Bin Fox Food History Tours: Hot Chocolate Test Run

The test run of the Bin Fox Hot Chocolate History Tasting Tour got off to a wobbly start as I discovered that my hasty formatting for the scorecards didn’t hold up over the two separate instances of MS Word it’s apparently necessary to use in my house in order to print things, and my even hastier cobbling together of tour guide text was, it must be said, somewhat lacking in stylistic consistency and grammatical sense.

THE TOUR

“I promise there’s a good reason for this,” I told an amused cashier at Wasabi on Oxford Street, having thrown about ten sachets of pickled ginger onto the floor in my desperation to purchase them and nothing else. I was not being entirely truthful. My reason – not necessarily a good one – was that a few months ago I decided that the history of drinking chocolate in London as distinct from the turbulent history of coffee, tea, and gin consumption (all also remarkable), was fascinating in its own right and that our proliferation of chocolatiers in the city deserved celebration.

Like many of the ideas that I have around 3.20am at work, I announced my intention to my friends and promptly forgot all about it, in this case because I was trying to combine writing a book, learning to belly-dance, learning basic Turkish, and getting swole  (adj).

Thus it was that on the eve of the test tour I found myself desperately skim-reading Wikipedia and some articles by the indispensable Dr Matthew Green, and making impassioned pleas for categories by which to score hot chocolates – at an hour best described as “a little late in the day for this preparation work”.

But the next day I slogged to The Ship on Wardour Street with determination, printed scorecards, a head full of recently-acquired knowledge, a pack of Bic biros, several sachets of ginger for palate-cleansing and a bottle of fizzy maté as cleansing backup, there to meet my test audience, Mim and Al.

Besides enthusiasm for history, learning, and chocolate, Mim and Al brought differing palates (Al has a preference for the bitter and Mim for the sweet), and touring capability (Al lives in the gym, Mim has EDS). This, I thought, would provide a good test of the route, intended break times, and probably also the limits of my pancreas.

The notion that we were going to share out drinks at a ratio of about one between three had already been agreed upon, and turned out to be absolutely and utterly vital to our survival. I cannot stress how totally and utterly I would no longer have blood running through my veins if we’d had one drink each at these places.

Paul A Young

At the first stop on our tour we learnt about the overall history of hot chocolate, its origins as a drink in South America, and the propensity for adding spices – an option still available to patrons of Paul A Young today, with their array of additional flavours available for the connoisseur at no additional cost.

Price: £3.95

SWEETNESS: Mim 2, Al 4 – some discussion was had over how to rate, with Al going with “I ranked it highly because I like that it wasn’t that sweet” and Mim going with “I ranked it on objective sweetness level”.
CREAMINESS: Mim 2, Al 4, revised up from 3 at the end of the tour after some discussion.
THICKNESS: Mim 1 Al 4, also revised
RICHNESS: Mim 4, Al 4
SCENT: Mim 3, Al 4, also revised
MOUTHFEEL: Mim 4, Al 4, also revised
COLOUR/APPEARANCE: Mim 4, Al 4

OVERALL SCORE: 28 (revised up from 24) out of a possible 35 from Al, while Mim presents a mode score of 4, an aggregate of 20/35.

COMMENTS: Mim: “customisable: add own spice”, Al: “Pick own spice”, shorthand for their belief that the option to create your own spiced blend is a strong selling point here. Historically, too, as we discussed, spices have been added to hot chocolate since its inception. Mim ranks this as her 3rd favourite, Al didn’t provided number rankings.

SAID dal 1923

A London institution and murderously difficult to get into to sit down most of the time, SAID is a wildly popular provider of Italian-style chocolate drink, and rightly so. At this place – and this place only – we had the capability to buy a “small” size, equivalent to an espresso shot. Trust when we say this is all that you need, and even that may prove to be too much, It is a dauntingly rich experience, available in dark, milk, and gianduja (hazelnut).

Price: £2.50 for a small.

SWEETNESS: Mim 3, Al 4
CREAMINESS: Mim 4, Al 4
THICKNESS: Mim 5, Al 4
RICHNESS: Mim 2, Al 4
SCENT: Mim 3, Al 4
MOUTHFEEL: Mim 4, Al 5
COLOUR/APPEARANCE: Mim 4, Al 4

OVERALL SCORE: 29 / 35 from Al, mode 4 and aggregate 24/35 from Mim. The differing scores on “richness” may be related to the choice in hot chocolates (see below).

COMMENTS: Mim: “Om nomm nommmmm”, Al: “Milk also nice”; Al and I plumped for dark chocolate as this is our default, and Mim took on milk chocolate, but was kind enough to let us try. The majority of other comments amounted to visceral noises and trying to lick the inside of the cup. It was not dignified, but it was heartfelt. Mim ranks this as her number one of the chocolates reviewed.

Possibly addled by this experience, and possibly just very bad at reading Googlemaps, we got briefly lost and did a loop through Kingly Court. This is unnecessary – the next place is very close to SAID DAL – but perhaps worthwhile, as it gave us the chance to recover from the intensity.

