and a real event. Milk chocolate coated half the glass rim and the creamy white chocolate balanced the vodka hit impeccably. A few glasses of the soother, and the adjacent first floor diners at the Globe Tavern pub; would have some interesting entertainment to gawp at. Making a trip to the ladies, sounds of the rainforest rung out. I was transported back to Tobago – 2008, where, rum punch for breakfast was mandatory and I capsized in a kayak in the Carribean sea. Luckily though, the friendly locals pulled me to safety and handed me a ‘Pirates Gold’ – a beverage of the cocktail variety, to shake the shock away. It worked. I headed back to our window seat, framed by red tapestry and studied the menu.
For the main affair, I chose rare seared cacao and sesame crust tuna, smoked aubergine stuffed Romano pepper on an inviting bed of crushed lime and chili sweet potatoes, (£19.95). It was pretty special, fiery, and distinctive. The tuna was how it should be, pink in the middle and bursting with flavour. My mouth was overwhelmed with an earthy texture.
My soother dining pal went for chopped rump steak burger, aged cheddar, cacao beer braised onions, potato chips and creole chutney, (£15). This burger meant business, and the cacao beer braised onions certainly gives chefs a wake-up call when it comes to what to team with decent beef.
Rabot’s menu is vast . Of course I will be back, Rabot has so much to offer, including the coffee shop downstairs. There is also the restaurant in Leeds, ‘The Roast and Conch’ and like everyone else, I’ll be putting Boucan on the wish list – the home of cacao dining.
For the full chocolate story, click here