Reaching Sugar Nirvana with Paul A. Young’s Salted Caramel Afternoon Tea

Paul A. Young, Heal’s 196 Tottenham Court Rd, London / 020 7636 1666 / www.heals.co.uk

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” – Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

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I don’t think I will ever tire of afternoon tea. Especially when sugar wizards like master chocolatier Paul A. Young keep coming up with new ways of increasing my risk of developing diabetes with seductive offerings like a salted caramel twist on the classic tea and scones combination.

It was buzzing with gleeful anticipation that I swooped down onto the tiny chocolate alcove of Paul A. Young’s shop pop up on Tottenham Court Road. Sandwiched between the eye-wateringly expensive soft furnishings of Habitat and Heal’s, it is an oasis of sugar. A narrow room that’s filled to the rafters with trays, racks and piles of chocolate that glisten under the mellow lighting and exude a smell so potent and intoxicating it feels like you could bite it.

But although there are enough sweet treats and unusual truffles (Marmite ganache, anyone?) to keep even the most dedicated of chocoholics busy, I’d come here for the tea. A very particular tea that featured one of Young’s most delectable creations: his salted caramel spread. This spread is so thick and so insanely sweet with a curiously moorish, salty tang that it should, quite frankly, come with a warning label that reads ‘Caution, will probably cause addiction and, eventually, obesity.’

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This sumptuous spread is served alongside a sea salt caramel truffle, espresso-sized cupfuls of clotted cream, huge geometric ceramic pots of loose leaf tea and a beautifully made, golden brown puff of a brown sugar scone, which was just sugar-free enough to carry that thick layer of fudgy topping.

This is a brief afternoon tea – you won’t find and finger sandwiches here or and delicate pastries – but, for a heart stoppingly good afternoon tea indulgence, you can’t get a better sugar high that Paul A. Young’s impossibly sinful offering.

When afternoon tea meets chocolate: five of the best sugar fixes ahead of National Chocolate Week from 13-19th October

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at One Aldwych
This teatime treat might be inspired by the famous Roald Dahl children’s classic, but the fare on offer is most definitely made for adult chocoholics. My picks are the golden chocolate egg, which arrives filled to the brim with vanilla cheesecake and mango and the light as air homemade candy floss.
£34.50 per person

The Landmark London Hotel
This 5* hotel caters for the sweet of tooth with an opulent chocolate afternoon tea that reads like a sugar addicts idea of heaven: freshly baked chocolate chip and fruit peel scones, Chocolate and passion cream “financier”, Caraibe chocolate and peanut tart and salted caramel, Chocolate ganache and milk chocolate Chantilly and coconut nougatine and Chocolate crème brulees infused with chilli.
£41 per person.

Chocolate Afternoon Tea at The Hilton London Green Park
Escape the city for a chocolate fix at The Hilton London Green Park hotel. Nestled in a cluster of Georgian buildings in the heart of Mayfair you’ll find a tea that features luxury chocolate and walnut brownies, chocolate French fancies and white chocolate panna cotta alongside fancy sandwiches, scones and oodles of tea.
From £28 per person.

Chocolate Afternoon Tea at The Royal Park Hotel
Enjoy The Royal Park Hotel’s limited edition chocolate afternoon tea throughout October, a heady mix of death by chocolate cake, chocolate and caramel shots, manjari and szechuan pepper chocolate macaroons and praline scones served with clotted cream, strawberry jam and nutella.
£25 per person.

William Curley’s Dessert Bar
Why not skip the scones altogether, drop the pretence and just tuck into pure, unadulterated desserts at master chocolatier William Curley’s decadent Dessert Bar. Only available at the weekends, pudding aficionados can pull up a chair at the Belgravia boutique at indulge in a five-course dessert banquet.
From £25 per person, excluding alcoholic drinks.

Article originally produced, in full for Foodepedia.co.uk and can be read here.

