Luxuriously browsing delis and specialist food stores is my weakness. From finding Kamut pasta, to chancing upon fresh Thai herbs or sampling the sweetest plum tomatoes, it is all a thrilling adventure. On one such occasion, wandering the aisles of the Fortnum & Mason food hall with no other purpose but to feed my obsession, a glint of gold caught my eye. Stacked neatly among the Valrhona, Duffy’s and Kendal Mint Cake, five jewel-coloured bars of chocolate stood proud.
The typography and intricate lattice pattern of each bar’s design was dramatically striking, the thick paper wonderfully tactile, the gold artwork glimmering in the light. Grown, processed and packaged in Vietnam, said the label. Intrigued, I bought one of each and took them home, for the sum of £7.50 each.
Based in Ho Chi Minh City, Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat is the first single-origin artisan chocolate from Vietnam. Founded by two intrepid Frenchmen just three years ago, it uses Trinitario cocoa beans harvested on small farms throughout the Mekong Delta and southern highlands to create chocolate with punchy, fruity flavours. The ethic ethos behind the brand carries through to the beautiful packaging, made using traditional silk-screen printing techniques and inspired by ceremonial papers produced in Cho Lon, the old Chinese quarter of Saigon.
Though each bar simply contains cocoa, cocoa butter and cane sugar, the beans from each province result in distinctive flavours. The 70 per cent from Tien Giang is a classically rich, robust dark chocolate, while the limited-edition 80 per cent has a smooth, subtle sweetness that belies its high cocoa content. My favourite? Too close to call, though the delicate fruitiness of the 74 per cent Lam Dong and striking, intense smokiness of the 76 per cent Ba Ria both linger in my memory.
Such craftsmanship and attention to detail is luxury indeed. Which gives me the perfect excuse to roam the food aisles once more.