Ultimate Hot Chocolate is in the process of being refreshed, to give it a new look.
Please excuse any bugs you may encounter until we get things looking perfect. Thank you!
Ultimate Hot Chocolate is in the process of being refreshed, to give it a new look.
Please excuse any bugs you may encounter until we get things looking perfect. Thank you!
A couple of years ago I visited Montreal and stayed at a hotel near the heart of Old Montreal, the historic city centre. I remember waking up starving and letting my nose direct me to the nearest spot that could satisfy my morning hunger. That morning my nose did well and brought me straight to Olive & Gourmando. This trip despite staying on the complete opposite side of the city, the first thing I did was make my way back to O&G.
Olive & Gourmando, or O&G for short, has an incredible buzz. It feels a little bit like those cartoons with dozens of clowns climbing out of a tiny taxi with one wondering how they all got in there in the first place. People just kept arriving and magically just kept on getting seated even though O&G isn’t a particularly big space, at least it doesn’t feel that way. It is cozy and colourful and homy and feels like a neighbourhood hangout where everyone knows each other and no one needs to say their order because the staff just know (in fact that was the case for a couple of the tables around me!). Everyone stopping here for a coffee or some food just looks cool, and I imagine they all do very cool things and would all be interesting people to have a little chat with first thing in the morning over coffee before making my way to work. The couple next to us, regulars, have just returned from a 3 week hike across Iceland (as one does). Two coffees magically appear before them before they even say a word and they order the “Egg on your face” because they are starving. “Egg on your face” is their “Poached egg on your face Panini”, spicy poached eggs with herbs and mayonnaise, Comte cheese, speck and slow roasted tomatoes (for $11.95) and happens to be what we’d just ordered – it’s just what you need if you are starving. It was gooey and messy and delicious, and I kept eating it way past the point where my belly was full just because it was so tasty.
Two of the four walls at O&G are lined with large windows that open up and bring in the feel and soul of beautiful Old Montreal and blend it with the playful spirit of the place. The other two walls are covered with little messages that give you a bit more of an insight into what O&G is all about. For example on a Saturday in 1998 they served only 3 customers in a whole day while one day in summer 2012 they made 360 sandwhiches, 45 litres of home made juice (everything here is homemade), 15 litres of soup, 200 brownies (one of their best sellers) and 375 croissants.
The staff were fantastic and bounce back and forth between French and English as most do here in Montreal. There was one man, the one who somehow kept finding seats for the never-ending line up of people wanting to come in, who took my hot chocolate order. The hot chocolate was delivered by another man who must have been the twin of the first man (was he?). It was prepared by a guy dancing around the coffee machine with a t-shirt with the word Dude written on it who honestly made making coffee look like it was the coolest job ever. And what he put together surprised me because this wasn’t at all the hot chocolate I expected. It was very bitter, pretty much unsweetened Valhrona chocolate that almost had a rough texture to it. It was rugged and strong, a serious kick that energized us for our morning walking around the area. Loved it.
Verdict: A bit different, but in a good way. Olive & Gourmando, 351 Saint-Paul, W. Montreal, Canada
Old Montreal is the heart of the city. It is a relatively large area made up of a network of old cobblestoned streets, lined with churches, restaurants, stores and cafes in buildings dating from the 17th through 19th centuries. Throughout the day and late into the night street performers entertain the large crowds of locals and tourists alike.
But today we weren’t interested in any of this. We walked straight to Maison Christian Faure to have a pain au chocolat and a chocolat chaud. Christian Faure is French and a pastry chef, but not just any pastry chef. He has the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France Glacier among the numerous other titles he has (including Best Pastry Chef of the world by The American Academy for Hospitality Sciences). He has worked at the Prince of Monaco’s Palace, and wowed VIPs at the Olympic Games in Vancouver and Salt Lake City. Luckily for the locals, in 2013 he set up shop here in the heart of Old Montreal, a small café/pastry shop upstairs with a pastry school teaching professional and amateur classes downstairs.
