Little break in Lille

The nice folks at Eurostar and Little Break, Big Difference invited me and a gaggle of other food bloggers to come with them to Lille for a day of foodie tourism. The basic idea here seems to be to demonstrate that destinations like Lille are so close to London that you can hop on a train in the morning, fill a day with Gallic excitement, and then pop back home on that same train in the evening. Once you’re at St Pancras, you’re less than an hour and a half from Lille – and Lille’s station is under five minutes’ walk from the old town centre, so there’s really very little excuse for my not having been before. It’s also, at around £60 a return ticket, far cheaper than I’d realised.

And if you’re the sort of person for whom a day’s food shopping, hunting for French tableware, tasting nibbly bits, soaking up atmosphere and dabbling at cookery lessons sounds just about perfect, you could do a lot worse than emulate the day’s itinerary that was organised for us, perhaps with a slightly later start and an evening meal in France (we left London at 7am, which meant a 5am start for lots of us, and returned before supper time). I don’t usually enjoy pre-organised, structured tourism (I get a lot of pleasure out of organising and planning things myself and get depressingly snobbish about guided tours and package holidays). Fortunately the company was so good and the city so packed with interesting food and drink – breakfast, a lunch cooked by the group at l’Atelier des Chefs, a cheese and beer tasting and an awful lot of pâtisseries – that I found myself enjoying being in something that would have felt a bit like a tour group if everybody hadn’t been quite so single-mindedly seeking out and photographing food.

It’s August, so northern France has emptied out. Lille was wonderfully quiet, especially before 10am, when the shops opened, giving us a great opportunity to take some pictures of a quiet, sunny city. We started with a spot of pâtisserie and chocolate shopping; this bread is from Aux Merveilleux de Fred (67 rue de la Monnaie), where fez-sized meringue merveilleuxes, sandwiched together with a dollop of buttercream and encased in chocolate, were also being prepared. (Sadly, a fez-sized meringue does not travel well, so Fred’s merveilleuxes remain unsampled – if you can visit in the morning you’ll have a very enjoyable few minutes watching them being made through the window.) We did buy a baguette here to sample as soon as the shop opened, and it was excellent in the way only something this fresh can be, with a crackling crust, a soft and yeasty crumb, and a total refusal to fit comfortably in anyone’s bag. We then overwhelmed the poor staff at Patrick Hermand (Rue Basse), a modern pâtisserie in a tiny lacquered box of a room, where about twenty varieties of macarons were on offer, alongside these joyous pâtisseries. Note – what you are seeing here is cakes with macarons embedded in them. A large box of macarons came home with me.

On to Meert (27, Rue Esquermoise), a pâtisserie and restaurant opened in 1761, where we sampled deceptively slim and delicate waffles in the beautiful baroque dining room at the back of the shop. They might be slim, but these waffles or gauffres are, unusually, stuffed with an incredibly dense buttercream spiked with flecks of vanilla, and at this time in the morning I could only manage one, praying inbetween bites that death from an overwhelmed gall bladder would wait until I was finished. A photograph of me enjoying a waffle a little bit too much has been put on Flickr by the ladies from Little Break, Big Difference. Note that I’ve only managed one mouthful so far in the picture. Merveilleuxes were available here too, and we split one between four, helped down with some scented, fruity iced tea and a few gallons of coffee. Shopping at Meert is well worth your time even if you don’t choose to sit down for a bite to eat; you’ll find all kinds of pâtisseries, caramels, fruit jellies, chocolates, miniature waffles and some excellent teas and coffees.

A brisk trot through town, giving us a chance to enjoy the sunny morning, to a cookery class at l’Atelier des Chefs. If I’d been planning the day myself, there’s absolutely no way I’d have been involved in cooking my own lunch, but if you are the sort of person who enjoys casual classes and an introduction to local produce a
nd flavours, you might want to look into a session here. (L’Atelier also runs classes in London and many other cities – check their UK website for details.) Divided into groups of four and clad in very swanky Eurostar-branded aprons, we had a quick drink in a room full of kitchen equipment for sale. Once in the kitchen, we were talked through the preparation of tiramisu made with speculoos, the delicious caramel and cinnamon biscuits you’ll find served alongside coffee in these parts; then we prepared cod flambéed in honey and fleur de bière, a hoppy, floral eau de vie distilled from beer. A pleasant but not fabulous meal (the honey/fleur de bière sauce made for a very unbalanced, candied flavour profile which doesn’t sit well with cod) – and once we were perched on stools to eat our meal at a table surrounded by shelves and shelves of more expensive merchandise, I found myself wishing we’d gone to L’Huîtrière in the old town instead. But I am an avowed grump who does a lot of cooking – as you are doubtless of a sunnier disposition, your mileage may vary.

