It’s easy to forget that Portsmouth isn’t just Southsea, that hidden gems are scattered across the entire island and not only down by the sea. Food critic Emily Priest goes off the beaten track and finds a little-known chocolate paradise.
Tucked away in a street in Hilsea is a little chocolate studio. You may not notice it at first but the garage for no. 40 has been refurbished into a magical chocolate-making studio, where workshops take place and bespoke wedding favours are made.
You may have seen Choc & Truffle around Southsea at markets. They make countless curiosities from decorated truffles to lollies, to sculptures, all crafted by hand.
Choc and Truffle was opened last year by Kerry and Claire, who have both been trained at Banbury Chocolate Academy. I hadn’t heard of them before, as I tend to stick to Southsea, but last week I received a message inviting me to one of their workshops. Obviously, I couldn’t refuse.
I found the place easily, yet soon discovered their hamartia: parking. Everyone in Portsmouth knows the agony of finding a parking spot; luckily, someone was looking down on me that day. I managed to find a gap. Heading inside, I was welcomed by a cool, pristine area and two friendly females who offered me tea, coffee and water. They were formally dressed in brown shirts, and aprons with their logo embroidered in gold thread. I was impressed by their professionalism and friendliness.
The table was set up for six places with cutlery, scales and bowl. Overhead, a disco ball hung from the ceiling for when the party really gets started. I kid: it’s for the children’s parties and workshops where they create animal sculptures out of chocolate and biscuits. Choc and Truffle also have vegan events, and private parties including hen dos. I’m sure you can guess what shapes they make in a hen do party.
Shortly after I arrived, the other workshoppers turned up and we started at 7 pm. All of the ladies (and the one man) were lovely, and we all joked and laughed with one another. At times, I did find it was a bit too cosy; I kept standing on the foot of the lady beside me. I really hope I didn’t leave a bruise…
We started by making truffles, which was certainly a first for me. We mixed up the ingredients to make a ganache, squirted them into small piles on a tray, and left them in the fridge. Kerry and Claire were very helpful, advising us on healthier and vegan alternatives. They even offered flavourings, such as rose or orange. My batch produced around 25 tiny poos, which Kerry and Claire (generously) complimented.
For the lollies, they had countless moulds to choose from including moustaches, pirates, flamingoes and anchors. I settled on a rose and an anchor. The lady in front of me had animal faces and flip flops. I loved the level of customisation and freedom they offered us, including what type of chocolate we would use: dark, milk or strawberry. I chose strawberry and milk, which I melted under Kerry’s guidance. She went into great detail about how to properly temper it, and gave us tips that we could use at home.
‘Microwaving is the best method,’ she said, preparing to heat some chocolate. ‘You can use old chocolate, but mix it with new if you want to get that shine. Only put it in for around thirty seconds, and then mix it. You are heating it and cooling it down to give it the right crystals.’
We all had a go at mixing, to melt the last few lumps, and I could feel my bingo wings slip away. I’d prefer to make chocolate than go to the gym any day.
We filled the moulds with our chocolate, added a stick, and put them in the fridge with the truffles. I was given the honour of licking the spoon. I may be 20 years old but once you offer me a spoon and a bowl to lick, I immediately revert back to a 4 year old.
As we waited for the bits and bobs to cool we did some chocolate tasting. We started with dark chocolate with a 70% blend, followed by milk chocolate blends and a moo-free, vegan-friendly chocolate. There were hints of coffee, hints of raspberry. A glass of wine would have been the perfect addition.
At this point, our creations had cooled and were ready to be decorated. We took the lollies from their moulds and dusted them gold and red. Then, we packaged them in a plastic wrapper with a coloured ribbon of choice (red and gold for me). When done, we were left with three beautiful-looking chocolates, wrapped and ready. I was very proud of my efforts, and getting a buzz like that is what made this night truly worthwhile.
To finish our truffles, we were offered a range of transfers and sprinkles. I used a white zebra-print transfer on one half of my batch, and gold nuggets on the other half. Like the lollies, they were then wrapped in plastic and topped with a gold bow.
Two and a half hours into our workshop, we were all smiling with a bag full of handcrafted choccies. Kerry and Claire gave us some more advice on where to buy moulds and exactly which type of chocolate to melt if we wished to try at home. They were pleasantly encouraging, unlike companies who play their cards close to their chest for fear that people will take away their business.
But Choc & Truffle are not a normal business. Instead of a shop front they have a cosy, approachable studio. It may be a touch cramped but smaller groups allow a more intimate workshop. The owners are friendly and helpful, and the chocolate is not only incredibly tasty – with plenty of flavourings – but also comes in funky shapes.
The workshop was a perfect opportunity to meet people, and a fun date idea. It was enjoyable, and rewarding, but also allowed me to appreciate the care and effort that goes into making chocolate. Next time you’re heading out into Portsmouth, try going beyond the dockyard, or the seafront. There are delicious discoveries waiting for you.
Images by Emily Priest.