This morning there were no classes happening downstairs (if there had been I would have found a way to set myself up on the staircase to watch, perhaps under an invisibility cloak of some sort). So we headed upstairs and before we had even sat down or looked at a menu, I ordered a pain au chocolate et chocolat chaud. I have been craving a decent pain au chocolate for a while. When I lived in Paris I used to get one every single day on my way to work. I must have tried out 30 different places before settling on the one I liked the best. Since then, despite some good attempts at bakeries in other parts of the world I have visited, it just hasn’t been the same. This one however was perfect. It was light and flaky, with a generous amount of chocolate. All of their pastries looked perfect and everyone else around us had ordered a classic pastry of some sort. One very elegant woman was eating a pain au raisin, with obvious enjoyment. A few were eating croissants with extra butter (why not I say). It was early in the morning but they were also offering a range of less buttery but equally delicious looking lunch offerings.
The space inside is light and airy. An old stone wall runs along one side while the other is covered in intricate murals of very confident looking French pastry chefs standing in town squares surrounded by distinguished mademoiselles. The display of pastries looked almost too good to eat, as if they should be bought to decorate a table. A giant tower made of red, green and yellow macaroons stood proudly between the two display cases. They also sell a range of freshly made marshmellows, some flavoured teas. At the entrance, a large modern white statue of an antelope (why not I say again) greets you.
As I expected for a master of pastries from France, my hot chocolate was a perfect classic. Light and creamy, easy to drink, nothing too extravagant or rich, just a beautiful simple slightly bitter hot chocolate. I wasn’t the only one enjoying the hot chocolate (which interestingly enough wasn’t on the drinks menu). We were seated next to a table of people all enjoying their hot chocolates who looked like they were the organizers of a very cool festival. We couldn’t quite figure out which one by the bits of conversation we heard. Maybe the world famous Montreal Jazz Festival which takes place in Old Montreal and spills across the whole city? What a great combination.
Verdict: A touch of the best of France in the heart of Old Montreal. Maison Christian Faure, 355 Place Royale, Montreal, Canada
I think Juliette and I would get along. Juliette started Juliette & Chocolate because she was frustrated she couldn’t find a hot chocolate that met her high standards, a nice thick one like her grandmothers used to make. She took her chocolate and crepe making degrees and set up shop now in several spots across Montreal. We visited her newest one on rue Ste. Catherine.
Rue Ste. Catherine is Montreal’s shopping heaven. There is block after block of stores both above ground and in tunnels underground, which are used all year round but especially in the winter to get away from the freezing temperatures. Perhaps this is why this location of Juliette et Chocolat is so massive. It is a huge room with long wooden tables, enough to sit tour buses filled with shoppers, to give them an extra kick in the middle of summer or warm them up through the long winter. At the front is a long counter filled with all sorts of generous chocolate creations; decadent looking brownies, truffles followed by a display of products you can buy to use at home such as single servings of their hot chocolates, spreadable chocolates and caramels. Two staff were buzzing around the café today, both wearing floppy red chef hats and aprons, both with big infections smiles. None of the food or drinks were made up front by them. Instead they go to a secret door way down the back of the café where I imagine there is a room filled floor to ceiling with all the different chocolate options where an army of chocolate specialists expertly put the chocolate creations together while listening to French Canadian singer Garou singing songs from the soundtrack of the French/Canadian musical Notre Dame. Not sure why, but that was my vision.
We arrived right when it opened at 11am and it slowly but surely it started filling up with people looking for crepes for lunch. We went straight for the hot chocolate menu because yes, they have a whole menu just of hot chocolates (a dream come true). The menu reads like a passionate love letter to hot chocolate “good chocolate, much like wine, presents the palate with subtle and surprising flavours that result from the type of cocoa used in its creation, from the way it was cultivated, and from the “terroir” it comes from. And just like fine wines, the taste of some chocolates varies from year to year depending on the crop.” It continues with a long list of options. To start with you have the traditional grandma’s style dark extra bitter, dark semi sweet, milk or white chocolates either extra thick or with added milk. There are the vintages made from selected cocoa beans, each hot with tasting notes for example Pure Caraibes 66% which has a woody taste with hints of dried fruits and roasted almonds. The next section lists the original vintages with a choice of chocolates by country for example Uganda, Peru, Mexico or Madagascar. The Plantation Vintages are made from cocoa beans sourced from a single plantation. You can also choose from a range of exotic sounding alcoholic chocolates such as the choco-mojito which is chilled dark chocolate, mint liquor and whipped cream. There are chocolate shooters and chocolate cocktails and even special cold chocolates with added fruits.