We were met at Le Capsule (25 Rue des 3 Molettes), a fantastically atmospheric little bar full of French emo kids, by Aymeric Gillet-Chevais, the president and founder of ATPUB, the French version of CAMRA. Down in the damp (and very dark, so I’m showing you a picture of the town square instead) cellar, he talked us through French beer culture, and told us about the different producers. The bar is not tied to a specific brewery (unlike a shocking 99% of French bars), so you’ll find 130 beers on the list from minuscule breweries, many very close to Lille itself. We worked our way through four beers; I particularly liked Page 24, from a small brewery 35km outside the city. Chicory is a common addition to northern French beers, says Aymeric, who must have France’s very best name; and this blonde beer packs a bitter punch, rounded off with a lovely coriander nose. Four local cheeses from Philippe Olivier (3, Rue Curé St Etienne) were served too, and it is to my eternal misery that a family emergency had closed the shop for the afternoon, because I would have murdered for a slab of the Maroilles we ate to take home.

We had about twenty minutes before having to dash for the train, so I visited La Capsule’s sister shop, l’Abbaye des Saveurs and stocked up on beers and some other local goodies. Happily for all those of us in the EU, the shop also has an e-commerce arm. Homeware shops, cookware shops and delicatessens proliferate all the way round the old town, so you should be able to find some foodie bits and pieces to take home (save this for the end of the afternoon – if you’re only around for a day, you’ll be doing a lot of walking and this is no fun with four litres of beer, a camera and a bushel of macarons in your bag) no matter how little time you have.

You’ll find more about the day on the blogs listed at the top of the post, and video and more pictures have been unleashed on the Internet by the Little Break Big Difference ladies. I have to admit, I’m not too sure what went on on the train on the way home. I fell asleep.

Crisp vegetable stir-fry in oyster sauce

This makes a great accompaniment to Chinese dishes, but it’s delicious enough to eat as a meal on its own with rice, and it works out very inexpensive – just right for the end of the month. No good for vegetarians, I’m afraid, because I do recommend that you use oyster sauce that contains real oyster essence – it’s worlds apart from the oyster-free sort. Several manufacturers make the good stuff. It’ll come with the word ‘premium’ somewhere on the label on the front, and should list around 9% oyster extract on the ingredients label on the back. I really like Lee Kum Kee’s premium oyster sauce, partly because it has such a fantastic label – a 1950s pastel-coloured confection surrounded with roses, featuring a pretty lady and little, sailor-suited boy in a boat, ferrying some absolutely giant oysters across a river. (This picture isn’t huge, but if you squint, you can make it all out.)

Despite the presence of shellfish, oyster sauce doesn’t taste at all fishy. It’s very savoury, and has a lovely sweet edge, but there’s no hint of fishiness, so you can serve this to fish-hating children (and adults) without needing to worry.

Chopping your veg into slim batons shouldn’t take too long, and I actually rather enjoy the repetitive slicing – it’s somehow rather soothing at the end of a long day. Try to buy reasonably small courgettes – these will be sweeter, and their flesh will be denser and easier to chop.

To serve two as an accompaniment (double the quantities if you want to eat it as a main course), you’ll need:

4 large carrots
3 courgettes
4 plump cloves of garlic
6 spring onions (scallions)
1 piece of ginger, about the size of your thumb
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
5 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine
1 teaspoon cornflour dissolved in 5 tablespoons cold water
Flavourless oil to stir-fry

Cut the carrots and courgettes into slim batons, about five centimetres long and a couple of millimetres in cross-section, and set aside in a bowl. Slice the garlic thinly, chop the ginger into slim batons around the same size as the bits of vegetable, and chop the white bottom parts of the spring onions into little coins. (You won’t be using the green parts, but it’s worth popping them in the fridge so you can use them later on.)

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in the bottom of your wok over a high flame until it begins to shimmer. Throw in the garlic, ginger and spring onions, and stir-fry for about thirty seconds. Tip in the carrot and courgettes, and continue to stir-fry for a 1-2 minutes, keeping everything on the move until the courgette pieces start to go bendy (bendiness is starting to occur in the picture).

