Philippa James visits the Chocolate Rooms in Tarleton
PUBLISHED: 16:42 07 July 2014 | UPDATED: 21:27 04 February 2016
This Tarleton business is the home of Lancashire’s answer to Willy Wonka, reports Philippa James
The place she spotted had been an old cow shed in Tarleton many years back but she and her husband Paul saw its potential. ‘It was completely wrong for chocolate and baking, but it had something special,’ said Jacqui.
They both embarked on a radical change of direction. He had worked in the finance industry and she was a senior buyer in the textile trade, travelling the world to seek out new products. They set up Choc Amor, a bijou shop and chocolate workshop in Botany Bay, Chorley.
Success meant they needed to expand so, while keeping the original outlet and with the support of an ‘amazing landlord’, they moved into Tarleton creating The Chocolate Rooms providing chocolates, cakes, platters, sandwiches and salads.
This is a delightfully quirky business. There is a bull’s head on the wall, for instance. Jacqui had wanted a stag’s head, but couldn’t get one so, in homage to the old cow shed, ‘Bertie the Bull’ took pride of place complete with earrings and lipstick. There’s also an unusual mannequin lamp from eBay.
We sat at a table for coffee which had three small chocolate buttons, white, milk and plain on the saucer. ‘That came about by default,’ she said. ‘We were too busy for me to keep up with baking chocolate biscuits to go with the coffees, and this means guests can try the three of Paul’s lovely creations. He really is the Willy Wonka of our business.’
‘I get to play about with unusual flavours,’ he agreed. ‘We’ve just done some work with Flavour Fresh, the tomato growers down the road, to create a Tomato Truffle. Other recent creations have been Garlic and Mushroom, Tonka Bean, Smoked Sea Salt and Cocoa Nib, Chilli Cappucino, La Bomba – a Pina Colada chocolate - and even an Orange Jalfrezi.’
In the spring, Paul teamed up with Holland’s Pies and created a limited edition Beef Pie with dark chocolate and chili. ‘We like a bit of madness,’ Paul confessed. The madness has paid off. Made in Lancashire, the producers’ support group, said: ‘Paul’s Salt Liquorice has wowed judges in The Great Taste Awards, being awarded one star in the world’s largest and most rigorous food awards scheme involving over 400 judges and thousands of hours of blind tasting.’ They are entering more products this time, and have been short-listed again. While awards are nice, they are proud that much of their business comes from word of mouth.
Jacqui’s Millionaire’s Shortbread is so delicious that it is called Billionaire’s Shortbread and it is this month’s recipe. It was meltingly sublime, with different pockets of flavour hitting my taste-buds. I will be returning for another coffee and slice very soon.
I think the reason I like Paul’s chocolates is because of the purity of flavour. Paul said all ‘good’ chocolate should have a minimum of 50 to 60% of cocoa solids, but in many of the mass produced bars they are supplemented with imported whey powder and curds to bulk them out as the price of cocoa butter has soared. There can be as many as twelve ingredients in a standard chocolate bar creating the super-sweet experience that many crave in their chocolate.
So looking to the future? The couple agreed they feel very strongly about continuing to use local suppliers wherever possible, mentioning too many to list. They will be having an ice cream cart, tables outside, and are planning a manufacturing ‘hub’, where they can produce freshly made, local dishes and baking.
‘We can’t, of course, say everything is locally sourced, but we know the provenance of what we purchase,’ said Paul. Even Lancashire food producers can’t grow cocoa beans. They also host chocolate making classes, talks and tastings, and run kids’ parties where the children can have fun sprinkling away on chocolate lollipops.
Remarkably, while Paul has a terrific passion for making chocolate he isn’t that fond of the stuff. That is why he has to get the flavours ‘spot on’ because, if he likes them, there’s a good chance that others will too. He’s certainly not wrong.