Having driven down to our French home for our half term break we felt this trip would not be complete without a quick trip across the border to Girona in Spain. The main reason for our visit was to rendezvous with “super chocolatier” Damian Allsop and his partner Anna. They until about eight weeks ago were based just outside Tunbridge Wells. Then after much heart searching and deliberation took the decision to up root their business to Anna’s home area of Girona in northern Spain
Damian equally familiar with the region as he had previously worked at the now infamous highly rated Cellar Can Roca (Just awarded the best restaurant in the world) So after loading up the removal lorry and then the disposal of some two tonnes of assorted stuff at the North Farm tip in Tunbridge Wells a group of us had met up in the town for a quick coffee and farewell. It was with some sadness but a new chapter was about to begin for this pair and I can now report they really have landed well and truly on their feet with this move.
The long drive south over a total of three days was according to Damian not the finest gastronomic experience – I fully understand his frustration with French Gastronomy – a little hit and miss these days. Anyway once ensconced back in the Catalunya region they set about trying to find a location to set up their production unit. Some abortive attempts led finally to something of a gem.
Their unit in Kent was quite large and had been set up for the past seven years. This Spanish unit could not be more perfect. They are renting space form an outside catering company based on an industrial estate in the area of Banyoles. (This is where they held the Olympic rowing for the Barcelona Olympics!) Located somewhat befittingly behind the local Haribo Factory they have an air conditioned and sectioned area of a modern purpose built kitchen plus their own frozen and chilled storage.
Why Spain I hear you all ask well as Damian explained the rent they paid back in the UK was 5 times more plus then charges for the transportation of the finished product was twice what they are now paying from Spain. They still have to work out how their “On Line” shop is to work but their UK distributor for trade orders seems to be well settled and we saw the next palette load of chocolates being finished off ready for dispatch.
What is equally important is they are now trying to establish a work life balance that will ensure the survival and expansion of their business. The struggle for them over the last couple of years had taken its toll on the business and the decision to up root and change location was one they did not take lightly but now seem to be all set to develop the business in new and exciting ways.
I know the region reasonably well having owned a property across the border in France for the last 15 years and it is an inspiring part of the world with not only a wonderful focus on foods and products but a heritage that is something we can be envious of. Festivals abound for foods such as Cherries, Apricots, Onions and restaurants of note seem to flourish in the region.
Whilst we visited the area we joined Damian and Anna for a lunch at one such place. Anna’s sister and husband operate a now well established restaurant in the old quarter of Girona. Mimolet located on Carrer Pou Rodó, núm. 12, it is just a short walk from one of the more quirky tourist attractions in the town. The “Lion of Girona” has an infamous history that the rite of touching or kissing the rear will guarantee a happy return to the city.
Well following what was a very enjoyable lunch with top notch local produce from crispy bread toasts infused with garlic and tomato and a selection of local cured meats including a rather scrummy local Botifarra sausage of black and white varieties.
We settled into some rather well executed dishes… my starter sounded in the English translation all rather comical “Warm Cream of Gourd, Ginger, Blinis with Spawns of Herring and a “creaking” of Botifarra” – what came was a very pretty and delicate arrangement of a dry soup plate with the then addition of a light soup of squash – the spawns of herring was a pile of vibrant orange herring roe and the creaking of Botifarra was cubes of that black and white sausage scattered across the dish. It was a lovely balance of flavours and textures
The main courses we chose ranged from a Cannelloni of Roasted Chicken with a rich truffle sauce to a truly magnificent and unctuous Honeyed Veal of Girona with a slice of fresh Foie Gras and a red wine sauce. The “Veal of Girona” was a slow cooked beef cheek that just fell apart and garnished with baby glazed onions and a generous slice of foie gras the addition of some strands of fresh wild asparagus illustrated so perfectly the marriage of local produce and again balanced flavours and textures.
To complete the meal a little hot chocolate fondant with a homemade ice cream was simply divine and along with coffee and a selection of Damian’s water ganache chocolates the kissing of that lions bottom for us was not a requisite to ensure we make a return visit.
It was so good to see Damian & Anna so animated about the future and I am sure the move whilst a bold one will be a resounding success as there is so much scope to expand the business in so many exciting ways… we will be back and look forward to repaying their hospitality and also make sure you do explore the town for some of its other hidden gems like the amazing ice cream parlour “Rocambolesc Gelateria” inspired by Roald Dahl and operated by the Roca brothers and then the Rambla in the old quarter and the terrace of Independence Square all cry out for our return visits! We still have to kiss the lions bottom if nothing else.
Damian Allsop Chocolates – c/o El Ginjoler Catering, Poligon Industrial Pont – Xetmar, E-14 Cornella del Terri 17844 Spain