ChoccyWoccyDooDah

The little cup contains marshmallows. Full-sized ones.
The marshmallows in action

CWDD is best-known for intricate chocolate sculptures in astounding forms and a pantomime wonderland interior, It is flashy, over-the-top, theatrical, and overwhelming; the branch in Brighton’s Lanes has frequently taken me by surprise as it looms out of the narrow alleys like a fairytale rendition of chocolate heaven or Willy Wonka’s deranged chocolate factory. The Carnaby Street branch, also tucked away down narrower roads, is much the same. The queue here was also enormous and there was a little confusion in communication but in mitigation we’d like to add that the staff here were beyond delightful, friendly and engaging and determined to make accommodation for Mim’s needs in particular, leading to the spectacularly indulgent experience of sipping hot chocolate while reclining on a chaise longe in a towering hallucination of sugarcraft. Definitely one for children and the festive season.

Price: £3.99

SWEETNESS: Mim 5, Al 2 – sticking to his previous “do I like this” scale
CREAMINESS: Mim 3, Al 4
THICKNESS: Mim 2, Al 2
RICHNESS: Mim 1, Al 3
SCENT: Mim 1, Al 2
MOUTHFEEL: Mim 2, Al 4
COLOUR/APPEARANCE: Mim 2, Al 2

OVERALL SCORE: 19 / 35 from Al, a mode score of 2 and aggregate of 16/35 from Mim.

COMMENTS: Mim: “Very, very sweet”, Al: “Teeth-meltingly sweet, great spectacle [but] basically a high street hot chocolate”. Mim ranks this sixth.

Exterior to ChoccyWoccy and over the sound of mysterious fireworks, we enlightened ourselves as to the introduction of chocolate to London in 1657 under the guise of a panegyric (of course), and some of its subsequent development.

History

The route through Soho has taken us in the opposite direction from the rest of the Central London tour so far, but there is a good reason for this. A large chunk of the history of “chocolate houses” revolves around St James’s Street, which we duly walked down before turning back through the bottom of Soho, with a brief stop to weep longingly over crisps – salty food! SALTY FOOD!

Where is Rococco?

While the majority of my inclusions on this list were based on observations either by myself or by other tour members, Rococco was included after perusing an official list of Best Chocolate Drinking Establishments on one of those infernal listings sites.

As it turned out this was a mistake. Rococco: Earlham Street, said my notes.

No such place, said Earlham Street, which indeed contained not a hide nor hair of Rococco.

Hotel Chocolat

While this extremely well-known chocolatier has many, many branches this is the first I had encountered which was selling hot chocolates. Rather brilliantly my introduction came when a man pounced on me with a tray of samples and then instead of muttering shut up when I asked about how the recent cocoa bean glut had affected things on a business level, eagerly told me all about the plantation/company relationship and price-setting structure used with their partners in Ghana.

This joy in all elements of the chocolate industry continued with our visit on the tour; additional cups were provided – as they were in many places – but already pre-poured, and once we had settled in some of the staff came over to ask us about the tour, the scoring and how they were faring so far. Hotel Chocolat has an almost intimidating variety of options, but after the intense sweetness of ChoccyWoccy the team were pining for something bitter, and plumped on this occasion for their 85% dark.

Price: £3.95

Pre-shared, and on a tray. The napkins bear a diagram of the anatomy of a cocoa pod. Fascinating stuff.

SWEETNESS: Mim 1, Al 4 (revised from a 3, sticking to the “I like it so I will rank it higher” approach as compared to Mim’s “objective sweetness level” approach)
CREAMINESS: Mim 1, Al 4
THICKNESS: Mim 3, Al 3
RICHNESS: Mim 3, Al 3
SCENT: Mim 3, Al 4
MOUTHFEEL: Mim 2, Al 3
COLOUR/APPEARANCE: Mim 3, Al 3

OVERALL SCORE: 24 / 35 from Al, with a mode score of 3 and an aggregate of 16/35 from Mim.

COMMENTS: Mim “80% dark”, Al: “Overall better than individual score”, referring to his enjoyment of the drink as a whole but less so in the individual categories. The gestalt 85% dark Hotel Chocolat was held successful, despite Mim’s low score, and ranking of it in 5th place.

While comfortably located and taking a much-needed bathroom break, we also continued our education on the history of drinking chocolate with the infamous chocolate houses of St James Square, and in particular the notorious and infernal Tory hangouts, Ozinda’s and Whites.

Godiva

Another multi-branch institution, Godiva in Covent Garden is short on space and in the lead up to Christmas short on patience, so they did admirably to accommodate our indecisiveness in choosing between four or five flavour options (including praline!). For a larger group it would certainly be necessary to phone ahead in order to avoid placing excessive strain on a diminutive chocolate heater. We optioned for the Viennoise Praline, on the grounds that variety is the spite of pancreatitis (this is not medically accurate) and that the saltiness might save us from total meltdown.

