Never let it be said that Hotel Chocolat does not understand its customers. They work tirelessly collecting scores and reading feedback, which over the years has led to great number of recipe changes and new collections. The first to benefit from these improvements are members of the Hotel Chocolat Tasting Club, who get sent monthly boxes of new creations (and old favourites). If you read my HC review on the Classic Tasting Box, you will be aware of the many types of boxes on offer. Each box specialises in one area, such as all milk, all white, all dark, all alcoholic, non-alcoholic, and rare cacao.
The most recent addition is their Mellow Tasting Box; as the name suggests, it is all about mellow creamy flavours. You might think that that just sounds like an ‘all milk’ box, but it is not. You still get the whites and the darks, just with respectively lower levels of sugar and bitterness.
The box comes with Hotel Chocolat’s usual sophistication, and the gold lid suggests you’re getting something special. Inside there is a detailed menu, in which you can read all about the different chocolates by the chocolatiers who created them. I like this personal touch, as you get to feel the passion and enjoyment behind the work.
1. Salted Crispy Caramel
The Salted Crispy Caramel has an interesting texture, created by the perfect construction of contrasting layers. On the top you get a lovely crunch caramel flavoured with sea salt, and at the bottom a light crispy wafer. In between is a smooth praline made with roasted hazelnuts. All this is wrapped in a 50% milk chocolate shell. 8/10
2. Florentine Isabelle
Florentine Isabelle is a members’ favourite and appears frequently in selection boxes. It is so well liked that was promoted to HC’s Selector’s range for anyone who wants them on demand. Updated with a new 50% milk recipe for the shell, inside you will enjoy a super smooth praline, while the top is covered in stick-to-your-teeth chewy caramelised oats. 9/10
3. Raspberry Smoothie
Hotel Chocolat almost always excels when it comes to fruity ganache filled truffles, and their Raspberry Smoothie is no exception. What makes it so delicious is how sharp the flavour of the raspberry is. Despite the ganache being made from white chocolate, it is not sweet, but perfectly puckering. 9/10
4. Blackcurrant Boost
If you liked the Raspberry Smoothie, then you’ll love the Blackcurrant Boost. Not only does the acidity make it tantalisingly tart, but you also get to enjoy the combing textures of white chocolate ganache with a layer of creamy mousse. 10/10
5. Lemon Syllabub
A syllabub is a whipped cream dessert, typically flavoured with white wine, but being in a Mellow Tasting Box, this Lemon Syllabub has gone teetotal. Instead you get a sweet white mousse filling balanced with an acidic dash of lemon oil. The outer chocolate shell acts as a good contrast as it is made from 65% supermilk. This gives it the intensity of dark chocolate, but the mellowness of milk. 9/10
6. Dizzy Praline
One of my all time favourite pralines by Hotel Chocolat is also one of their earliest. Dizzy has been around for years, and is consistently one of the highest rated chocolates. Comparatively it is rather simple to some of HC’s other innovative creations, but when done right, simple often ends up being best. A 40% milk chocolate shell encases a strongly flavoured hazelnut praline that is so smooth it is almost gianduja. 10/10
7. Kalamansi Cup
According to Wikipedia, Kalamansi is a citrus fruit hybrid between a mandarin and a kumquat. Opposite to what we might expect, the peel is sweet but the fruit itself is sour. Hotel Chocolat have used both elements to create a new unique truffle. I actually thought it tasted a bit like the combination between a satsuma and a peach; it was less in your face than some of the sharper citrus chocolates in the collection, and the mild flavours were rather calming.
The ganache was coated in a white chocolate, which had strong vanilla notes. Another contrast to the sweet and sour mix was the addition of dark cocoa nibs sprinkled on top. I found these best enjoyed separately, because they get a bit lost in the overall experience otherwise. 9/10
8. Coffee Caramel
Chocolatier, Kiri Kalenko, says that she created the Runny Coffee Caramel for people who don’t like coffee flavoured chocolates. Somehow she managed to eradicate every ounce of bitterness in the coffee, so all that is left is a mild mocha in runny caramel. The shiny caramel is very dilute and more like a syrup (perhaps the kind of syrup you buy to pour into your coffee!) It certainly fits the brief for being mellow, but personally I think a coffee flavoured chocolate needs to exhibit at least some level of bitterness to be satisfying. 6/10
9. Rhubarb & Custard
Whether it is a crumble, a boiled sweet, or a friendship between cat and dog, Rhubarb & Custard is a combination that has been doing the Great British public proud for decades. Putting the flavours into a chocolate truffle must therefore be a stroke of genius that bound for glory. But it is also risky. We all know what rhubarb and custard should taste like together, and anything less will be met with harsh criticism. Fortunately Hotel Chocolat pulled it off without a hitch. The white chocolate lid oozes custardy custardness, and even has specs of vanilla seeds adding both flavour and aesthetic pleasure. Underneath is a white ganache filled with sharp notes of rhubarb. 10/10
10. Hacienda Iara 62% Salted Almond Praline
The long convoluted name of this chocolate basically means it is a praline that uses ground almonds instead of traditional hazelnuts. After tasting, I think I know why hazelnuts are the usual preference: they taste ten times better. Whereas the deep roasted flavour of hazelnuts integrates itself into the chocolate to become one, the almonds refuse to merge, making it taste like a creamy almond butter rather than praline. A touch of sea salt added an surprising sour taste, and it felt like too much was going on. With all these things combined, the chocolate itself was overpowered. 5/10
11. Rocky Road
The Rocky Road was invented in 1929 by William Dreyer, an American ice cream maker. One day, out of the blue, he decided to add walnuts and marshmallows to his ice cream to give it a different texture, and decided to call it Rocky Road so that people would have something to smile about during the Great Depression. The Depression might be over, but the Rocky Road continues to put a smile on our face.
Of course, it is no longer restricted to ice cream, but has migrated to an all manner of sweets and desserts, including chocolate. Hotel Chocolat have created their own version in the form of a thick 40% milk chocolate slab filled with puffed rice, chocolate chip cookies, and white chocolate chunks. As someone who does not particularly like puffed rice, I was pleasantly surprised at just how well it enhanced the texture. The long cookie piece going across the front is a great eye catcher; it is not chewy like a cookie, but has more of a snap, which I actually prefer. As for the white chocolate, it does not particularly add much. Most of it cannot be seen as it is hidden inside, and it is so sparsely dispersed that the flavour is lost. It is a bit too sweet, but I think that is more to do with the sheer generosity in quantity. 8/10
12. Caramel & Peanut Tasting Batons
Peanuts have quite a strong flavour, and usually a little goes a long way, but in the case of these tasting batons, I couldn’t detect the slightest hint. HC’s tasting batons are usually very smooth and creamy, but I felt that those aspects were also lacking. They in no way tasted bad, but they were remarkably underwhelming. 6/10
Hotel Chocolat’s Mellow Tasting box got off to a fantastic start. I thought I was going to be giving 9s and 10s all the way. But about part through, it was as if they ran out of steam, and it really ended up being a box of two halves. I think maybe they tried to adapt too many chocolates into providing mellow flavours when darker or more bitter ones would have suited better. Those who aren’t keen on dark chocolate will enjoy the selection, but those who like their deeper flavours will feel like something is missing.