Hotel Chocolat opens its first London restaurant

Savoury cocoa recipes, from a St Lucian plantation to an urban plate

The 1990 Mike Leigh film Life is Sweet features a chef with audacious pretensions who opens a restaurant called Regret Rien. The signature dish? Duck in chocolate sauce. Audiences may have groaned with mirth but, despite the appalling execution, the inspiration was not completely off base. For the cacao ­– or cocoa bean – has been used as a savoury ingredient for more than 3,000 years. A new restaurant in London’s Borough Market, Rabot 1745, opening on Thursday November 14, sets out not only to prove this point, but to do so with food for the ultimate gourmand.

“It was only in the past 500 years that we started getting sweet on cacao,” says owner Angus Thirlwell. “There has been a strong historical precedent for savoury food made with cacao, but our new interpretation makes the menu very contemporary.”    

Thirlwell knows a thing or two about the cocoa bean. It has been eight years since the CEO and co-founder of Hotel Chocolat bought the Saint Lucian Rabot Estate cocoa plantation (established in 1745 – hence the name of the new restaurant). In that time, the plantation restaurant Boucan has been so successful that New Yorkers have started to fly to the island to eat there.

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London felt like the right next step: “Borough Market was the natural choice for Rabot 1745, as it champions the grower and sustainable food,” says Thirlwell. And it is not just the cocoa beans that have been imported. Boucan head chef Jon Bentham has been flown in to create the cacao-centric menu, featuring beef fillet infused with on-site-roasted cacao, and guinea fowl marinated in cacao, slow cooked with spices and herbs.

Chocolate, of course, plays a part in the signature dessert, Magnificent Piton, which is made of soft meringue surrounded by a sea of chocolate with sliced bananas and almonds. “A fair proportion of people think the menu must be about chocolate sauce being poured over everything,” says Thirlwell. Far from it. “Only our deserts are sweet, and even those are subject to our mantra: more cocoa, less sugar.”    

Rest assured that by dining at Rabot 1745, rien will be of regret.

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