Price: £3.95`

SWEETNESS: Mim 4, Al 4 (revised from a 3)
CREAMINESS: Mim 4, Al 4
THICKNESS: Mim 1, Al 2
RICHNESS: Mim 3, Al 3
SCENT: Mim 3, Al 3
MOUTHFEEL: Mim 3, Al 4
COLOUR/APPEARANCE: Mim 2, Al 4

OVERALL SCORE: 22 / 35 from Al, mode score of 3 from Mim and aggregate of 20/35.

COMMENTS: Mim: “Viennoise Praline – nutty”, Al: [N/A] none on the sheet but the saltiness was remarked upon favourably. Mim ranks this 4th.

Venchi:

Close to defeat we joined the queue at this Italian wonderland for another thick and intense hot chocolate and were presented with three clear plastic cups and the beginnings of a sugar headache, an experience I do not think I’ve ever had before and am not keen to repeat. Happily Venchi’s hot chocolate is so good that we laboured on past the pain and consoled ourselves with lemon water; one to undertake by itself for full enjoyment, although it speaks well to the product that even after that much chocolate it stood out.

Price: £4.00

SWEETNESS: Mim 2, Al 4
CREAMINESS: Mim 2, Al 4
THICKNESS: Mim 4, Al 3
RICHNESS: Mim 4, Al 4
SCENT: Mim 4, Al 4
MOUTHFEEL: Mim 4, Al 4
COLOUR/APPEARANCE: Mim 4, Al 4

OVERALL SCORE: 27 / 35 from Al, a mode score of 4 from Mim and her aggregate is 24/35.

COMMENTS: Mim: “RICH” which is certainly accurate, Al: [N/A] none on the sheet, mostly because we were too busy chasing the last remaining drops out of the glasses with the plastic spoons and making animal sounds, Bin Foxes to the bitter end. Mim ranks this in joint second place with the next establishment.

“I just want to sit down,” Mim said, as we reached our destination, “and have a cup of tea. Something that isn’t chocolate. Maybe some food.”

We were all in hearty agreement by now. Daydreams of lapsang souchong, and very salty chips danced through our heads. We waited half an hour for a table, because Sunday evening is not a good time to get to the head of any queue in Covent Garden, but at last we were there: jammed onto a sofa, possibly pre-diabetic, ready to take our sweet time.

Ladurée

A French affair, this company is better-known for its macarons and patisseries than for its attachment to chocolate, but the secret is out: they serve Viennese-style hot chocolate in pre-Revolutionary decadence in an attic in Covent Garden, and this is the perfect way to end a tour, in my opinion. We fortified ourselves with bitter teas, prepared our mouths and enjoyed the last of the hot chocolate.

Price: £3.95

The Viennese chocolate comes served in a silver jug, and accompanied by a small pot of whipped cream for adding to taste. The macarons and tea were an antidote.

SWEETNESS: Mim 3, Al 3
CREAMINESS: Mim 4, Al 4
THICKNESS: Mim 4, Al 3
RICHNESS: Mim 4, Al 4
SCENT: Mim 4, Al 4
MOUTHFEEL: Mim 3, Al 5
COLOUR/APPEARANCE: Mim 3, Al 5

OVERALL SCORE: 28 / 35 from Al, a mode score of 4 and an aggregate of 25/35 from Mim.

COMMENTS: Mim: “Luxury. Poured. Creampot niceness”, Al: “Appearance reflects surroundings”, and indeed the attic tea room is a wonderful spot to end the tour. It was judged “perfect” in conversation, which must certainly count for something. Mim ranks this joint second with Venchi and was in raptures over the curtained chaise on which she was seated for the experience of the remaining tour text:

At this concluding juncture the remaining medicinal claims were debated, and the future of chocolate-drinking hinted at. There may have been a little hint that hot chocolate can cure depression; I like to think the company helps to elevate the mood as much as the beverage.

Aftermath

Over steamed rice and frantically consumed salty rice crackers we totted up scores (an aggregate, rather than the originally-suggested mode), and compared notes on the tour as a whole as well as the individual chocolatiers.

Conclusions:

  • In future we will need napkins and possibly spare cups
  • More lemon water for palate-cleansing
  • SALTY SNACKS, we shouted in unison. DEAR GOD SALT.

While ChoccyWoccy received a drubbing here, we acknowledge that different people have different tastes; Al and I in particular have a fondness for the bitter and the rich respectively which leads the very sweet and milky to a disproportionately poor score. And regardless – it’s good to have a “villain” as a point of comparison or contrast, For others, Paul A Young’s spices or uberthick SAID’s rich headache brew, or the admirable pretension of our Parisienne conclusion may fulfil that role – the more tours we have, the more chances there are for receiving improved scores!

There are a number of other well-regarded chocolatiers in London who would be included on a broader-ranging tour – Dark Sugars, Melt, Konditor & Cook among others – and I am eager to give this a spin when my headache and incipient diabetes have worn off.

