Sometimes people forget that Portsmouth isn’t just Southsea. I admit it that I too have forgotten anything above the train line. But, this week I was kindly reminded that hidden gems are scattered across the entire island and not just by the sea.
Tucked away in a street in Hilsea, is a little chocolate studio. You may not notice it at first, and you may drive past, 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 the monthly Love Southsea markets or in the Southsea Lifestyle magazine. They make countless chocolate curiosities from decorated truffles to lollies and sculptures, all crafted by hand.
It opened last year by Kerry and Claire, who have both been trained at Banbury Chocolate Academy. I have never heard of them before because, like most people, I tend to only stick in Southsea and ignore the upper part of the island. But, last week, I received a message inviting me to one of their chocolate workshops and obviously, I couldn’t refuse.
I found the place easy enough, with the help of google maps, yet I soon found their hamartia – parking. Everyone in Portsmouth knows finding a parking spot in the city is like finding a needle in a haystack and it’s even worse in the evenings. Luckily, someone was looking down on me that day and I managed to find a gap.
Heading inside, I was welcomed by a cool and pristine area and two friendly females who offered me tea, coffee and water. They were dressed very formally in brown shirts and aprons with their logo embroidered on in gold thread. I was immediately impressed by their professionalism and friendliness. You would expect those things from an upmarket restaurant, not someone’s back garden.
The table was set up for six places with cutlery, scales and bowls and on the ceiling hung a disco ball for when the party really gets started. I kid. It’s for their children’s parties and workshops. They also have vegan ones and private parties including hen dos. In the children’s workshops they create animal sculptures out of chocolate and biscuits. 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 the ladies (and one man) were lovely and we all joked and laughed with one another. Although I did find at times it was a bit too cosy and I kept standing on the lady next to me’s foot. I really hope I didn’t leave a bruise…
First, we made truffles, which was certainly a first for me. We mixed up the ingredients to make the ganache, squirted them into little 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 I was not impressed by but even still, Kerry and Claire complimented me on them.
For the lollies, they had countless moulds to choose from, including moustaches, pirates, flamingoes and anchors. We all picked our own. I settled on the rose and anchors. The lady in front of me had animal faces and flip flops. I really liked the level of customisation and freedom they offered us. This even included what type of chocolate we would use – dark, milk or strawberry. I settled on strawberry and milk and then went on to melt the chocolate with the help of Kerry. She went into great detail about how to properly temper it and gave us advice that even we could use at home.
“Microwaving is the best method,” she said as she put some chocolate in, “you can use old chocolate but mix it with new otherwise you won’t 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 as I did 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 honours of licking the spoon so I sat there, sucking on the melted chocolate as Kerry and Claire told us a bit more about chocolate making. I may be 20 years old but once you offer me a spoon and bowl to lick, I immediately resort back to my 4 year old self, begging my nan to let me eat raw cake dough.
As we waited for the bits and bobs to cool we did some chocolate tasting. We started with dark chocolate with a 70% blend. We then went onto milk chocolate blends and a moo free, vegan-friendly chocolate. Some tasted like coffee and some with hints of raspberry. A glass of wine would have been the perfect addition to the moment.
At this point, our creations were cooled and ready to be decorated. Starting wth the lollies we took them out of their moulds and dusted them with gold and red dusting. 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 what I had done and getting a buzz like that is what made this night truly worthwhile.
With the truffles, we were offered a range of transfers and sprinkles. I used the white zebra print transfer on half and gold nuggets on the other. Like the lollies, they were then wrapped in plastic and topped with a gold bow.
2 and a half hours since the start, we were all smiling with a bag full of handcrafted choccies. Kerry and Claire offered us some more information for cooking chocolate at home from where to buy the moulds to exactly what type of chocolate to melt. They encouraged us, unlike most companies, who play their cards quite close to their chest in fear people will take away their business.
But Choc & Truffle are not a normal business. First of all, they don’t have a shop front but a cosy, approachable studio. It may be a little 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 the perfect opportunity to meet people and a fun date idea. It was fun and rewarding but also allowed me to appreciate the care and effort put into making chocolate. And, on top of that, it boosted my confidence too.
So next time you think of Portsmouth and why you love it, don’t just think of the dockyard or seafront, think of the delicious discoveries waiting for you.