The forbidden fruit that is chocolate is simply an indulgent treat.
Its smooth, sugary smothering of quick fire joy, usually followed by an overriding sense of guilt, has been a source of pleasure for generations but it’s not often intertwined with the fruit-filled world of cocktails and social drinking.
Hotel Chocolat, the innovative British chocolatier, has decided that the time has come to blend the humble cocoa bean with the wine and spirits menu.
Having opened sister restaurant and bar London Roast + Conch, in Covent Garden, in 2011, which itself followed the blueprint set out by the firm’s Boucan restaurant, in Saint Lucia, Hotel Chocolat has brought a brand of cosmopolitan chocolate-themed drinking and dining to Leeds.
Roast + Conch, situated on the corner of Albion Street and Boar Lane, is an interesting three-tier chocolate cake featuring a first floor bar, upper ground floor shop and lower ground floor bar.
Neighbouring the newly-opened Tapped Leeds pub and kitchen and the similarly fresh Roxy Ball Room, Roast + Conch is part of a growing cluster of bars springing up in and around the retail hub and it certainly adds more variety.
Influenced greatly by the imagery of Caribbean cocoa plantations, with weathered and treated wood, made to look like it’s been baked in the sun and fashioned from crates, adorning the floors and sleek high-backed leather booths and banquettes.
There is a stylistic mixture of earthy farming roots and classy cocktail luxury in here.
There is a relaxed reggae music soundtrack inside this impressive L-shaped venue, which combines quirky cocoa bean shell-style hanging light shades, jars of cocoa and brown leather seating with brushed metal surfaces, floor-to-ceiling glass frontages and glowing sculpted neon signs.
Despite the subtle, earthy touches, Roast + Conch certainly exudes a sense of expense and occasion through a well-finished bar and smartly-dressed staff.
The cocoa-inclined menu features a range of around 30 weird and wonderful martinis, bellinis, soothers and rum-based cocktails along with the anticipated classics – all, by the way, feature double spirit measures and are priced at a steep £9 each.
You can choose from five bottled craft beers, of which there are token chocolate brews, costing from £5.25 as well as a range of around 30 white, red, rose and sparkling wines and champagnes. Wine starts from £18 a bottle. It also has an extensive spirit range featuring dozens of rums.
We decided on a couple of the cocktails with a simple but puzzling Fortified Coconut Water, which comprised of coconut water and rum. I say puzzling because for obvious reasons it tasted like water with a liquor kick yet still costs the standard hefty £9.
We also tried a rum, cacao bitters, lime and nutmeg Rum Rabot Sour topped with cocoa beans. The flavour mix, though unusual, didn’t pack enough sour punch or strong enough chocolate notes for our liking.
Without wishing to dip too far over budget, we were given a bill for £18.
The venue’s interesting menu, nice decor and smooth reggae playlist is certainly an experience worth having, and on Barfly’s visit a mixed crowd of couples and groups aged 25 to 45 seemed to agree with us.
Though probably more of an indulgent treat than a cockle-warming local, Roast + Conch has bags of potential.