Anyone who knows me should already know about my sweet tooth. Well, it ain’t just the one tooth, I tell you! Dessert queen, pudding princess, sweet treat sucker – call it what you will, but I’m an addict… and top of the (cake) pops is my love for chocolate! So as soon as I heard about Harbour City’s Chocolate Trail, I knew I had to get in on the cocoa action.
Having read and drooled over That Food Cray’s chocoholic tour of the mall, I was lucky enough to be offered a similar whistle-stop walk-through from Harbour City’s awesome PR, Season. On emailing Season, I declared that my 90-minute window should offer us ‘plenty of time’ to look around The Chocolate Trail – turns out that Nicole (That Food Cray) spent three hours there! And having seen and sampled just a few of the dessert delights on offer, I can totally see why!
The Chocolate Trail is an annual fixture at Harbour City, featuring displays, demos, exclusive pop-up kiosks from gourmet chocolatiers, and special treats from some of the mall’s existing brands and restaurants. Some of the chocolate themed displays are more cheese than chocolate (boom boom) but the coolest/craziest HAS to be the royal banquet created by Austrian pastry chef Gerhard Petzl. Every single thing – the table, the place settings, the cutlery, crockery and the food itself – had all been hand-crafted from chocolate and the level of detail is insane; we’re talking Heston levels of dedication here!
The room smelt absolutely incredible (ever wondered what eau de chocolate might smell like? Get a waft of this!)… although this might be too much chocolate even for me! I asked Season what was happening to this once the Chocolate Trail was over and she wasn’t sure – so maybe you should hang around come closing day to try and grab a bite!
Gallery by the Harbour, Harbour City, First Floor
Our first chocolate stop was Kapok, which I knew mainly as a cool style boutique on Star Street in Wan Chai. Turns out that they carry a whole lotta chocolate too! In-keeping with Kapok’s hip and edgy style, many of the brands were beautifully packaged artisanal chocolates that you can’t find anywhere else in HK.
I already wrote about ChocoYOU – a website where you can build your own customisable chocolate bar – for Sassy; Kapok is the only physical retailer to sell some of their pre-packaged varieties, so this time I tried their curry-infused chocolate. It was a whole lot less daunting than I imagined, with a mellow spicy buzz that complemented the chocolate taste well (even if I doubt I’d ever choose curry chocolate of my accord!).
Kapok has also scored an exclusive partnership with Rannou Metivier, producing these gorgeous selection boxes of assorted chocolates. We tried several – the Ceylon tea one was slightly disappointing without much noticeable tea taste, the salted butter caramel one was more buttery caramel than salt, whilst our favourite was the pistachio with its deliciously nutty yet silky smooth and gooey filling.
Kapok, Gateway Ground Floor
After seeing so many Instagram photos of Thierry Mulphart’s chocolate sea salt caramel macaron, I had told Season that it was my only definite must-have. Chocolate, sea salt, caramel AND macaron?! I mean seriously, it’s like someone stepped into my wildest chocoholic dreams and made it happen! Alas, I probably set my expectations too high but this was still pretty tasty.
It didn’t really have the trademark airy but chewy texture of a macaron; instead, there was more of a crunch and combined with its unusual hard chocolate shell, this felt more like a biscuit or chocolate bar… a super tasty one, that is! I don’t think you can really go wrong with that marriage of flavours and this macaron-biscuit-yum hybrid was further proof of that.
Thierry Mulphart, Gateway First Floor
Next was Christophe Roussel, a French pâtissier who allegedly supplies Lauduree with their chocolate – well, with provenance like that, how could I resist?! I loved their super cute Star Ferry chocolates created exclusively for the Chocolate Trail – they’d make for great souvenirs… albeit ones that disappeared into your belly very quickly! Roussel’s signature chocolates are his lip-shaped ones, so we dutifully tried the Yuzu flavour. Normally, I steer clear of fruity chocolates as I usually find the syrup artificially sweet, but these were actually rather lovely and light. Yuzu is a pretty unusual fruit flavour to go for and the sweet but sour citrus cut through the chocolate nicely, making the whole thing sing on the palette.
Christophe Roussel, Gateway First Floor
Sugar and spice and all things nice… La Madeleine de Proust definitely wins for prettiest display! This French brand is nothing new in Hong Kong, having hosted many similar pop-up kiosks in malls before – but their set-up is absolutely stunning, reminding me of the sweet shops you thought only existed in fairy tales. We tried their signature Florentine – a gorgeously chewy biscuit featuring chopped nuts set in a caramel base and coated with dark chocolate. Apparently, the name originates from the words for a French kiss (‘baiser florentin’) and the sensation of eating one is supposed to produce a similarly sweet feeling; well, I’m not entirely sure about that, but given some of the ropey kisses I’ve “enjoyed” in my time, I’m pretty sure the Florentine biscuit would be the reliably more pleasurable option! This was so yummy that I was nearly tempted to buy several on the spot – it wasn’t too sweet and the soft but feather-light chewiness was delightful.