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Sugar Rush: When Plum + Spilt Milk met Gü Puds for National Chocolate Week

Plum + Spilt Milk Kings Cross St Pancras Station, Pancras Rd, Great Northern Hotel, N1C 4TB www.plumandspiltmilk.com

Chocoholics unite, because National Chocolate Week is just around the corner and pudding extremists Gü Puds and Mark Sargeant’s Plum + Spilt Milk have combined their culinary skills to create a three course menu masterclass on cooking with chocolate.

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I’ve never met anyone who’s as passionate about creating desserts as Gü’s mastermind Head Chef Fred Ponnavoy is. Shop bought puddings used to be the taboo of the dinner table, but when a brand like Gü comes along and manages to create impeccable offerings like that key lime pie, which, incidentally, took multiple visits to ginger and sugar farmers all over the world to craft, it’s time to let go of your prejudices and simply indulge. Anyone who can successfully sell souffles to even that most discerning of home chef markets – the French – is the perfect partner to join Mark Sargeant and his Executive Chef Mike Denman in creating the ultimate chocolate menu.

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And there’s chocolate by the bucket load in this offering, with the sweet treat appearing in every course, from the welcoming cocktail – a mind-bendingly potent muddle of sour plums and sticky chocolate liqueur – to the finale, a restaurant ready version of Gü’s latest pudding creation: Melting Middles home bake fondants.

National Chocolate Week Menu (13-19th October)
Pan-fried scallops, white chocolate and cauliflower puree, sherry vinegar caramel

Loin of venison, cocoa nib roast squash, bitter chocolate and red wine sauce

Gü Head Chef Fred Ponnavoy’s ultimate White Chocolate & Tonka Bean Melting Middle with caramelised white chocolate ice cream and mandarin confit

Nestled inside the seething transport hub of King’s Cross Station, Plum + Spilt Milk has all the ambiance of a first class carriage, with muted airforce blue walls, acres of white leather banquettes rippling across the polished wooden floor and a ceiling dripping with bell-like lights.

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The feast began with some of Plum & Spilt milk’s menu staples, which perfectly demonstrated the restaurant’s predilection for simple yet effortlessly punchy flavours. Dorset crab croquettes came piping hot alongside deliciously piquant curried mayonnaise and trumpet shaped fresh radishes that were served with their leaves on so you could grab them and dunk into tiny pots of blush pink taramasalata.

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But then it was time to get down to business and see just how many ways you can get chocolate into what are, generally, savoury courses. On paper the starter read too sweet, too sickly and too overpoweringly dessert-esque, but in practice this dish is a masterclass in delicately balanced flavours and textures. The plump, perfectly seared scallops were meltingly soft and rich; the sherry vinegar caramel drenched samphire gave just enough acidic bite to slice the sugary edge off the creamy cauliflower puree. One course down and I’d already reached my sugar high.

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The main arrived much later, which was lucky really, as another quick injection of sugar at that point might have tipped me over the edge into diabetes. When it did arrive, the loin was nicely cooked, the squash had a naturally charred caramel edge to it and the teeny tiny, almost pickled wild mushrooms that were hidden in the dish added an unexpected dimension to what was, essentially a very sweet main. The real star here though was the sauce: a rich, thick, heady and impossibly silky concoction that poured like melted chocolate and was cut with a glug of spicy red wine that gave it enough depth of flavour to carry the dish from good to excellent.

The final course in this chocolate extravaganza was a symphony of sugar: a fondant with an oozing, black as night bitter chocolate centre served with a bitter-sweet marmalade smear of mandarin confit that made the whole thing taste like an elevated form of Jaffa Cake and a silky smooth quenelle of white chocolate ice cream.

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Sometimes mistakes happen in professional kitchens and just occasionally those little errors can create something spectacular, which was exactly the case with the caramelised white chocolate ice cream. Gü Head Chef Fred Ponnavoy explained that a chef at the prestigious Ecole de Grande Chocolat was melting white chocolate in a warm oven and forgot about it; the result in the morning was a toffee-like, fudgey mess that just so happened to be the most heavenly addition to ice cream that I have ever encountered.

