Lifestyle: A new style of dining joins the Yorkshire food scene – Roast + Conch

WHEN British entrepreneurs Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris embarked upon their Hotel Chocolat journey 20 years ago, I am pretty sure serving up cacao pulp sorbet and smoked mackerel white chocolate ganache wasn’t something they anticipated.

But two decades later and the innovative entrepreneurs have succeeded in bringing a rather quirky new dining concept to West Yorkshire.

Roast + Conch has taken a prime spot on the outside of Trinity Leeds on Boar Lane, combining a bar, café, restaurant and shop all under one roof.

But is a cocoa themed dining adventure what the people of Leeds want? I for one am confident they do.

Known for its popular chocolate shops (apparently the Leeds store gets some of the highest sales) Hotel Chocolat already has a strong brand behind it and I think this new addition could be a real hit. It also has a similar restaurant in London – Rabot 1745.

On a special preview evening I attended with a few colleagues, the staff were really pulling out all the stops.

Chefs were dotted around Roast + Conch’s restaurant, which serves Anglo-Saint-Lucian cuisine – contemporary dishes influenced by the West Indies and
Britain, with roasted cocoa beans used as a subtle savoury spice and garnish –
to explain in detail what dishes you were eating and share their expertise. It was pretty impressive.

Earl grey and cacao shell tea, nibbed pearl barley scotch eggs and endive, apple and caramelised pecan salad with chocolate and grain mustard dressing were just a few of the treats on the special menu.

It was a style of cuisine I had never tried before and was pleasantly surprised by the dishes – some you could taste a hint of cocoa, others you couldn’t, but everything I tried was delicious. Roast + Conch says the dishes are not about chocolate, they’re all about cocoa, some with subtle hints, some with more intense and earthy flavours. My taste buds agree.

On a regular visit you can expect to see the likes of sea fish fillet poached in coconut, lime and ginger (£16) on the menu, or eight-hour lamb pepperpot – an original from the indigenous cocoa-worshipping people of Central America and West Indies, the Amerindians (£15). A colleague has raved on about this “melt in the mouth” dish since she tried it last week, so I think it must be good.

In a Hotel Chocolat restaurant, I think you can be pretty certain that the dessert menu will be a highlight. R+C brownie with vanilla seed ice cream and salted caramel sauce (£6) sounds good to me and also the fruit dipping adventure (£6) with seasonal fruits and almond shortbread ready to dip into warm chocolate ganache sounds very tempting.

What’s good about this new venue is that not only is there the restaurant, but you can go and buy some of the produce in the shop, you can pop in for a quick drink and you can even watch the chocolate being freshly made from beans roasted and conched by chocolatiers in the restaurant. 

Roast+ConchHotel Chocolat describes itself as a “British chocolatier that encompasses a new type of chocolate company, connecting luxury chocolate making and retailing with cocoa growing”. According to the business, it is one of the world’s few chocolate makers to actually grow cocoa.

The business grew from just a website to the launch of its first retail store in 2004. In 2011, it opened its first restaurant in London.

On a 14-acre plantation in St Lucia, Rabot Estate, farmers plant, grow and harvest rare varieties of Trinitario cocoa and dry and ferment the beans. Rabot Estate is also home to the business’s Boucan restaurant – part of Hotel Chocolat’s luxury hotel on the plantation.

For the health conscious, there’s good news. According to Hotel Chocolat, cocoa contains more antioxidants than red wine or pomegranate juice, so it is great for your heart and your skin. And, it is a rich source of vitamins and minerals, including iron, magnesium, potassium and copper. Cocoa also contains theobromine and other mild stimulants that provide the natural feel-good buzz of chocolate, lifting your spirits and helping you stay clear headed and relaxed – an excellent excuse to get stuck in!

I am a big fan of chocolate, so I knew immediately this style of dining was going to be a winner with me, but for those who aren’t as tempted by the sweet stuff, the unique food and quirky cocktails are definitely still bound to draw you in. I think it is well worth a visit.