La Madeleine de Proust also sell a variety of sweets, biscuits and other confectionary, so if you’re getting a bit of cocoa overload, stop by here for a breather!
La Madeleine de Proust, Gateway Second Floor
The next stop on our tour is a must-visit – French artisan chocolatier Chapon. This stall was buzzing with people – apparently, they were re-stocking from selling out over the past few days and the staff literally could not get the chocolates out fast enough! Chapon is selling exclusively in Hong Kong at Harbour City for the Chocolate Trail and it’s the first time the brand has been here… and with any luck, they’ll be back soon because the chocolates are divine. Patrice Chapon was previously the ice-cream maker at Buckingham Palace, but luckily found his true calling in chocolate, and his Smoked Salt Praline Dome is his signature calling card… and they are SENSATIONAL.
I can’t quite describe the flavours of this unique chocolate; simultaneously blow-your-socks off stunning but still subtle, refined and sophisticated. The dome has a thin salty smoky outer layer with a satisfying caramel crunch layer inside, followed by the soft smooth nutty centre; the flavours are perfectly balanced and the final lingering taste of mellow smoky chocolate exquisiteness was just beyond. I will definitely be back to grab a few more (if there are any left!) and we should all keep our fingers crossed that Chapon becomes a permanent fixture in HK! In case you hadn’t realised, this is THE must-have chocolate from the Chocolate Trail – miss it at your peril!
Chapon, Gateway Ground Floor
There was a small pit stop to check out the unbelievably cute animal chocs at Lucullus, before we moved onto Baruzzo, an Italian chocolatier inspired by the handmade precision and bespoke nature of couture dressmaking. Fittingly, their thin square-shaped chocolates are all decorated with beautiful colourful designs; normally, super pretty chocolates look super pretty to hide the fact that they don’t taste too pretty… but I was very pleasantly surprised with Baruzzo’s! They have loads of innovative and interesting flavours just as unusual as their designs.
Our personal favourites were Rosemary, with the aromatic savoury herb nicely setting off the chocolate’s richness and complementing rather than overwhelming it (and I managed not to think about roast lamb once!). I have previously tried VERO’s rosemary chocolate with its liquid caramel centre, but Baruzzo’s rosemary element was delivered in the form of a scrummy crunchy middle – one of our favourite chocolates of the day. We also loved the Jasmine chocolate, which really did deliver the clean light and fragrant essence of Jasmine tea but without being too floral.
The Marigold variety was also intriguingly complex, with many different playful flavour notes (none of which I could quite put my finger on!), whilst I also tried their salted caramel soft centre and it was a-ma-zing. Normally, I hate orange-flavoured chocolates (Terry can keep his Chocolate Orange thanks very much!) so the fact that I even enjoyed their Orange Blossom variety (light, fruity and enhanced with some fine crunchy hazelnuts) means that Baruzzo must be onto a good thing!
Baruzzo, Ocean Terminal Ground Floor (by KidsX)
Our final port of call was British brand Prestat, the only chocolatier to hold two Royal Warrants. With over one hundred years of chocolate expertise, their speciality is the truffle so we tried the Banoffee (the banana-caramel filling was luscious but the shell being white chocolate just made the whole thing too sweet) and the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt. I am obsessed with the chocolate salt flavour combo and this hit all my buttons – saltier than most with a rich addictive caramel filling. The packaging is also suitably grand and gorgeous, chocolate truly fit for royalty so you can feast like a queen! P.S. I was clearly in a chocolate coma by this stage, as I forget to take any chocolate photos – sorry!
Prestat, Ocean Terminal Ground Floor (by KidsX)
Season also generously gifted us a swag bag of chocolate goodies, including a few brands I didn’t have time to try. I was surprised by Godiva’s Truffles, which are MUCH better than I gave them credit for. They’re a little on the sweet side but the Crème Brulee and Apple Tart Tatin ones in particular were beautifully nuanced and way more interesting than I thought mainstream chocolate brands were capable of being – it definitely beats Thorntons, that’s for sure!
I’d highly recommend a little jaunt around The Chocolate Trail – it’s a great opportunity to check out tonnes of awesome chocolatiers at once, many of which have only limited availability in Hong Kong… if they’re even available here yet at all. My must-visits? Chapon, Baruzzo and Prestat.
Obviously, given the beautiful presentation of these brands, many of these chocolates would make for amazing presents for others – but it’s just as important to bag a few to treat yourself! I know I will…
The 2013 Chocolate Trail runs at Harbour City until 24 February; Harbour City, 3 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, 2118 8666
Many thanks to the lovely and generous Season for arranging our tour, my friend Mirander for coming along and being my hand model and Nicole for doing such an amazing blog post that inspired me to get off my ass and hit TST!