Pour the oyster sauce and wine into the wok and continue to stir-fry for two minutes. Add the cornflour mixture and keep stirring until the mixture thickens a little. Serve immediately with rice.

The Mighty Spice Company

Update, 28 Oct 2008 – I’m very pleased to be able to tell you that Sainsbury’s has seen the light, and is now stocking Mighty Spice at selected butchers’ counters, so you’re not going to have to drive to London to buy your own tub any more.

A couple of weeks ago, the nice people at The Mighty Spice Company sent me three of their chilled spice mixes to sample. Exciting stuff, this; I’ve not found anything similar to these fresh blends on sale in the UK. The Mighty Spice Company’s offering is a really refreshing change from the oily, musty pastes and sauces you’ll find on offer in the supermarket which taste vaguely of foreign – instead, these blends are made from fresh ingredients without fillers and additives (so they need to be kept refrigerated), and are really well-judged, with clean and subtle balances of flavour. They’ve been in development for two years, and you can really taste the effort that’s gone into tweaking these mixtures to perfection.

Currently, the range includes a Szechwan mix, a Tandoori mix and a Thai Green mix. All three come with simple recipes on the side of the pack (recipes are also available on the Mighty Spice website), but the mixes are so flexible that you can (as, inevitably, I did – I’m very bad at following instructions) improvise around them very successfully. I was really chuffed to find that the mixes are comprehensive enough that I was able to make a positively fantastic stir-fry without having to add (and chop – hooray!) any ginger, garlic or other spices – and the balance of soy sauce and oyster sauce forming the background of the mix was spot on, so I didn’t have to add any wet ingredients either. I made a lamb curry with the tandoori mix, some crushed tomatoes and coconut – especially good the next day, after a night in the fridge to let the flavours mingle, and again, it needed absolutely no additions to the very well-blended spice mix. The Thai mix was a bit milder than I would usually have chosen, but tasted green and fresh.

My favourite? Probably the Szechwan spice mix, which was loaded with Szechwan peppercorns. It’s a good way into the spice for those of you who aren’t familiar with it and its curious tongue-numbing (but not painful) heat, a sensation a little like a cross between a mint leaf and a chilli. In taste it’s nothing like mint or chilli, but pleasantly citric. None of your syrupy, Chinese-sauce-inna-jar flavours here; this was a really bright, lively sauce that worked well with some chicken and sweet vegetables.

I’m sure it won’t be long before you’re able to find The Mighty Spice Company’s products on sale in a supermarket chiller cabinet near you, but for now they’re very new and are mostly available in London. You’ll find the spice mixes stocked at Wholefoods Market, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and several organic grocers – a complete list of stockists is available here. I’d heartily recommend you spend the £3.99 on one of their mixes for a professional, easy and hopelessly tasty supper. Brilliant stuff – thanks, Mighty Spice guys!

SealSaver vacuum tubs

Finally – a gadget I really rate! If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I am not always a huge fan of gadgets in the kitchen. I know that a lot of you have limited storage space your own kitchens, and this means that owning a special great hunk of plastic and metal which is only useful for coring and peeling pineapples is an irritation rather than a help. Most kitchen tasks can be achieved with good knives; a really good grater also helps, and I will also admit the usefulness of a collection of measuring jugs and cups, and perhaps the odd silicone spatula or medical syringe.

I have welcomed another worthwhile gadget into regular use in my kitchen – and this happens very seldom. A few weeks ago, I was sent the SealSaver system: a trio of storage vessels in varying sizes with a cunning vacuum pump mechanism built into the lid. I agreed to review them, expecting to find them diverting and perhaps helpful. I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with them, though; and my whirlwind affair with these plastic cylinders isn’t over yet. I’ve been marinading, brining, storing stinky things and pumping, pumping, pumping as if my life depended on it.

SealSaver tubs allow you to store foods in a vacuum, which retards spoilage, especially if you then place the tub in the fridge. You suck the air out using a sort of bellows mechanism built into the lid – everything feels very solid and well engineered. A valve pops inside-out when there is a vacuum inside the tub, and no top-up pumping is necessary. The whole assembly clips apart and can be washed in the dishwasher (hurrah!); the bowl is also microwave-safe. Storing your bits and bobs in one of these in the freezer also eliminates freezer burn. And the bowls are also thoughtfully marked with liquid measurements.

