Verturing boldly into territory only Slitti has dared previously to tread, Hotel Chocolat makes an attempt to create an ultimate dark milk chocolate by marrying their own plantation bean to an ultra-percentage milk chocolate formulation. Ironically, this makes the milk chocolate version stronger than the dark (at 65%)! Does this suggest that the Rabot Estate beans are, perhaps, decidedly aggressive in a pure, high-percentage dark formulation? If so, then perhaps Hotel Chocolat has created an interesting new rÃ´le for milk chocolate: a vehicle to display interesting origins that have some overly distracting side characteristics. Dark chocolate purists will probably be a bit disappointed, and whether this will be of interest to the milk chocolate lover is probably up for debate, but there’s no denying the original thinking.
Alex Rast: 22-Oct-2010
The second bar, after Slitti’s groundbreaking version, to push the definition of “milk” chocolate perhaps all the way to to the wall with the highest possible cocoa percentage. It must be said that the ingredients list is what one might like to see in an “ideal” milk chocolate: no added cocoa butter, and cocoa mass leading the list, but whether 70% is really useful is rather questionable. There can be little denying that this chocolate feels more like a dark bar than a milk, and while quite good, Hotel Chocolat doesn’t present a convincing case that such extreme percentages are necessary, this bar being, on the whole, not the equal of Cluizel’s Mangaro Lait.
The light colour of the chocolate – reminding one of a Madagascar origin, hints if one didn’t already know, at the milk content, but, as might be expected, doesn’t give it away, this bar having a distinctly dark-chocolate look. Finish is reasonably good, although swirling and unevenness on the reverse are noticeable. More problematic, though, is the aroma, which truly falls into the category of the bizarre. Notes of hay and paprika begin the bafflement, then nutty and buttery hints indicate the milkiness, before smoky, tobacco aromas take over and once again suggest a bar more akin to a dark chocolate. There can be little question that with an aroma this confused, one is left with nothing but questions about what the flavour will be.
Fortunately, the flavour itself is reasonably familiar, starting with strawberries and cream. A stronger, nutty and cayenne hint brings sharp bitter notes and suggests the reasons why Hotel Chocolat chose a milk chocolate format: these notes might really have been aggressive in a pure dark chocolate. But coconut hints mean that, belying the description on the wrapper, the flavour does not go on and on and instead falls flat rather quickly, making the use of milk suddenly seem like not such a great idea after all.
Texture presents no such problems: it’s almost perfectly smooth and creamy, so that nothing here provides a distraction from the flavour. This in itself is very reminiscent of many SÃ£o TomÃ©s, another origin that, like here, often has a fine upfront flavour before collapsing later on (although here yet again Michel Cluizel has figured out the right process choices to eliminate that). One can see what Hotel Chocolat is trying to achieve: modulate the harsher, more bitter elements of the St. Lucia while keeping as much of the basic flavour as they can. It can’t be said, however, to be an unequivocal success: as a milk chocolate, it’s just too powerful, as a dark, just too uninteresting. However, the idea: a strong milk chocolate that uses the milk as a flavour adjustment rather than a primary component, is interesting, and perhaps with a little more work this bar might turn into something really unique.