Today I decided to go with the Mangaro 65% from Madagascar, cultivated on a former mango plantation its tasting notes promised it would taste of mango with hints of gingerbread and citrus fruits. It was presented in a large whisky glass accompanied by a little square of freshly made fudge. I enjoyed sitting there trying to analyse the different flavours, much like I would do with a nice glass of wine. Each of the hot chocolates we ordered looked the same but tasted completely different. One would require more time and several visits to test out the different options to find which one excites or calms your taste buds the most.
I would be happy to put in the time to try them all, but I might not have the budget. A hot chocolate at Juliette et Chocolat cost us 12 dollars each before tax for a pretty small cup. I understand that the quality is high, but 12 dollars high? I’m not convinced.
Verdict: I have already planned which hot chocolate I am going to try next when I am back next year. Expensive but decadent. Juliette et Chocolat, 1626 rue Ste. Catherine, Montreal, Canada (with several other locations across Montreal)
Ultimate Hot Chocolate on this date…
There are so many things I love about Montreal. If you haven’t had a chance to visit I strongly recommend you plan a trip (but preferably not in the winter, it gets really cold). If you do get here make sure you save some time to visit one or several of the beautiful markets spread out across the city. Not only are they filled with colourful fresh produce from local farmers but they also offer a range of food options to satisfy any size of hunger and often any preference of cuisine.
Today we visited the Atwater Market located in the southwest of Montreal near the Lachine Canal. It was established in 1933 and named after Edwin Atwater, a 19th century businessman and municipal politician. The market itself is housed in an art-deco style building and spreads out onto the surrounding streets depending on the season. Here you can find pretty much anything and everything made from scratch by local producers, with fantastic names such as Les Cochons Tout Ronds (the round pigs), Fou du Chef (crazy about the chef), Roule Ma Poule (roll my chicken) and Fromages du Paradis (cheese from paradise). Everything was picked not long before it arrived here, blueberries, fresh corn on the cob, melons, cauliflower, mushrooms, you name it, they have it.
We enjoyed some curries for lunch from Reunion Island at Marmite Su’l Feu and then walked around in search of something sweet to finish off our meal. We stumbled upon Chocolats Privilege, a classic looking chocolate shop that creates a large number of delicious looking artisanal chocolates from bean to bar. You can buy the chocolate itself in large bags to create your own chocolate concoctions or be tempted by the many combinations created by them. There are truffles, chocolate shavings, even little animals made of chocolate. They have a range of different flavoured macaroons, ice-creams and chocolate covered marshmallows.
If I had been feeling a bit more adventurous this afternoon I could have chosen from a range of hot chocolates that they create using their own flavoured chocolate bars. The choices were salted caramel, raspberry, orange and ginger, hazelnut, cinnamon and cardamom, pink peppercorn, and mint. I chose to try their Chocolat Classique petit (CDN $3.05). It came to us in a tall clear glass filled up right to the top. It was one of those hot chocolates that would easily please most, sweet and chocolaty, a little bit decadent. To accompany it we were each given a little plastic bag with one of their macaroons inside; delicious and light as air.
Verdict: Chocolate Privilege believes that a life without chocolate is a life missing something essential. I completely agree. Chocolats Privilege, Atwater Market, 138 Atwater Ave, Montreal Canada (with locations across Montreal, Kirkland and Laval)
Ultimate Hot Chocolate on this date…
The scenic drive from Santa Fe up to Taos is magical. The landscape turns from red rocks to green forests and snow capped mountains, all within the space a couple of hours. We passed through villages with a feel of Old Spain, some known for their wood carvings, others for their numerous artists. And then, at the end of the road, is Taos, a blend of Hispanic, Native American and Western Ango cultures with a hint of Wild West.
Taos Pueblo, just outside of Taos, is a series of houses build during AD 1000 with no energy or running water, and is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Hundred of inhabitants still dwell here in adobe buildings sitting at the base of a snow capped mountain. Little has changed here in over 600 years. We had a delicious lunch at Orlando’s on our way to the slightly terrifying Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, a high suspension bridge.
After a stunning day in the area I was craving a hot chocolate, more specifically a deep Mexican hot chocolate. We did a bit of a search online and found a recent article from the local newspaper that raved about the Mexican hot chocolate at World Cup Cafe right in the centre of historic Taos. The article said that it was spicy and rich and comes topped with whip cream and a dusting of cinnamon. World Cup was full of locals warming up over cups of coffee. I ordered my small hot chocolate and asked for it to drink in.
