From 11th – 16th September in London, Baileys brought its new Chocolat Luxe to life with Bar Chocolat. It promised to be an immersive, multi-sensory experience inspired by the pleasure of chocolate.
Normally I’m wary of such events; the Pop Up scene is not a space I feel big brands should invade. I like the cottage industry feel, where it is more about the love of what they are doing rather than brand values and hitting KPI’s. Especially as this was essentially a launch event for a new drink, so we were paying to be sold to. However with a list of exciting and big name contributors I decided to leave my scepticism at the door, at least until the end.
As we entered the Covent Garden space we were greeted by an edible installation by artisan chocolatier Amelia Rope and art director Petra Storrs, you may have heard of Peter, as he has created memorable costumes and staging for the likes of Lady Gaga and Paloma Faith. However this was a more tactile experience, which was created to complement the chocolate Amelia had created, which you could ‘borrow’ from the shelves.
We turned the corner and came across a box in a large space, its purpose at first was unclear, it almost seemed out of place and truth be told a waste of space. However the when opening the doors on the box the Bompas & Parr scent of chocolate mixed with oxygen hit the senses and it all made more sense. There was one last room before we entered the bar area, this was a giant video wall created by music director Tabitha Denholm. The best way to describe this as a picture that was alive, rather than a video of an opulent Elizabethan Dinner party, it was very cool but it had an almost unnerving feeling, especially with the musical score from Lou Hayter.
The bar itself was a feature in its own right with trees hugging the sides and the celling, while waves of gold material sat underneath glass, which made up a semi-circular set of stairs. This made us feel as if we needed to be invited to the bar rather than simply go up. Perhaps that was the idea. At this point I was wondering if we would try the drink we were here to ultimately try. Silly me of course, all this was in fact one big tease, a tease that would continue for some time yet.
We were then directed to the long U-shaped table with enough seats for 30 diners and when we were all seated the reasoning for our starter was explained to us. However I was too busy poking the ice box full of seafood and vegetables with the sole bamboo utensil, in short I was lost in a new and rather intriguing obscure world. Admittedly I’m not normally a huge fan of seafood in fact a normally go to huge lengths to avoid it, but confronted with no other option and for fear of looking a bit of an idiot I dived in. I have to say I was surprised, but in truth I had little to compare it too, the sea bream in particular was lovely, especially in the marbled dipping sauce. While the rest was more than palatable and I feel that this would have been enjoyed much more by the seafood lovers in the room.
The next course we were told would be plated in front of us, straight on to the table by the chefs themselves and normally I would have thought the idea of no plates was mad but I’d just eaten out of an box of crushed ice, so I went with it. The chefs in question were South London experimentalists who’d previously worked at Noma. So while I’ve not had the pleasure of René Redzepi work in person, I should have had an idea of what to expect, after all I’ve watched enough TV shows to be a theoretical expert. This was food theatre, each part of the dish was individually laid in front of us and explained, this went on for quite some time and while I was happy to see it all unfold in front my eyes, the girl next to me was urging them to hurry. Perhaps due to the curiously bizarreness of the evening so far, I imagined her tucking in early, only for the Queen of hearts to appear and shout “off with her head”. Of course neither happened and we eventually tucked in.
My partner in crime for the evening and chief photographer informed me that she didn’t eat meat, meaning more for me and in my opinion was the nicest part of the dish. The whole dish was full of interesting and indulgent flavours, it was great to see things like damsons used very effectively. While the wine pairing for each dish was expertly chosen.
Finally as we sat and waited for our desserts to arrive we were told to leave the table and head back into the bar, here awaited our 8 different desserts to try, all of which were quite small but all had one thing in common, they all contained chocolate in insane amounts. To me this was jackpot time, the flavours of each were in the main fantastic, though admittedly by the final one I was started to struggle a little bit.
While others had already gone on to try Baileys Chocolat Luxe, the reason we were all there of course. I waited until the very end; I’d been teased long enough anyway, so it made sense to me, it felt like by doing so I was completing some kind of spiritual chocolate circle.
So was Baileys Chocolat Luxe worth the wait? We’d been given the corporate marketing line several times that it was “the first time that real Belgian chocolate has been fused with alcohol in a way that delivers the multi-sensory experience of chocolate in a glass.” But in short yes, I’d choose it over normal Baileys every time; it was smooth, rich, creamy and tasted exactly as they described it. Perhaps I’d been hypnotised by the wonders and delights of the evening. I’m yet to try it again in the normality of everyday life, but I have high hopes that it will be received the same by my senses.
So while I’m still a sceptic of big brands increasingly encroaching on the London Pop Up scene, Baileys pretty much nailed it, they were as brash as Chocolat Luxe is luxurious. This was very much a Pop Up launch event rather than simply a Pop Up, their brand values were there to see in all its glory and each of the contributors nailed their respective briefs expertly. Yes I felt sold to but I didn’t mind, I was sold by the experience, if that was one of their targets, they can put a tick in that box.
After the event I have hopes that these types of Pop Ups will be seen by the masses in a different way. Aiming to offer something truly different, offering exciting collaborations that could not normally happen, rather than the start of some kind of Pop Up gentrification. So if you work for a brand and are thinking about doing a Pop Up, take a leaf out of Baileys book, perhaps even try Chocolat Luxe and think it through. The Pop Up scene is not yours to take, give it the respect it deserves and if you do we will happily come and review it. With Bar Chocolat I’m happy we did.