A fan of the scientific process, I carried out some experiments involving raw, chopped onions, coffee grounds and washed salad, using my usual method (bowl, cling film, fridge) as a control and comparing with the same refrigerated ingredients in the SealSaver. (Not all in the same tub.) There’s definitely something in this vacuum storage malarkey – my elderly control onion stank of brimstone after a week, while my SealSaver onion stayed fresh and lively. Coffee retained its flavour and odour for a whole week even outside the fridge, and the salad wilted long after its friend in the bowl with the cling film.

So I’m absolutely sold on the SealSaver for storage. The moment, for me at least, the tubs really came into their own was when I started dabbling with vacuum marinading and brining.

If you marinade meat in a vacuum, some magic occurs whereby the marinade is pushed into the meat in a fraction of the time it would take at normal pressure. I’m not 100% sure of the science behind this – I’ve heard explanations which have taken in expansion in the meat’s pores (pores – surely not?), crazy speedy osmosis and a kind of reverse squashing effect from the low pressure. I am still none the wiser on how it works, but I can inform you that it does work, and it works like a dream. I was able to cut down on marinading time for chicken pieces by an eighth (an hour rather than overnight), and brined a whole chicken in the largest of the three to perfection in twenty minutes. Spare ribs took half an hour. (Recipes to follow in later posts – I’ll include marinading times for those of you without a vacuum-in-a-pot.) The meats were tender and moist, and had taken up the marinade beautifully.

This is more than convenient. It’s lunch-changing. How often have you picked up a recipe, thought: ‘My, that’d be great for supper,’ and then failed to cook because it needs marinading for four hours and the family is becoming fractious and grumpy through lack of food? You can reduce those four hours to half an hour if you buy your own tubs at the SealSaver website. I heartily recommend cramming a small chicken into the largest one.

Frozen foods

I was struck full of doubt and uncertainty when sent some vouchers by McCain, the frozen foods people. They wanted me to try their new McCain Gourmet range (I should point out that no money changed hands here, just a small envelope of vouchers), and I will admit that on receiving the first in what became a series of emails, I sat back at my desk and spent a couple of minutes scoffing loudly. After all – what comes to your mind when you think about McCain? Oven chips…OK, I buy oven chips now and then when I’m feeling lazy, and they’re pleasant, but not as good as the chips I make myself. Those grotesque smiley face reformed potato things that, alongside Turkey Twizzlers, formed the core of Jamie Oliver’s recent school dinners crusade are a McCain product. McCain also make those microwave pizzas, the potato croquettes I used to hide in my pockets rather than eat at school, and deep-fried mashed potato numerals for those who are using their supper to teach their children how to add. I marched to the supermarket, vouchers in hand, prepared to heartily dislike everything in the new range and ready to write something blistering after eating it.

But something curious has been happening to frozen foods in the UK recently. There’s much more emphasis in the ads we see on TV about the lack of preservatives and artificial ingredients in frozen products, especially since the fat-tongued one took on school dinners. Giles Coren, a food critic I like and respect, who takes food sourcing and sustainability very seriously, has been popping up advertising Birds Eye. This feels a bit like Sister Wendy advertising Ann Summers. His advertisements are all about freshness, quality and purity of ingredients, and responsible fishing and farming. McCain themselves have recently rolled out a new ad campaign (‘It’s all good‘), emphasising that they use small amounts of healthy fats, remove artificial additives wherever possible and use traffic light symbols to show how much fat, salt and other artery-clogging deliciousness is in each product. They’re also keen to point out that all the potatoes in their British products are British potatoes, so food miles are kept down.

The new McCain Gourmet range exemplifies the new approach. I was amazed on picking up a pack of Cheddar and Mustard Gratin from the freezer cabinet to read the ingredients list. The little metal dish contains potatoes; a mornay sauce made like I’d make it at home from whipping cream, butter, cheddar and wholegrain mustard; a sprinkling of cheese…and nothing else. What’s more, it tasted delicious and did not involve any interaction with my mandoline (a much loved but also much feared kitchen implement).

There followed a frenzied trawl through the whole range. My vouchers ran out after I’d tried the Potato Crumble with Four Cheeses (gorgeous Mascarpone, Danish blue, Cheddar and Grana Padano, topped with crisp breadcrumbs) and the Diced Potato with Leek and Parmesan, but by this point I’d been so thoroughly impressed that I bought the rest of the range as well. The Baby Potatoes with Roasted Tomatoes and Garlic are wonderfully, smokily garlicky; the Diced Potatoes with Tomatoes and Mixed Peppers were probably my least favourite of the lot, but I suspect this is because by this point I’d become addicted to creamy, cheesy sauces. You can buy your own to try at most UK supermarkets. The packs all weigh in at 400g and cost £1.89.