As a celebration of the versatility of chocolate, an example of the staunch british gastronomy that underpins Plum + Split Milk’s food ethos and an insight into the impeccable pudding work Gü do on a daily basis, this chocolate week menu is right on track (sorry, couldn’t resist the lure of at least one train pun).

National Chocolate Week runs from 13-19th October

Gü’s Melting Middles are on sale now in all major supermarkets and come in two flavours: Salted Caramel and White Chocolate.

Article originally written for Foodepedia.co.uk and can be read here.

A Song for the Day and a Short Story Extract: The Electric Chair

I was recently in Vienna on a strange, pre-birthday solo trip; pushing the boundaries of how comfortable I felt being in a foreign country on my own in different circumstances. Seeking out a dimly-lit jazz club is something I try to do in every country I visit and, luckily for me, Vienna has Porgy & Bess, one of the best venues I’ve ever sloped into after dark. This red-lit pit of a place is lined by plush, velvet stuffed chairs and benches that are filled, nearly every night, with dedicated locals and a smattering of curious tourists.

What I loved most about this place was the sheer diversity of the acts on show. You’ll find more on stage there than just crowd pleasing swing jazz and cuban beat classics, because this Vienna haunt supports a slew of local and lesser known international artists of the more avant grade variety. The Vienna Roomservice session I dropped into had three acts, the frighteningly hypnotic Manon-Lui Winter, who doesn’t exactly play a piano…she strums it, the heart stopping funk of No Home For Johnny and a solo guitarist called Julien Desprez.

Desprez’s performance wasn’t exactly comfortable for me. From his first clashing roar of sound I was taking sneaky peeks around the room to see if anyone else was a little nonplussed by this violent synth mash up. But soon I was overpowered and pinned to my chair, transfixed by the force of his playing. Mainstream it wasn’t and still, even after the room burst into expected, rapturous applause, I was left shaken and vaguely disturbed by his music; by this electric man and his strangled guitar. So I did the only thing that I knew would make me feel normal again, I grabbed a pen and scribbled this little chunk of rambling prose into my Vienna guidebook.

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The Man in the Electric Chair

His arms contort, thrust themselves forward to tear at the empty air as his body is taken up by the infernal machine. The rhythm he writhes to is a twist and a shake, a scatter gun of shudder and stutter like a broken toy soldier. Every twitch is agony, but that sound, that sound must be fed. Deep and raw and brutal it gushes from his quivering limbs, moving and clenching as it creeps its way upwards, up from his locked knees, his rigid stomach, the sinews in his throat taunt as a bow’s string with the tension of it, with the musical rigor mortis.

His eyes are shut against his corporal horror, his mouth stitched closed by the sound. The sound that hits him, beats the hands that are throttling the neck of the guitar. It’s a violent sound, a red sound. A wall of vibration from the guitar he clutches, the guitar he is lashed to by wires the colour of old veins.

He stabs at it, a glancing blow to the sound, but he comes back again and again. Slicing until the next convulsion of that sodden sound ripples over him again. And then he’s still, heaving into the absence as the sound stretches out and away into the darkened room beyond.

If you’re heading to Vienna anytime soon I urge you to check out Porgy & Bess. You can book tickets, in English on their website: www.porgy.at

And here is the man in action on youtube:

A behind the scenes song for the day with a digital difference: The Kronos Quartet

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“Virtually any composer that we’ve encountered has said that the string quartet is the most personal and expressive medium that they know of.” – David Harrington, Artistic Director and Founder of Kronos.
Listen, delve into and experience the physicality of a the brilliant Kronos string quartet from the outside in with this beautiful virtual rendering of the communication between symbiotic performers, which reveals a visual representation of how the individual players connect as one.

“When four people are doing very complex rhythms, we talk about a heartbeat right in the center of the group, and I do think of that image, too.” – John Sherba, Violinis

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Full and original article on the Arts section of the NY Times, found here.