Marrying chocolate with wine and Thai food at The Park

Thai food paired with chocolate...the voice at the other end of the line was inviting me to a tasting session and I was thinking...Thai food, chocolate and wine? What's the connection...whatever next?

Highly sceptical but so terribly curious, I found myself agreeing to meet up with the chocolate taster and his colleagues at Lotus, The Park's Thai restaurant.

Chocolate Pairing Week was happening in Chennai; four restaurants in Chennai are showcasing it. At each restaurant, a different menu incorporating chocolate has been drawn up and the meal is accompanied by different wines. I was told this is the first time it's being done in India and in the world. A quick search on Google revealed chocolate paired with tea and wine but nope, no Thai as yet so this was going to be truly a path breaker.

At the restaurant, I met up with L. Nitin Chordia, India's only certified Chocolate Taster and who is responsible for the chocolate, Praveen Krishnamurthy, a fine wine consultant who has done the wine pairing, and Mohamed Ali, founder of Chennai Food Guide. The Park's F&B Director and Area Director welcomed us and explained the unique concept of pairing food, wine and chocolate.

Callebaut, a brand of fine chocolate from Belgium was the chocolate of choice.

A menu was placed on each table setting which revealed our meal would consist of five courses with two pairing wines.

A delightful amuse bouche was served and we were asked to guess the ingredients. And we did -there was chocolate, of course, a potato wafer, ginger, betel leaf, kaffir lime and lemongrass. A beautifully presented bite, each of the flavours was distinct yet combined so beautifully.

The chocolate cocktail served with it had a subtle melon flavour. The non alcoholic version was a pleasant sea green with a chocolate rim.

What's a Thai meal without a salad?

This one had green mango shreds and the dressing was tangy, sweet and creamy. Cashew nuts contributed to the crunch factor and the chocolate toned down the spice level. My reservations on using chocolate in Thai food were gradually fading away too.

While the vegetarian appetiser was a dish of interesting looking lotus stems, the non vegetarian plate had tempura prawns coated with chocolate sauce served on  a bed of sweet potato mash and a red curry sauce. In my mind I expected to taste a honey glazed coating as that was what it looked like, the first mouthful itself had me hooked - the limpid taste of chocolate, the creamy mash and the robust spice notes from the curry sauce. Such beautiful flavours and though the tempura batter had lost its characteristic crispness by the time it reached the table, the flavour of the prawn had locked in. It was paired with a Chilean Chardonnay, an excellent accompaniment.

The main courses were served, the vegetarians had silken tofu with a dark sauce.

The non vegetarian offering was barbequed chicken with palm hearts, burnt garlic fried rice and stir fried Asian greens. Hard to believe that chocolate was infused in the components? Trust me, it was there. The marriage of flavours was smooth on the palate and pleasing to the eye as well. The pairing wine was a Merlot from France, a beautiful berry red wine that is dry yet smooth and pleasant.

Conversation centered around what else, but wine and chocolate and the discreet service staff soon cleared away our plates. There was a bit of palpable excitement, a bit of magic and when the smoke cleared, an assiette of desserts was revealed. Dark and white chocolate were the core ingredients and let me not spoil the surprise by revealing the names. Suffice to say that all three were brilliant and the presentation dramatic.

Each of the dishes at the meal was beautifully crafted. To call the pairing 'fusion' is an injustice. The skill of the chef in maintaining the integrity of the Thai flavours shone through, at the same time, the use of chocolate was evident yet restrained. It was remarkable that with just 2 kinds of chocolate - dark and white, layers of flavour notes had been created The whole meal was light on the stomach and there was no death by chocolate!!

Lotus is one of four venues where Chocolate Pairing Week is taking place and the only one where chocolate stars with Thai food. It's on November 30th. Priced at 2600/, it includes 2 glasses of wine. Interestingly, the wine that is paired with the vegetarian meal is different from the one served with the meat dishes.

A truly unique event that should put Chennai 's tryst with chocolate on the world's plate. That's food for thought, right?

Cheers to that!!


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