World Cup Café is a tiny café. It is basically just a counter to order, a few stools to sit near the windows and then some blue benches along the outside of the store where you can watch Taos go by. The walls are covered in money from around the world and the blackboard is a long list of caffeine delights (apparently incredible). World Cup Café is all about “walking the talk” and chooses ingredient integrity and quality over low cost. Coffee beans are organic, dairy products are from a farmer owned organic valley co-op, baked goods are all organic ingredients. Even the honey is local and organic.
My hot chocolate was presented to me in a paper cup, with no whipped cream (or even the option), and no dusting of cinnamon (as the article suggested it would). It was a very sweet version of Mexican hot chocolate, and didn’t have the complex chilli and spice notes that I was hoping for. What was interesting though was that it had a hint of nuts in it which was unique and I found quite fascinating. I couldn’t pick out what kind of nut, walnut perhaps?
Verdict: Not quite what I was expecting but a really nice finish to a fantastic day. World Cup, 102 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, Taos, New Mexico, USA
The motto of Café Pasqual’s is ‘Panza llena, Corazon content!’ which means full stomach, happy heart. Over the past 3 days Café Pasqual’s did both for us; filled our stomachs (several times) and gave us warm and very happy hearts. Located just a couple of blocks away from the main plaza of stunning Santa Fe, the oldest capital city in the US and a magnet for artists and art lovers, it and all of the surrounding buildings are made from a modern version of the traditional adobe houses made with sun dried bricks of earth and water. At 8 am the sky was a perfectly crisp blue, and slowly but surely everything started waking up. The artists were setting up their turquoise jewlery in the plaza, and the tourists were already out and ready with their cameras, many of them lined up in front of Café Pasqual’s.
Café Pasqual is named after the folk saint of Mexican and New Mexican kitchens and cooks, San Pasqual. His image hangs in the kitchens of many homes and restaurants in particular around New Mexico. Born on May 24, 1540, San Pasqual was a Franciscan Friar assigned to kitchen duties. The story goes that he created incredible meals with simple foods he found in the kitchen. His fellow Friars would see him meditating and praying while he was cooking and believed he was being helps by angels. Then date of his passing, May 17th, is celebrated around the world as the Feast of San Pasqual.
San Pasqual restaurant keeps this spirit of taking simple foods and turning them into incredible meals. Inside the dinning room is a celebration covered in hand painted Mexican tiles and murals by renowned Mexican painter Leovigildo Martinez. The food matches the atmosphere. It is colourful, flavourful and exciting with a New Mexican feel. Unfortunately we weren’t able to sit in the dinning room once during our trip due to the popularity of the restaurant, but we had their famous breakfast burritos twice during our stay which we took with us and ate in the plaza. We also had dinner twice (take out as well), which had specialty dishes like home made tamales with red chilli chicken, incredible mole enchiladas with cilantro rice, jicama salad and corn torte (hmmm my mouth is watering as I type this).
And then there was the hot chocolate. Mentioned simply as Mexican Hot Chocolate, it was delicious and was the perfect start to our chilly but sunny Santa Fe mornings. Rich chocolate, cinnamon and a touch of chilli, all very subtle and beautifully blended. Because we got it “to go”, it came in a large paper cup with a plastic lid (usually this is a no-no) but I drank the whole thing and craved more. It was so easy to drink, such a beautiful way to start a day.
Verdict: A true party in your mouth, New Mexican style. Café Pasqual’s, 121 Don Gaspar, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Houston has been in need of a beautiful bakery for quite some time now, at least in my opinion. So when Common Bond finally opened a few weeks ago, we didn’t wait for an invite! On this corner in Houston there used to be an old historic house which housed an antique store. When the store burnt down over a year ago we wondered what would take its place and not surprisingly a very modern looking building popped up. Common Bond set up in the corner, and they’ve created a stunning space. It has incredibly high ceilings and windows that go from the floor all the way to the roof on three sides of the café. The whole space is filled with lots of seating and the baristas make your coffee (and hot chocolate) right in the middle. When you first enter you walk through a twisty line (often a very long line) to get to a never ending display case filled with rich and delicate looking desserts, chocolate cupcakes, multi-coloured macaroons, tiramisu and of course a selection of freshly made breads. While waiting in line you can watch bakers and pastry chefs doing their magic in the back.