McCain, I’m sorry I imagined you were solely a purveyor of unspeakable fats and starches to schoolchildren. I eat humble (potato) pie. Keep producing stuff like this, and I’ll keep buying it. I’m lucky enough to enjoy cooking, so I don’t really mind spending an hour making a gratin from scratch, but when I can buy something this easy, this quick and this full of good, healthy, delicious things, I will occasionally consider spending that hour lying on my back in the garden with a glass of wine and feeling good about the world.

Online product shopping

In the last week or so, I’ve had several emails and comments on old posts asking me where to find certain products I’ve mentioned. I thought listing some favourite suppliers here would be more useful than replying in the comments section of each post. So here, in no particular order, are the online suppliers who I find myself using again and again. Most of these companies deliver outside the UK. If you are in the USA, have a look at Amazon, where you’ll find a lot of the ethnic ingredients listed below. (Sadly for those of us on this side of the Atlantic, Amazon in the UK is very slow in catching on to the grocery shopping it offers in the US. I’m hoping they’ll roll out the service soon.)

Many of the supermarkets in the UK now offer an online delivery service. I prefer to do my own supermarket shopping (and I get much of my fruit and veg from the very good market in Cambridge), but friends who use Ocado (Waitrose’s service) have been delighted. Tesco and Sainsbury’s also offer a similar service, but I find that the quality of the produce at Waitrose is much better, with Sainsbury’s coming in second place.

American ingredients
**Update 08 June 2007**
If you’re looking for American ingredients, check out this post.

Chinese, Thai and other oriental ingredients
The Asian Cookshop is fantastic if you’re living somewhere with no access to good Oriental supermarkets. They stock Mae Ploy curry pastes (my favourite brand), some fresh ingredients including pandang leaves and galangal, bottled sauces which are hard to find even in some Chinese supermarkets, and dried goods. They also carry Bombay Duck, an Indian dried fish which was unaccountably banned by the EU for a few years. It’s legal again now, and if you’ve not tried it, I’d really recommend buying a pack to eat as a garnish with curry. This is where I come for Vietnamese spring roll wrappers, Chinese lily pods and dried mushrooms. There’s even a sushi section. The Asian Cookshop delivers worldwide.

Wholesale spices and other Indian ingredients
Sweetmart, an Indian wholesalers in Bristol, sells a great range of large boxes and bags of whole spices, alongside other Indian ingredients including some excellent curry pastes. They also carry speciality flours made from barley, beans and so forth. Check out the recipe section.

Ambala foods are a great supplier. Their thoughtful range of sweet and savoury nibbles is wide, their service is impeccable (they’ll always deliver within 24 hours, and are always exceptionally friendly and helpful on the telephone if you need to talk to someone in person). Sweets are posted on the same day that they are made. Try the absolutely delicious Ferrari Chevda (a nibbly, salty, spicy mix with puffed rice, cashews, sev and other good things) and the amazing Assorted Sweets box. Ambala delivers worldwide.

Herbs and spices
Seasoned Pioneers carries a vast range of spice blends from all over the world; I always have their Ras-al-Hanout, shrimp paste and tamarind paste in the cupboard. Every major cuisine in the world is represented in their range, and I love their resealable packs. The blends are fantastically imaginative, and the quality of the product is much better than anything you’ll find in those little glass pots at the supermarket. (The opaque packaging helps here too.) Seasoned Pioneers delivers worldwide.

Steenbergs Organic are appallingly, addictively good. The whole range is organic, and they are the first British herb and spice supplier to use the Fairtrade mark. Alongside all this social responsibility, they’ve managed to find an absolute genius to blend their various seasoning mixtures; their Perfect Salt is something I simply can’t manage without. They carry some fascinating and esoteric spices (the person who asked about pink peppercorns should look here). Look out for grains of paradise, a medieval English favourite; sumach (hard to find elsewhere) and white poppy seeds, which I’ve never seen anywhere else. Their recipes are great too. Give your credit card to someone responsible before you click on the link, or, like me, you might find yourself buying nearly everything they sell.

Steenberg’s do deliver worldwide, but if you are not in the UK you will have to contact them to arrange postage.

