Hotel Chocolat Cocoa Bar-Cafe
John Lewis, St James Centre, Edinburgh
Actually, forget the rest and team the latter with every mother’s favourite shop – John Lewis – and we might have a winning combo.
Hooray, then, for the Hotel Chocolat Cocoa Bar-Cafe, which has opened a branch in Edinburgh’s never knowingly undersold department store.
It’s in the space that was formerly an espresso bar, tucked between menswear and the vast sea of giant bras and Extreme Makeover-style evening dresses that is womenswear.
Unlike its top floor cafe, The Place to Eat, which is frighteningly bright, hot and clattery, this feels like a safe place – a cocoa-scented cave for frightened bears who have been wandering around all day, pretending to browse crockery, while secretly eyeing up the exit.
There’s a grinder and a conch, both whirling in their vitrines to make all the chocolate for the cafe.
Almost everything has roasted cocoa nibs or chocolate in it. Including the savoury stuff.
We ordered a white chocolate and jasmine drink (£3.50) and a peppermint and cocoa shell infusion (£2.75). The latter was OK – a worthy sort of nutty and minty herbal tea. However, the other potion was like something that the White Witch of Narnia would quaff – sweet and rich, frothy and floral.
From the lunch menu, served from noon until 3pm, we tried the plantation mac and cheese pie (£8) which, according to Hotel Chocolat, is “our version of the weekend favourite from the villages around our plantation in St Lucia”. Indeed, it turns out that the macaroni pie, which originated in Scotland, is also big in the Caribbean. This was an upmarket version, with a hard and nutty pastry cup that was stuffed with a rich and pale mushroom and leek-studded macaroni cheese. Nice.
Not so sure about the white chocolate mash and bacon (£7). First bite = mind-blowing, fourth bite = feeling funny now, sixth bite = the dentist is going to have to do CPR on my teeth. It was SO rich and sweet. The rashers of “pecan and cocoa-glazed bacon” didn’t help to balance things out. Neither did the half grilled tomato or blanched spinach. It reminded me of when your parents make you smoke a whole pack of cigarettes, to put you off for life. Except at middle-age, with chocolate.
We liked the cocoa dogs (£7), though it should have been described in the singular. Cutting something in half doesn’t make it a plural. Anyway, it was an old fashioned glossy and sticky-sweet pork sausie, served on a granary half-baguette type thing, with “cocoa beer-braised onions”. More a sausage sandwich than whatever a cocoa dog is supposed to be.
The warm quinoa salad (£3.50) was the most ordinary offering. Perhaps someone had forgotten to dress it with “cocoa balsamic dressing”, as listed, because all I could taste was naked quinoa, along with neat chunks of beetroot, spring onion and butternut squash, with mint leaves on the top.
My white chocolate mash experience had been like aversion therapy, but we still managed three cakey traybake hybrids for pudding.
Our chocmopolitan (£2.75) was a pleasantly upmarket rice crispy cake, with white, strawberry and plain chocolate striped onto the crispies, while the amorphous honey loaf (£2.50), which consisted of plain chocolate-covered cinder toffee, was almost as effective at pulling teeth as a thread and a doorknob. The crumbly and rich brownie (£3.50) was our favourite, and they do a good flat white here (£2.50).
If your mother is crazy for the sweet brown stuff, I suggest you spare her the pink carnations and sloppy cereal and take her to Hotel Chocolat instead.
• Hotel Chocolat Cocoa Bar-Cafe, John Lewis, St James Centre, Edinburgh (0131-558 7346, www.hotel chocolat.com)