Montrose has no shortage of interesting and delicious spots to stop. In fact pretty much all of my favourite places to eat are along this road in Montrose and if you are a coffee lover this area is as far as you have to go. Now with the opening of Common Bond, this is definitely the area you want to be in for hot chocolates as well. Their hot chocolate is made from Valrhona Manjori, prepared by staff wearing white shirts, black aprons and white hats looking at cool as can be. This chocolate even though it is a dark, 64% cocoa tasted quite sweet and was very easy and enjoyable to drink. Paired with one of their many chocolate desserts it would be death by chocolate, a happy and colourful death by chocolate.
Verdict: Glad to see Houston is slowly, but surely getting some good hot chocolate options. Common Bond is a stunning and happy place and you won’t be disappointed with their hot chocolate if you have a bit of a sweet tooth. Common Bond, 1706 Westheimer Rd, Houston, USA
Baltimore is known as the Charm City and after having spent a couple of days there I can definitely see why. Charming is the perfect word for it. Walking along the waterfront past a range of ships and boats, an old power plant has been turned into one of the most beautiful book stores I have seen (if you go inside you can still see the structure of the old power plant). If you keep walking along the harbour, past Little Italy, through Harbor East and into historic Fells Point, that is where you will find Kilwins.
I had a hard time finding Kilwins, or rather a hot chocolate along the waterfront, as charming little pubs with busy terraces are what is popular here rather than coffee/chocolate shops. I was actually on my way back to the hotel to take a taxi to the airport when I stumbled upon Kilwins. I was a bit hesitant at first, because Kilwins is your typical looking sweet shop. They have an icecream counter (which was very popular today), with the display case filled with fudge, toffee and caramel and lots of salt water taffy chews. There were chocolates of every shape and size in flavours such as blue cheese toffee, bacon maple and stout beer. Near the window a young man was making candy apples and crunchy brittle fresh.
I, again hesitantly, ordered a hot chocolate. With all of the sugar surrounding me I was worried it would be too sweet. But I was very pleasantly surprised. I ordered their sea salt caramel hot chocolate and loved it. The sea salt caramel rather than making it taste sweeter actually seemed to round it out and just make it so easy to drinks. I drank every last sip of it while sitting on the docks, watching the Baltimore waterfront and a steady stream of locals dressed in orange Orioles t-shirts walk by (there was a big baseball game today apparently …).
Verdict: Surprisingly nice treat…choose the sea salt caramel and take it over to the waterfront to enjoy. Kilwanis, 1625 Thames Street, Baltimore, USA
Entering Brunetti is like entering a coffee shop in Rome…just 100 times larger. This isn’t the small café that the locals come to get a good coffee and pastry. This is the very large café that counts all Melbourians as locals and all seemed to be here today enjoying coffees, pastries and food.
There is a fantastic buzz here. In fact my review of Brunetti’s should almost be written in song form, like a musical. Despite having dozens and dozens of tables, they were all full. Everytime groups sitting at a table even hinted at being done and ready to leave, there were 5 people there, hovering around ready to grab it. Just as the table next to us received two freshly made pizzas, I could hear silverware falling off another table, the espresso machine turning on and off, and the waiters shouting at each other in Italian. The noise seemed to build up and then quiet down, just to build up again.
The area is divided into several parts. At the front there is a large area full of desserts, mostly Italian but some borrowed from other countries as well, all looking delicious. The center area is where all the coffee machines are and a steady stream of people were waiting along the counter for their espressos and flat white’s. Then there is an area with paninis and sandwhiches followed by the pizza oven and pasta station. Along the whole space are seating areas and at the very back is a proper sit down restaurant.
We ordered two very large plates of pasta brought to our table by Giani, a very friendly Italian man with perfect white teeth. He dropped off our plates then returned 2 seconds later with freshly grated parmesan cheese and then left again, returning a third time with bread and cutlery, all executed like a little dance.
The buzz is invigorating and relaxing, despite being loud at times. The ‘cioccolata calda piccolo (small hot chocolate) unfortunately was neither invigorating or relaxing. It was made using a very sweet chocolate syrup. I was hoping for a beautiful think Italian drinking chocolate, and am still surprised that Brunetti doesn’t have this option. The Italians make such beautiful hot chocolates. Perhaps they had one but just didn’t tell me about it …..
Verdict: Everything else at Brunetti’s is just like I remember it in Italy… except for the hot chocolate. Peccato. Brunetti, 380 Lygon street, Melbourne, Australia