Future

Personally I find the history portion of my tour currently scant, and as I cribbed a great deal from Dr Green it needs revisions in style so it stops being outright bloody plagiarism. I’d like to make more, too, of the role of slavery & conquest in the provision of chocolate to Londoners and the subsequent association with decadence and depravity, as well as its complex global connections and lingering exoticism. I want to talk about when it acquired its current gendered, feminised associations when as recently as the first half of the twentieth century “a mug of hot cocoa” was considered as much a cure for one’s ills as the true elixir of joy of the Britons: tea.

But on the whole the itinerant Bin Foxes scavenged up a very enjoyable Sunday on International Men’s Day!

I’d like to thank in particular the good-natured staff at all the chocolatiers we visited for their tolerance and in some cases outright enthusiasm in the face of our increasingly hyperglycaemic nerdy bellowing and requests for additional cups like a bunch of misers. With a larger group this should be less of an issue.

I’d also like to tip my hat to Al and Mim for being good sports and risking their bodily health on this absurd pilgrimmage, and to Al for making such a fetching backdrop to my chronicle photos above.

Coda

I returned home with a single chocolate ganache profiterole from SAID DAL because I’d happily knife a man in cold blood for choux pastry on any given day and on this given day all I had to do was pay money.

As I was furtively sticking it into my face in the kitchen, the Resident Australian appeared behind me and stared, aghast.

“How,” cried the horrified Antipodean, “can you possibly eat more chocolate after all that?”

I think it will be the last for a little while.

Quite fancy some chips though.


If you have enjoyed this post, why not toss me some coins to pay for a coffee?  Definitely coffee and NO MORE CHOCOLATE.

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How to Birthday:

Two days of birthday food in photos with accompanying recommendations:

A Sunday Dinner

Sourdough boule, bangers and mash (and watercress and jus), chocolate brownie with hazelnut ice-cream, from The Starting Gate in Alexandra, North London.

A Bombay Cafe breakfast

Chocolate Chai (unlimited), date and banana porridge (unlimited), bun maska, and sausage and egg naan roll from Dishoom in Kings Cross, N1C.

Drinks and small treats from wanderings

A limited-edition Halloween Vampire Frappuccino from Starbucks; takoyaki mini portion and a green tea soft-serve taiyaki ice cream from Hawker Street in Chinatown.

Afternoon tea

Warm strawberry bubble tea, and matcha azuki on brioche toast with flaked almonds, spray cream, and a dipping bowl full of honey.

Decor and dinner theatre
Strange dining

Dinner at Archipelago, a rightfully multiple-award-winning restaurant that provides an entirely unique culinary experience. Starter: “Burmese Embrace” features python carpaccio; Main: “Rajasthan Snap”, curried crocodile meat with jasmine rice (alas, no bugs. I was promised bugs!); Dessert: “Pharaoh’s Treasure”, a chocolate pudding with excitingly powdered and smeared sweetnesses, a pleasantly spicy ice-cream and some gold leaf; digestifs of Cà phê sữa nóng (Vietnamese coffee) with chocolate “sticks and stones”. The place does a wide and very interesting array of cocktails but as I was somewhat Feeling It after an excessively successful Halloween Party on Saturday I frankly never wanted to see alcohol again at this point!

Winter Cometh

Hello, I hope we all had a productive NaNoWriMo this year. I certainly did: I wrote 195,000 words, which is almost certainly my new record, and while part of me wants to try for the nice round 200,000 next year, a largely part of me is reminding me of how few of those 195,000 from this year have really pleased me in terms of quality. 195,000 words, and about 5 of them worth reading!

In addition to writing another novel, my “shamefully not updating my blog at all” time has been spent attending a variety of parties, including my own 34th birthday: I also went to the Last Ever White Mischief Halloween Ball (I went to the first: it seems appropriate that I attend the last, too) and met some lizards; attended a ghost walk on Halloween which ended in the prison cells below the Viaduct Tavern in Holborn; I went to the last Hunterian Museum Late before refurbishment, which featured the opportunity to drink gin while pickling a plasticine penis (not a sentence easily uttered after the gin), and cheerfully ghoulish lecture on the anatomical effects of hanging; visited an absolutely splendid bar in an air raid shelter, called Cahoots, which sells incredible cocktails and contains a converted Tube carriage; went to the stunning Museum of Last Parties for cocktails, a Cockney knees-up, a 1920s disco, a Morris dancing demonstration, a conga line featuring a guru with light-up shoes, and the opportunity to cover myself in so much glitter that my dry cleaner complained about it later; shot down to Brighton for a half-remembered night of dancing which has left me covered in mystery bruises; had brunch at Dishoom with the latest Ben Aaronovitch book, and tried, on the whole, to ignore the fact that the world is burning down around my ears.

As a recent dining companion said, if we’re going to have the last days of the Weimar Republic, we shall have to have the parties, too.

In addition to all this riotous behaviour I have been recovering from surgery, but that really does require its own post.

In the meanwhile, as a placeholder, please feel free to watch me and m’companion Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool reviewing Dr Strange back in October, sitting outside Balans Cafe in Soho and occasionally making new friends while I slag off Marvel’s most recent movie offering and Rich tries to be slightly more positive about a film neither of us paid to see.

