When I visited: April 2017 and September 2017
Location: London, near London Bridge
Rating in the Michelin Guide: Not in Guide (used to be recommended)
What to wear: Men – jeans or nice trousers and a shirt; women – jeans and a smart top or a smart dress / workwear
Ambience: Smart / casual, fun
Course of the meal: Molten chocolate lava pudding
If I could change one thing: Don’t include menu options that you don’t recommend!
Having been to the Hotel Chocolat plantation restaurant in St Lucia a couple of years before, I was really looking forward to visiting this corresponding restaurant near London Bridge, and I wasn’t disappointed. The bar downstairs was super-busy with people enjoying a post-work drink and sampling the chocolate and coffee beans on offer in the shop, and the restaurant upstairs had a cool, slightly more laid-back vibe.
As it was a special occasion, my partner Owl and I enjoyed some Champagne before our red wine. As this is a Hotel Chocolat restaurant, you get cacao nibs on your table and even the savoury courses are infused in some way with chocolate. Our starters of torched cacao’d mackerel with beet tomato salad and cacao butter horseradish pot, and cacao and treacle cured salmon with cacao gin jelly, apple and gingerbread salad, were both nicely balanced.
I was going to order the cod for my main course (it came with pineapple, which I loved and which reminded me of some of the Caribbean food in St Lucia) but weirdly I was advised by the waitress not to order this as apparently it didn’t have much flavour. I followed her advice and my rare seared sashimi tuna, cacao and sesame-crusted, with smoked aubergine purée, with crushed lime and chilli and sweet potato was delicious, but I don’t think restaurants should include anything on a menu that they don’t recommend – what’s the point? It’s just as annoying as including crap wine on a wine list and then trying to up-sell people to get the more expensive stuff. Anyway, my partner Owl’s roast hake with creole-cacao spices, butternut squash purée, green banana and spiced coconut sauce was also great – both the mains did remind us of how good the food was back in St Lucia.
The desserts were a high point, as you’d expect for a chocolate specialist restaurant: my signature molten chocolate lava pudding made from cacao beans on site with Rabot ice cream (nib-infused) was a great example of an indulgent chocolate dessert, and my partner Owl’s sticky toffee chocolate pudding with traditional butterscotch sauce, roasted pecan ice cream and brandy snap went down well too. They also wrote a message in liquid chocolate to commemorate the special occasion, which is always a lovely touch.
On this (pre-theatre visit), we drank coconut water and white wine while we looked at the (slightly updated) menu and noted the surprising fact that the restaurant was almost empty on a Friday evening. I don’t know if it just doesn’t have enough of a reputation – the bar downstairs was packed but there was almost nobody upstairs in the restaurant.
For our starters, we went for the cacao gin and tonic cured salmon with intense gin jelly, lime and chive cream and squid ink – which was perfectly balanced – and the marinated courgette salad with sweet potato, crispy onion and feta-cacao whip, where the cacao touches added a cool bitter twist to a light course. As I was (weirdly) advised not to have the cod last time I decided to sample it this time and it was worth the wait – it came with coconut milk, cacao butter fricassee sauce, red pepper, roasted pineapple and sweet potato. I could have done with a spoon to eat it with, but all the flavours went together very nicely. My partner Owl had the bois bandé marinated chicken with roasted sweet potato, butternut puree, and cacao nib-peppercorn-rum sauce. We shared the classic (and not too sweet) molten chocolate lava pudding made from cacao beans and Rabot nib-infused ice cream for dessert.
I would highly recommend Rabot 1745 if you like seafood and chocolate and want to combine the two … you can also browse in the shop downstairs afterwards and pick up a little something to take away.