The idea of a restaurant where pretty much everything features chocolate sounds like something Willy Wonka would concoct. But this isn’t pure imagination.
At Roast and Conch, every chocoholic’s dream becomes a reality.
It’s part of the Hotel Chocolat chain and this is their third foray into eateries, with one in London and the other in St Lucia.
That far-flung outpost is part of the concept – eight years ago the owners of Hotel Chocolat bought their own cocoa plantation in the Caribbean.
Now, Roast and Conch brings to Leeds a shop-bar-cafe-restaurant hybrid.
Almost every dish features the cocoa bean, and that’s not just chocolate. We learned that this ingredient was originally used as a savoury, nutty flavour, only being mixed with sugar for the last 500 years.
We got a crash course in the history of the cocoa bean from our affable waiter, who made what could have been a little pretentious really rather entertaining.
He exemplified the high level of service – as did the manager when there was a slight issue with our table.
As we were shown a lovely booth by the window, he told us apologetically that the air-conditioning over it was playing up. Would we mind taking a table elsewhere?
As we’d not even sat down, it wasn’t a problem.
Still, a round of complimentary glasses of Prosecco arrived to apologise.
All this made up for the one service letdown, at the bar downstairs. My request for a Virgin Mojito was met with a blank look and: “what’s that?”
Which was odd, as it was there on the drinks menu. I did eventually get one, though the £6 price tag was eyewatering for a non-alcoholic drink.
Thankfully the fantastic service upstairs almost wiped that from the memory.
Our new table was in the centre of the room and after our introduction to the concept, we were given a quick taste. On our table were small dishes of cocoa beans and our waiter crumbled them to give us a sample.
It was these nutty nibs that made an appearance in my starter – the Plantation Pork (£6.50).
They were sprinkled over a few salad leaves which topped two slices of dense, rich pork terrine. On the side came sweet St Lucian rum chutney and with it, little slices of walnut bread.
This is Anglo-Caribbean food with a twist, so the Yorkshire pudding starter comes filled with pulled pork and a cocoa red wine gravy.
Among the main courses, the eight-hour lamb pepperpot stew is apparently a staple dish of cocoa-growing communities.
My terrine was excellent, my only reservation being it was a tad underseasoned.
Across the table, my dining partner had gone for the unusual ‘Not So Scotch’ Egg – a fee-range hen’s egg surrounded by pearl barley and penny bun mushrooms rolled in a cocoa-nib crumb crust (£6.50). He found the crumbly outer shell moist and full of flavour – more than a match for the meaty version.
The leek and garlic accompaniment was a perfect partner, with the added bonus of mopping up the egg yolk.
Luckily our mains arrived after only a short break – not long enough for us to get distracted by the “Tray of Temptations” which was foolishly left near to us. An array of individual chocolates, diners can call for it to be brought over if the desire for something sweet before dessert overcomes them.
So it was a good job that our mains maintained the high standard. Mine was the sea fish fillet poached in coconut, lime and ginger (£16) which promised to be “a riot of colours and flavours, just like the Saturday market in downtown Soufrière”.
It was just that, the fish – which was brill when we visited – sitting on top of a thick coconutty sauce, which was also deeply savoury with a warming spicy kick.
The dish was packed full of vegetables, including sweet potato and a generous serving of spinach, and reminded me a little of a Thai curry.
My companion had picked the most expensive dish on the menu, the cocoa marinated rib eye of beef (£26). This Aberdeen Angus grass-fed 28-day aged beef had been matured and marinated in cocoa nibs and was served with sautéed spinach, dauphinoise potato, roast garlic and – of course – dark chocolate port wine gravy.
The meat was as tender as butter, with the rich sauce balancing its meaty flavour, as well as the creamy dauphinoise.
Though he enjoyed it tremendously, he felt it didn’t quite match up to its hefty cost.
Then it was on to dessert.
All sounded fantastic, but I chose a perennial favourite, a chocolate version of the French classic iles flotant.
The Magnificent Piton (£7) is their homage to the mountains which overlook their St Lucian estate, with the peaks represented by soft meringues.
They were sitting in a sea of deliciously creamy chocolate soup, punctuated with sliced bananas, flaked almonds and caramel drizzle. It was a delight.
My companion went for the impressive-sounding Story of Chocolate, In Ice (£6), which was a trio of ices charting the progression of cocoa from pod to chocolate in three stages.
One was a sorbet of cocoa pulp, which tasted refreshing and almost fruity, one featured cocoa nibs and the other was pure chocolate. An inventive idea and it worked perfectly.
Our bill for three courses, including a bottle of wine, was £102 – £112 including the “optional” 10 per cent service charge already on the bill.
Roast and Conch is expensive, especially the drinks. But a visit isn’t just a meal, it’s an experience.
And it’s one any chocolate-lover would enjoy.
Address: 55 Boar Lane, Leeds, LS1 5EL.
Opening times: Monday to Friday, lunch: noon to 2.30pm, dinner: 6pm to 10.30pm; Saturday, lunch: 11am to 3.30pm, dinner: 6pm to 11pm; Sunday, lunch: 11am to 3.30pm, dinner: 6.30pm 10pm
Tel: 01132 442 421.