It’s my face, and voice, together at last!

Another Review, and why reviews matter.

First, a link:

Rori Shay on how Amazon uses reviews to rank books and increase your exposure to things more people have enjoyed.

Next, a review:

review

(Click for full-size)

I appreciate each and every single review, because they genuinely do make a difference. Every time you tell a friend about one of my books, it sticks in their mind, and maybe they pick it up one day, and enjoy it themselves. Every time you mention one in passing, or make reference to one, you pique someone’s curiosity, and perhaps they spread a little further.

And hey, if you don’t enjoy the book, remember other people have different tastes, and that also spite-recommending books to people is a fun prank.

Aut Visum Aut Non

A man was born in California in 1948’s closing months who was destined to make something quite, quite bonkers in London. Just off Spitalfields on Folgate, having been “drawn to London by English light” (already bonkers), Dennis Severs purchased a house and, like Jeanette Winterson and bonkers artists Gilbert & George, renovated it.

However, being magnificently bonkers, Severs didn’t politely repaint the walls and strip out some annoying 1950s fittings and whatever else it is my father is currently doing to a house he’s acquired in Dorset, nor did he simply limit himself to fixing the roof, installing some electrics, and having protracted arguments about different forms of environmentally-friendly plumbing as my mother & step-father did when they, too, bought a derelict property and turned it into something legally habitable.

No, our Dennis was a man with a vision. A glorious, batshit vision. For twenty years, until his death, he resided in this property, living in a museum. Somewhere between a set piece, a really involved one-man LARP, an exercise in time-travel, and the most elegant excuse for being a card-carrying capital-H Hoarder you could possibly devise, his house on Folgate was made into installation art history:

Not only did he turn each room into a tableaux about the mysterious Jervis family, with food left on the table and in some cases playing cards strewn on the floor (you can just about see them in this picture), not only did he live in the middle of this nutjobbery, effectively inventing an art form to justify his wacko spending habits (God bless you, sir), devising a sense of immediacy and imminence of an invisible family…

(From basement…)

(To attic…)

… After his death it was turned into a public attraction.

Meaning you can visit this wonderful monstrosity, which is precisely what Emma and I did last week.

We’ve tried to explain the experience to each other, standing in the suddenly-loud street afterward. The weirdness, for me, of the smells and creaking floorboards, reminiscent of so many other experiences (Installation History seems to have been an unusually vibrant museum market where I grew up); the nuttiness of the scheme; the fact that on entering a cat ran past us; the way almost all the food was real (smells, again, and the acknowledged difference in weight and visual texture and believability that results); the piped sound of voices from other rooms lending the air of having just missed real people, and above all:

You will complete this journey in silence.

After a while, holding my breath, listening to the voices of the past while peering at their goods, the enterprise began to feel grubby. I felt like a ghost of the present, haunting the past. As if I’d wandered backwards in time to gawk at the private doings of normal people. The pressure of the experience is startlingly immense in that moment. (Slightly spoiled by the necessary presence of volunteers to stop people nicking things or walking into the open candle flames).

“You’re about to begin a journey into the past,” Emma sagely mentioned, mimicking the doorman at the house, “As he stabs away at his iPad, somewhat ruining that illusion.”

“Yes,” quoth I, “but did you notice he had the same face as the portraits? I think he may have been generated by the building.”

After the better part of an hour stalking an immaculate set composed of imagined history and funded by a man who thought nothing of filling the master bedroom with china pots on tiny gold shelves (a shelf for each of them), this seemed a perfectly rational explanation.


The house is on the south side of Folgate Street, and dates from approximately 1724. It is one of a terrace of houses (Nos 6-18) built of brown brick with red brick dressings, over four storeys and with a basement.

Other, Better Authors

Regular readers are tired of me hectoring them to buy my books and fund my decadent lifestyle choices like “being able to afford to get to my job” and “paying the electricity bill”. Irregular readers are confused as to why I’m not shouting about Huel at this precise moment.

In the fullness of time I’m going to come back and beat you all over the head with the imminence of The Next Big One, explain how I have gone from a banana-hating, coffee-eschewing meat addicted sandwich-lover to a cold-brew-hefting, banana-craving, bread-avoiding pescatarian hipster scumbag (actually that one’s pretty straightforward: turns out testosterone changes your tastes and body chemistry. Also, willpower and working nightshift. Hoo boy do you need to be able to stomach a lot of coffee).

But for now I want to draw attention to m’colleague and global opposite, Wayne Ree. Pronounced “Ray”, because fuck you, and also because there’s an acute accent over the second e that my keyboard wants no part of.

Wayne, a founding member of the aptly-named Global Beards, is a versatile and imaginative writer who I feel just isn’t getting the love he deserves. The man has written Yellow Princess: Attack of the Dinosharksbut also quieter, more adult and introspective pieces in Tales from a Tiny Room, and partnered up with the explosively excellent Anna AB on the ferocious collection Prompt – snappy, dangerous short fiction. Also, he’s bought me whisky at least once so that pretty much makes him a Good People.

