Christchurch: Fleeing a chocophobic hell

By Phoebe Falconer

I don't eat chocolate. Okay? I just don't.

I did once, but, for reasons lost in the tastes of time, no more.

So, if I'm not a chocoholic, or even an occasional partaker of the sweet stuff, why in the name of all that's brown would I go to a chocolaterie?

Well, I was a well-brought-up child, and find it difficult to refuse invitations, especially those couched in such loving terms.

And the folk at She Chocolat really do love their work.

The name She was chosen to attest the balance between female and male (s-he, geddit?), and the act of creativity, of giving birth to something that brings joy to so many, a place of inspiration for the human spirit.

Or something like that.

She is situated in a restaurant in Governors Bay, with to-die-for views over Lyttelton Harbour.

Although chocolate is the raison d'etre, the restaurant also serves bistro food, catering for lunches and dinners, as well as weddings and corporate functions.

But my group and I weren't here for the ordinary stuff. Oh dear me, no.

We, or at least they, were here for the chocolate.

Oonagh, our chocolatier and guide to the intricacies of the stuff, arrived from Ireland four years ago, and got a job baking in the restaurant.

She trained for her craft via the internet and a Swiss chocolatier in Geraldine (I'm not making this up) and two years ago converted the bathroom in the restaurant into a chocolate kitchen.

Oonagh also gives classes in chocolate, and lessons in its history and production.

A tasting plate arrives, with tiny samples of four different types of chocolate.

We taste, suck, savour and try to determine the provenance of each. To me, they all taste the same, but the others find differences.

It seems that the first and third samples are from products readily available at the local dairy, the second is a very fine type of Valrhona, and the final sample is from Madagascar, and displays complex layers of flavour only found at one particular cocoa plantation. It seems that at most boutique chocolateries, beans come from only one plantation. Like wine, I guess.

But I was beyond tasting by now. Three small (make that minuscule) pieces, and I'm gagging.

But then the big guns are wheeled out.

Platters of beautifully crafted chocolates, like jewels, appear. Some carry traditional Mayan designs that resemble Maori patterns, some have edible gold decorations, others are adorned with seeds and nuts and dried fruit.

And the flavours (apparently) - black pepper and lime, chilli, raspberry and rosewater, lavender, goji berries. It's all here for those with the mind (and stomach) to savour.

And then there's a visit to the chocolate kitchen. Moulds, fillings, measuring equipment, a great vat of melted chocolate just waiting to be made into small things.

The smell overwhelmed me, and it wasn't long before I bolted.

If chocolate is your secret or overt vice, this is the place for you. If not, sit outside and enjoy the views. Either way, it's a great addition to a visit to Christchurch.

Phoebe Falconer visited She Chocolat at the invitation of Canterbury and Christchurch Tourism.

- NZ Herald

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