I’ve not found any British suppliers as good as Patiwizz in France. They sell flower essences which I love for sweets and cakes (there is nothing as good as a violet fondant). The baking essences are listed alongside other flavourings I’ve not dared try – artichoke, sea urchin, lamb… Patiwizz are currently developing an English-language site, but for now you’ll need to be able to read French to order. They deliver worldwide.

Mexican food
I’ve got a soft spot for Mexican food. Mexican ingredients are really hard to find in the UK, but Lupe Pinto’s in Edinburgh is a terrific source. You’ll find ingredients like chipotle chillies in adobo (an delicious ingredient regular readers will notice I use almost to the point of obsession), taco sauces, whole yellow chillies and my Mexican holy grail, canned tomatillos. They stock the hard-to-find chipotle Tabasco sauce, which means I don’t have to import it from America any more. Lupe Pinto’s also carries some American groceries for hungry ex-pats, and a great selection of tequila.

Lupe Pinto’s only delivers to the mainland UK at the moment, but they hope to expand.

The English language is not sufficiently developed yet to allow me to express just precisely how good l’Artisan du Chocolat, based in London, is. I promise that you have never, ever tasted chocolates this good. The prices reflect the quality of the product, but once you’ve got one in your mouth, the chocolates feel like an absolute bargain.

L’Artisan du Chocolat delivers worldwide.

Flavoured chocolates

I’ve recently started fixating on good, high-cocoa chocolates with unusual flavourings. Forget Terry’s Chocolate Orange – I want a bar full of exotic fruits, flower flavours and exciting spices. They’re increasingly popular at the moment; branches of Hotel du Chocolat are springing up all over the place, and Rococo Chocolates, NewTree and good old Green and Black’s are now supplying supermarkets. (Those after the ultimate posh chocolate experience should put in an order at l’Artisan du Chocolat, where flavours include banana and thyme, tonka bean and tobacco. The chocolates are expensive, but those I’ve had have been absolutely excellent – sadly, though, I have eaten the grand total of two of the things in my entire life. If I can get my hands on a box for Christmas, you’ll see them reviewed here.)

At the supermarket this week, I found myself scooping bars of chocolate into the basket like a woman possessed. Made to put most of them back by Dr Weasel, I held onto an organic bar of dark chocolate and cardamom from Rococo, and a bar of lavender and lime blossom milk chocolate from NewTree.

Rococo are based in Chelsea’s King’s Road, and have been producing organic chocolates of remarkably high quality for nearly 20 years. Luckily for you, they’ve discovered e-commerce and now ship worldwide, and some of their artisan bars and gift collections now appear in Waitrose. Their flower fondants are my very favourites, and have solidly replaced Charbonnel & Walker’s rose and violet creams in my affections. Always a sucker for good packaging design, I’m absolutely enchanted by Rococo’s wrappers, which use images from an 1850s French catalogue of chocolate moulds.

This cardamom artisan bar is, for me, about as good as dark chocolate gets. Cardamom has that same affinity with a bitter chocolate as it does with good, bitter coffee, and the 65% cocoa solids and high percentage of cocoa butter give the bar a beautifully clean snap when broken. The crisp, granular shards of cardamom seeds are glorious against the silky texture of the chocolate. It is unfortunate that these are so darn good; I can quite happily eat one in a single sitting.

NewTree (beware – very busy Flash site with music) a Belgian chocolate makers, are a brand I’d not come across before, but once I saw the label on their Tranquility milk chocolate, boasting lime blossom extract and lavender, I was sold. A single bar is said to have the same relaxing properties as three cups of lime blossom tisane. The milk chocolate was slightly granular, but delicately fragranced and delicious. If in quibblesome mood, I might complain that the chocolate was a little sweeter than the ideal, but this seems almost churlish given how well blended the unusual flower flavours were. I don’t really feel qualified to comment on whether or not I was left tranquil; any calming effect may have come from the glass of violet liqueur I was drinking on the side.

NewTree’s schtick is an appealing one; they flavour their chocolate bars with spices and herbs used not only for their flavour, but also for their health applications. With names like Pleasure, Eternity, Young, Digest, Vivacity, Sexy, Tranquility, Serenity and Cocoon, NewTree seem to have hit on something the rest of us have suspected for years – chocolate really is a universal panacea. Grab a bar if you see one, and please report back in the comments section and let me know whether you really did feel serene and cocooned.