So you should buy his stories, because they’re varied and exciting and because, if you’re very lucky and flatter him enough, he may one day let you touch The Beard. Maybe.

Kew Doodles, or Kewdles, Possibly.

On the 11th – and not the 10th, as I wrote on all the pictures – the Resident Australian and I went to Kew Gardens on our annual pilgrimmage to look at bluebells, and as has become traditional for the first or second week of May, it pissed it down at lengthy intervals. During odd moments of sunshine and longer sessions trapped in various buildings, I joined said Australian in attempting to chronicle the world in pen.

(I also took a shit tonne of photos but photos of a place everyone else has been to, taken on a bad cameraphone, do not benefit anyone).

mangaka

Top: during a rare moment of sun, the Temple of Aeolus, atop a small artificial hillock. Built during the Enlightment, when the fad for neo-Classicism was correspondingly at its height, and one presumes every sod and fool wanted a fucking ha-ha.

Middle: The view of a small, rectangular pond at the back of the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which is a magnificent glass toblerone full of varying habitats; it will surprise no one to learn that the Resident Australian, whose cactus obsession becomes ever-more pointed (Sorry) with each passing day, jammed herself into the desert at the front of the building while I made tracks for The Bit Where The Frogs Are.

We stayed there for lunch:

(The orange stuff on the round things is masago, capelin roe; the round things are quail egg onigiri and I am justly proud of them – the vegetable maki rolls somewhat less so).

Bottom: There are many wonderful things in Kew Gardens (go! It’s nice! Take an umbrella!) but sometimes you have to accept that being able to self-serve as much clotted cream as you want is going to be the highlight of pretty much any day [You can take the boy out of Devon, etc]. I did at least exhibit the self-restraint of drawing my tea before I ate it, in part because the rain had started coming down like the wrath of God at that point and it was clear we weren’t leaving the Orangery any time soon.

I’d estimate that’s a roughly 1:1 ratio of scone to cream, there. Providers of cream teas in the London institutions which I regularly patronise please take note: this is the correct ratio. Not “Oh lord why must we waste our precious cream on these plebs?” and putting out a hotel buffet butter pat of trembling, terrified cream to smear regretfully over five miles of week-old scone. I’M CALLING YOU OUT, BENUGO. FIX YOUR TEAS.

… While I’m digressing, angrily, on the subject of cream teas:

Benugo’s cream tea, at the V&A, taken at the end of April in the company of the American Academic. I mean, the tray is pretty but does this look decadent to you, Benugo? The point of cream tea is that I’m meant to feel guilty for at least a month afterward.

A notable mention goes to the Stables Cafe, hidden in the basement of the Stables Market in Camden; not only is the decor fantastic and the welcome genial (and often accompanied by live piano), the cream tea as pictured here costs a whopping £4.50, rather cheaper than elsewhere. Do not be fooled by the demure shot glasses (and occasionally egg cups), that is entirely Sufficient for such tiny scones.

Back to the art.

fineline

We fetched up in another small neo-Classical location – this one with Walls and a Door – as the heavens opened with more vigour than ever before and made an effort at turning the Mediterranean Garden into the gardens of Atlantis. We were shortly joined by one (1) worried Scandinavian mother of an extremely new baby, and a soggy but exceptionally friendly robin, thus setting the scene for a potential End of the World Survivor Movie, in which the robin and the baby are the only people the studio isn’t allowed to kill.

The tree above, in rather less stumpy fashion, was in a pot just in front of where I was sitting.

Surprisingly, membership for Kew is entirely covered by five visits to the gardens in a year. I feel maybe, if I took out a membership, and went often enough, I might manage to once again go on a day when there isn’t a thunderstorm.

Sci Fi Nutriglop BakeFuture: Huel Experiments.

Before I begin explaining what the hell I’m talking about I just want to say that if anyone from Huel.com is reading this (give me free stuff), phrases like “orthorexic health filth”, “scific nutriglop”, etc, are just me making fun of my own preoccupations. As you’re about to find out, I’m very excited by this thing and the possibilities inherent in it, and so are a surprising number of my friends.

Health Filth

The deal with Huel appeals to be that it’s a powder that contains your entire nutritional needs which you mix up into shakes and then you don’t have to turn into a ball of neurosis about whether not eating fish for two days mean your eyes are going to implode or, if you’re me and work on night shift, if failing to eat eighty pieces of fruit and a thousand yogurts means you’re going to crumble into a scurvy-ridden bowl of osteoporophic dust.

The Story

A friend who engages in pastimes such as punching bears and running up hills recently alerted everyone in her internet vicinity to the existence of a miraculous substance. Quoth she: “The science fiction trope of a nutrient gruel so ubiquitous that it has its own TV Tropes page is now a reality”; and I, obsessive maker of increasingly tiny food and hopeless slave to new gadgetry, proceeded to shriek “I WANT THIS AND I’M EMBARRASSED” on every social media platform upon which I routinely reside.

