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Soufriere, St. Lucia:
March 13, 2011
Lunch at the Hotel Chocolat

So are you getting tired of me nattering on about chocolate yet? But indulge me one more time: You’ll want to know about this, especially if you’re visiting (or thinking of visiting) St. Lucia. When we were anchored off the island last week (we’ve since moved north to Martinique), we rented a car one day and drove about two-thirds of the way down the west coast to visit the brand-new Hotel Chocolat.

Dessert with a view: Rabot Estate Ices (foreground) and Espresso and
Dark Chocolate Mousse
It looks out over Petit Piton and is right across the road from Ladera resort (whose restaurant, Dasheene, hangs between the Pitons and features the cooking of Chef Orlando Satchell, one of my St. Lucia favorites). The Hotel Chocolat is so brand new that the hotel itself hadn’t yet welcomed its first paying guests the day we visited. But its restaurant, called Boucan, had been up and running since the end of February.

The hotel is the lovechild of the British chocolatier Hotel Chocolat. Five years ago, company co-founders Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris bought derelict Rabot Estate, St. Lucia’s oldest cocoa estate (it dates from 1745), and began rehabilitating the cocoa groves and restoring the old estate house. A hotel and restaurant were the next part of their plan, and now construction will start on a chocolate factory. Hotel Chocolat hopes to soon be welcoming visitors to Rabot Estate for interactive tours that will show the tree-to-bar process.

Chicken liver and dark chocolate? Don't knock it till you've tried it

In the meantime, the company has also started what it calls an Engaged Ethics Cocoa Programme, signing on 112 St. Lucian farmers so far and guaranteeing that it will buy all the cocoa they raise. Hotel Chocolat pays them 30%–40% above world market price for their beans (guaranteeing them payment within seven days), and offers them technical assistance and subsidized cocoa seedlings. It’s a bold initiative that is helping to revitalize the island’s once-flourishing cocoa industry.

You can’t yet buy Hotel Chocolat chocolate made from St. Lucian beans on St. Lucia. (It is available, however, from Hotel Chocolat in the UK.) But you can sample Rabot Estate cocoa and chocolate in the restaurant. (Yeah, I know, you were wondering when I’d get back to that.)

When I first read that Boucan (the Creole word for a traditional cocoa drying shed; the restaurant stands where the Rabot Estate boucan once stood) was offering a menu of “cacao cuisine” – meaning some form of cocoa in almost every dish – it sounded way too over the top, a cute gimmick more than a wonderful dining experience. Uh, was I wrong. The dishes we tried on the “opening menu” were almost uniformly splendid.

Each table has three grinders: sea salt, black pepper,
and cocoa nibs, which are pieces of the dried and roasted beans

Pushovers for Prosecco, Steve and I started lunch with Fresh Cacao Bellinis, which combine Prosecco with cocoa pulp, soursop juice, and lemon verbena. The pulp, which surrounds the cocoa beans in the pod, has a fruity, slightly sweet taste – it’s not at all chocolatey – and the drink was delicious and refreshing. A hit.

For my starter, throwing down the gauntlet, I chose the less-than-promising-sounding “Chicken Liver Parfait Rabot 65%.” Described on the menu as a “smooth parfait with Saint Lucian 65% bitter dark chocolate ganache, confit of onion, and walnut bread,” I was sure it was too weird a combo to taste good. I was wrong again. The bitter chocolate did wonderful things for the rich, creamy chicken liver pâté – a terrific pairing of flavors. I loved it spread on the walnut bread and sprinkled with a couple grains of salt and a couple tiny pieces of cocoa nibs (dried roasted beans). Steve’s starter, barely seared yellowfin tuna with a cocoa and herb pesto, was also a winner, the cocoa an unobtrusive background note, not an in-your-face flavor.

We both had fish entrees, with Steve’s locally caught dorado on a bed of creamed leeks with red wine and cocoa sauce beating my grilled cocoa-marinated kingfish, the only dish that day that was less than perfect. (The fish was on the grill a scant minute too long, and the bed of spinach-potato mash under it not nearly as interesting a taste as the creamed leeks under Steve’s dorado. Luckily, he was willing to share.)

And how could we leave a chocolate-themed restaurant without having dessert? Our choices tasted as good as they looked – see the photos – and then the chef sent out cocoa-dusted truffles to accompany our coffee.

A trio that really sings: Homemade chocolate ice cream, mango sorbet,
and Rabot ice cream (with vanilla, caramel, hazelnut, and cocoa)
For other yachties reading this, if you’re on a mooring at the base of the Pitons, Hotel Chocolat is happy to pick you up free of charge at one of the local dinghy docks and drive you to Boucan for lunch or dinner.

Or take an afternoon hike and end up at the bar. Surely a chocolate daiquiri is an adequate reward for the exercise….

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4 comments on “Soufriere, St. Lucia:
March 13, 2011
Lunch at the Hotel Chocolat

  1. Natalie on said:

    Cocoa nibs at the table? Oh, too much! Wait, no, we can never have too much chocolate. Happiness factor of about 9.8. Wonderful, wonderful post.

  2. Philip Otteraa on said:

    Loved ” an embarrasment of mangoes”. I really enjoyed the way the cruise built up your marriage relationship. I look forward to reading about your later adventures and have enjoyed the photos posted. I just wish I could do the same thing myself.

  3. Janeka, Commercial Manager for Hotel Chocolat St. Lucia on said:

    Hi Ann,

    Thank you for the lovely review! If I may make a slight correction: although we do not have the full range of Hotel Chocolat chocolate here in St. Lucia, we do offer delicious 100g bars of 70% Island Growers dark chocolate. You can buy them right at the Boucan!

  4. Greer on said:

    I laughed at your starter–chicken liver and chocolate. What would Rita think? Glad all’s well, wish I was there. Stay safe.

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