Life’s ups and downs never cease to surprise me. Sometimes, nothing happens for weeks on end: days amount to little but the old routine of straggling to work, getting home totally and utterly worn out, falling asleep on the sofa halfway through an episode of Hannibal – and waking up at 4am, still on the sofa, confusedly realising that I missed the last call to bedtime hours ago.
Other times, life’s a whirlwind of possibilities and events. There are friends to meet, places to visit, things to eat – and everything happens at the same time, as to make up for those weeks of sameness. These are the times I love the most; although I enjoy crime serials and like my sofa (admittedly a bit too much!), I’m always partial to new edible adventures. Take last week, for example; packed with interesting conversation, upmarket fun and laid-back eating, it was by far the best time I had this month. Here’s what made it so memorable.
1. Champagne and Chocolate at the Godiva Recipe Challenge
While I’ve been to a champagne tasting and a chocolate fair already, I had yet to experience an event that featured chocolate and champagne together. You can imagine my delight when Jesse offered me a pass to the Godiva Chocolate Recipe Challenge final, featuring a two-hour demonstration of the four shortlisted recipes, and a champagne reception.
I could only join Jesse and Sarah (lovely owner of The Prosecco Diaries) at 7pm, after the cooking demos. Luckily, I arrived on time to see restaurateur Mark Hix announce the winner: Heather Bennett, creator of A Conference of Chocolate. Victoria Glass and Natasha Cohen were two of three runners-up, with their Chocolate Praline Mousse Cake and Praline Mousse Coeur; both recipes were my personal favourites, so much so that I’m considering trying them at home. The fourth dish was a concoction of chocolate, bacon and pork scratchings by Danny Kingston. Yes, you’ve heard that right. Chocolate, pork scratchings and bacon. I’m not sure how that makes me feel – how about you?
Sarah, Jesse and I spent the evening chatting about blogging and life, and snooping around the sleek Boffi Showroom, turned open-plan kitchen for the occasion. All throughout the event, we sipped champagne from long, stylish flutes, continuously topped up by an army of waiters. Canapes and dessert samples stopped us from getting too tipsy (hello, 7am alarm the next morning!); the pomegranate and chocolate mousse pots reminded me how good chocolate mousse is, and had me thinking that this quick and easy treat should feature on my table more often.
Godiva goodie bags awaited us at the exit, containing three (!) boxes of chocolates, a copy of Juliette Nothomb’s Life is a Praline cookbook (!!), and an Easter egg (!!!). That should make for a rewarding Easter: it’s been years since I last opened a chocolate egg at the family lunch, but that part of our Easter tradition is one I still miss. As far as chocolate is concerned, I haven’t changed much since the 1990s. A sweet tooth is forever, right?
2. Speck and Cheese at Fernandez and Wells
Our glitzy champagne feast left us hungry for a bite to eat. After a quick walk around the rain-beaten Exhibition Road, we took shelter at Fernandez & Wells, a cosy bar just outside South Kensington station.
The Exhibition Road branch is one of F&W’s five outlets in London. While the Soho flagship is mostly renowned for coffee, the Kensington store is more of a wine bar: the kind you’d visit for a traditional Italian aperitivo, before a dinner or night out with friends.
As neither of us was up for a big meal, we all went for small platters, and made a light dinner out of them. Sarah and Jesse had Manchego cheese, while I, more partial to cured meats, chose speck: a specialty from the Alto Adige, also very popular in the region of Italy I come from. Think a sort of smoked prosciutto, great on its own, in a sandwich, or as an ingredient in more filling dishes (pasta with sour cream, diced speck and walnuts is a favourite of mine).
Speck is one of my favourite Northern Italian foods, and unfortunately, a very hard one to find in the UK. I hadn’t had it in ages, nor seen it in many restaurant menus; finding it at Fernandez & Wells was a very pleasant surprise. The speck on my plate was just how I like it: fresh and thinly sliced. Better still, it came with a helping of toasted bread, drizzled in olive oil; just what it took to end my evening with a taste of home.
I was so busy savouring the food, I barely took any pictures; if you’re hungry for more, head to Sarah’s blog for a more detailed write-up of our dinner (and the Godiva Challenge, too). If you care to take a glutton’s advice, head to Fernandez & Wells when you fancy tasting something you never tried before. I’m sure your local supermarket doesn’t sell speck, and after trying it, you’ll start wishing that it did.
Note: I received a free pass to the Godiva Chocolate Challenge from NuffnangUK. All opinions are my own.
Find Fernandez & Wells’s menu on Zomato.