To my surprise, instead of calling me a weenie and pointing out that just because something uses Helvetica does not make it true, several of my friends responded:

  • Oh yes I’ve got some of that it’s good for days when I can’t decide what I want to eat.
  • I’ve been meaning to buy this, I think it will help when I’m too exhausted from [list of horrifying chronic health conditions, full-time work, and child-rearing duties in various combinations] and don’t want to resort to eating crap.
  • Got some for when I have surgery to recover from and won’t be able to eat properly.
  • Would you like to go halves on some? My lunch breaks are too short for me to actually get to the shops and I think this might help me to actually eat lunch.

I dithered a bit. My house is already a museum to weird food fads, not least the unceasing tide of Paketsu, whatever delights TokyoTreat have sent me that I haven’t managed to actually eat yet, and currently about ten types of no-calorie energy drink, not to mention the array of bizarre flours, powders, and stock cubes I insist on collecting (look, it’s not hoarding if it’s not perishable).

“It’s sort of like liquid porridge,” quoth friend, “and you get a free t-shirt.”

Well, I thought, I really do not need any more t-shirts.

But I like porridge, and after a concerted reading session of the website when I probably should have been engaged in, say, work, or sleeping, or looking where the hell I was going while walking somewhere, I found that someone had already considered the possibility of baking with it.

The Games Begin

The fun starts with the drop. As in, I had to take two buses into deepest, darkest Tower Hamlets to get to the friend I’d gone halves with, and an exchange of a SACK of nutritionally complete dubious powder took place on a windswept, rainy corner in an inconspicuous carrier bag.

Then I brought home a Very Nicely Designed Sack with a scoop and a zip seal that hasn’t had as thorough engineering as the logo (I have resorted to rolling and pegging to keep it closed) and began the important work of finding out what I can do with this weird shit.

Doing It Properly

There are two types of people in this world when faced with a new concept they have to interact with/learn to use in some way. Those who decide they are going to follow the instructions and get it exactly right, thus achieving the peak of the on-label use of an item, and the people who see something and go “I wonder what entirely unrecommended use I can put this to, I must experiment with every single one of them immediately and never actually bother learning how to use it for the intended thing”.

I am the latter, which is why I made a cake in my rice-cooker the first time I used it.

However, occasionally this approach has led to, well, things going “bang” or catching fire (often those things are me)… sometimes one likes a guinea pig.

Fortunately someone among my friends had already guinea-pigged it just before I got my hands on the stuff.

“It’s watery,” he said, referring to the recommended 5:1 ratio of water to Huel, “and it doesn’t taste very nice.”

Shortly after this my purchasing co-conspirator noted that hers had been made “claggy” by the addition of peanut butter. Forewarned, forearmed, and adequately fireproofed, I fetched down my safety goggles, and went to work.

doing it properly 2

First, I decided to, in a departure from my wont, follow the instructions.

Well, sort of.

Instead of a 5:1 ratio of water and unadulterated Huel what I actually did was sift Huel through a dusting sieve and add two scoops of coconut “drink” (thanks, M&S, that’s not at all ominous) that happened to be lying around, and three scoops of hot water, producing a pleasantly warm glop which I then attacked with a hand blender. I rather imagine that if I hadn’t insisted on sifting into a milkshake glass I could just have put it in the knock-off Nutribullet thing and mixed it that way. At any rate, the end result wasn’t too watery, and thickened up fast enough, as my peanut-butter experimenting friend had promised.

In the interests of making it taste of something (it does, in actual fact, taste faintly of unsweetened, unsalted porridge, but I appreciate that’s quite unnerving for an entire milkshake’s worth of drink), I lobbed in two teaspoons of Walden Farms caramel dip, which is a boon to the calorie-obsessed as it contains nothing even slightly approaching food.

doing it properly

This is how it ended up looking. Breakfast with a cup of tea (spot the peg); accounting for the coconut milk it came in at 190 calories and kept me full until lunchtime. Texture: rather like a bircher had a baby with an anemic smoothie.

Then I went to town, in a limited way. Adding no flavours (well one, in a cheat you’ll see at the end), and experimenting solely with structural additions:

what i used

WATER!

HUEL!

BAKING POWDER!

ORGRAN NO EGG NATURAL EGG REPLACER

OLIVE OIL

The first order of business was to reduce the water to Huel ratio to even, and get something more malleable:

ratio of 1 to 1

This is a 1:1 ratio of Huel and water. It’s basically cake batter.

Fried in a pan with minimal cooking spray, it comes out a bit like a chapati:

chapati

I love a chapati, and I think with a little less water a more workable/rollable dough could be produced.

However, I also love a pancake, and I know from my socca experiments that you can make them with just flour and water. So I did. Well, with a small cheat.

pancake

2:1 Water/Huel
1/4 tsp Orgran egg replacer
Pan fried.

Apart from the slight oaty taste and the reduction in flexibility that comes from not including an egg this was not really noticeably different from yet standard pancake (British iteration, not American).

I also know from besan/socca experimentation that pancake batter on a sheet in the oven makes biscuit.

cookie2

1:1 Huel/water

185C fan oven 15 minutes (on silicon baking parchment).

Bit inchoate. I mean, it held together and everything but felt fragile. I thought I’d fortify it, so went with what I would call more cake batter next:
cookie

1:1 Huel/Water
1/4 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp Organ egg replacer
1/4 tsp water

185C fan oven 15 minutes.

And lo, a perfectly serviceable savoury cracker did appear.

But what I was really interested in was the noble, humble, neglected Savoury Cake:

cake

1:1 ratio of Huel and Water (tbsp)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp Orgran egg replacement
1/4 tsp water (for the Orgran)
1/4 tsp olive oil.

185C fan oven for 15 min.

In cake form – I suspect Orgran won’t cut it if you want something spongy, as this fragile and crumbly construction (not too fragile and with some integrity and bubbles, although definitely not a sproingy mattress of softness either) was the result of a standard amount of baking powder. Interestingly it puffed up immediately, producing a kind of foam-batter which was very light. Perhaps I’ll try frying that like a hot cake in future rounds, and certainly EGGSPERIMENTS are indicated in the cake line (I am so sorry, I blame Easter for turning me into Pun Dad). Perhaps gluten free bakers could suggest how to use xanthum gum here to achieve a more satisfactory bind, as I have never laid eyes on the stuff and have NO CLUE WHAT I’M DOING. As is probably evident.

I doubt bread is going to work with this but pfft, I don’t actually like bread very much…

Then I got full of myself, and made soup:

tomato soup

Well, sauce. Using the 5:1 ratio of Huel and water recommended for the shakes, plus a Kallo tomato stock cube, resulted in something quite intense and reasonably thick. Possibly a bigger batch to improve the stock to Huel ratio next time.

Final reckoning:

final reckoning

Chapati, two biscuits, a pancake/crepe, and a cake, plus soup.

I’m wondering if I can use this to make muhallabieh.

I Love Living In The Future: New Shit Exists!

While I am usually too suspicious of purported developments (and too broke) to actually buy them until they’re old hat, I do love to waste my time on new inventions websites fantasising about what could be achieved if I were only a) rich b) rich, and c) really, really rich (if you’d like to help me become slightly less poor: products are available to assist).

I’ve collected together some of the best, most lunatic, or most avarice-inspiring things I’ve seen.

The Compute Plug.

Computer Plug

An entire computer in a plug. Perfect for the space-deprived being of tomorrow or, given rent prices in London, New York, and Tokyo, the space-deprived being of today.

Everblock.

Everblock

Addressing some of the housing issues and the time taken to build both furniture and shelter, these are literally construction-sized Lego blocks, something I have been dreaming of since I was a wee ‘un. Brilliant. Website here.

Motorized Unicycle Thing.

I’m not going to lie, I see people on these in the street occasionally and I think they look like prize wankers, but I’m sure when it’s more normalised and they’re cheaper this will become a perfectly acceptable means of transport in London, especially if they are given their own lane and don’t get in the way of pedestrians and cyclists.

Leather Bag Scarf.

No exciting new technology here, but I’m sure that in the permanent hellish Mad Max-esque post-apocalyptic wasteland that we’re going to endure in, oh, about thirty years or so, this will be a stylish and multipurpose alternative to the bum-bag.

The Drumi.

Drumi

A washing machine that is operated entirely by pedal power.

Bartesian.

bartesian-1

For the cocktail bar in, I dunno, your space Limo. Listen, my space Limo is going to have a cocktail bar, okay. You can have a coffee machine in yours. I don’t drink coffee.

Shelfpack.

shelfpack-1

A suitcase that turns into a set of shelves, because if you’re going to be itinerant for your job, you may as well accept that fact with good grace. Pairs nicely with the workstation suitcase, which means that with only two pieces of checked luggage you are ready to accept that you no longer own your existence! Corporate dystopia is Now.

GlocalMe.

More for the dark dystopian post-apocalyptic future where for some reason there are no Wifi hotspots but still internet, or more realistically for uploading safari photos if you are too impatient to wait until you get back to the very nice hotel in Nairobi with the perfectly good Wifi, you spoiled dick. Caution: It is a Kickstarter project which to me usually reads as either a scam or “a lot of money to wait a very long time for potentially nothing”, so there you go.

Sony All-in-One MP3-player/headphones.

Another slow step towards just streaming music directly into your brain, but this one cuts out the continual advertising.

Tumeta Frozen Smoothie Maker.

It’s a tiny cutesy egg that that shits out ice-cream-esque “healthy” desserts that probably still aren’t as healthy as just eating frozen grapes from the freezer, which I am this minute about to do, and it’s totally pointless and every time the temperature goes over 22C I go back and look at the product page like I’ve been hypnotised by the God of Bad Decisions. Why do I want this?

Thank Slim Hand Scanner

In the Future, this is what you’ll be using to digitise the relentless paperwork that continues to happen to your office at the cost of the lunar forests because some fucking backward asswipe refuses to learn how to put their signature on a PDF. You know that.