Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Chocolates with a "wa" twist - Salon de Royal Kyoto's pop-up store @ Japan Food Town

At the mention of chocolate, most people would probably associate it with countries such as Switzerland and Belgium which are well-known for their quality chocolate. This is intriguing in the sense that cocoa beans, the source ingredient for chocolate, are largely grown in Africa and South America and these countries famous for chocolate don't actually grow their own cacao plants. In the same sense, you might not associate Japan with this sweet treat, especially not when it comes to Kyoto, the old capital which embodies everything Japanese even in this modern era of speed and technology. Interestingly, there is a chocolatier from Kyoto which has been around since 1935 and is well-known for its amazing range of chocolates and by-products. This spring, if you are in Singapore, you should visit their pop-up store located at the event square of Japan Food Town (Level 4 of Wisma Atria) to find out what makes them so good.

I attended the opening day event on 18 April, thanks to the invitation of J Passport after I signed up for it on their website. Today's event was restricted to the media and invited guests (about 50 as per the website) but due to the size of the venue, it was a bit difficult to move around without running into another human wall. Coupled with the spot lights dotting the perimeter of the event square, I got rather hot and bothered especially after I had rushed to make it in time for the event. In addition, despite the fact that I had provided my blog URL in the application, I was classified as a guest rather than media which I can understand to a certain extent since I don't belong to a formal media outlet. The main differences between being a guest and media representative were that the latter got a detailed write-up about the company and the pop-up store and a bigger goodie bag.

Salon de Royal was founded in Kyoto on 1 April 1935 and combines the best of East and West influences in its products. As mentioned above, chocolate is usually seen as a Western product but it goes through an amazing transformation here which is quite unlike the chocolates you find in Europe. As explained by the company's representative during the event, it produces three main categories of chocolate i.e. chocolate bonbons, Hannari (Rinpa) chocolate and pecan nut chocolates. Not only does the company incorporate ingredients with a strong "wa" (Japanese) feel into its products such as matcha and arare (rice crackers), its packaging also embodies the deep Japanese influence due to its roots in Kyoto. For example, urushi boxes i.e. lacquer coating and Japanese tea bowls (chawan) are used as packaging for the chocolate bonbons. For its Hannari and pecan nut chocolates, the outer packaging is influenced by Rinpa-style paintings which is one of the major historical schools of Japanese painting.

The highlight of the event would have to be the live demonstration by Chef Emori Hiroyuki who is Salon de Royal Kyoto's official adviser and the 2015 champion of the World Trophy of Pastry Ice Cream Chocolate. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a good look at his demonstration because there were too many people crowding around the table. I couldn't help but think that it would be nice if there was a video camera hanging above to capture the process and project it on a TV screen just like what we see in a lot of those cooking demonstration videos online. This would ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to observe the demonstration. Otherwise, it might be better to reduce the number of people attending each demonstration because the venue is simply too small. If you are attending the event for the public held on 19 April, you might want to get near to the demonstration table before it starts so as to secure a good spot.

As it was too hot and uncomfortable for me to squeeze in, I ended up catching glimpses at parts of the demonstration through the mobile phone screens of those who took videos of it. This photo I have here was taken after the matcha ice cream cake was completed. Apologies for this unflattering picture which does not show the true beauty of this cake because I was standing too far back.

After the photo session, the participants were treated to samples of the matcha ice cream cake. In terms of taste, I think that it was pretty good especially the matcha layer which was flavourful and aromatic. However, it doesn't seem that the pop-up store will offer this item though so you might want to attend the public event to sample this.

In the goodie bag given to the guests, there were a pack of candy-coated pecan nuts and a piece of chocolate bonbon. I don't eat bonbons that often because they are usually quite pricey so I can't say that I know a lot about this type of chocolates. Nonetheless, the bonbon given to me was very smooth and the aroma of the chocolate lingered on my palate for a while. Impressive taste but I think I would need more convincing to actually shell out money for it. As for the pecan nuts, the package contains two small packs each with 3 pieces. Considering that you need to pay $7.50 for each package, that works out to about $1.25 per piece. The refined taste and texture you get definitely justifies this price tag but to be perfectly honest, this is probably something you would want to buy to indulge yourself once in a while or as gifts to people who matter most to you. While looking at the displays, I saw a few more flavours which interest me so I should be going back to the pop-up store to buy them.

For those who are interested in attending the demonstrations open to the public on 19th April, the two timings are 12.30pm and 6.30pm and you would need to register through J Passport's website. Even if you can't make it in time for these, there will be five demonstrations daily by different patissiers and the pop-up store will still be around till 31 May.

Other than showcasing the company's products, there are also a series of events lined up during this period to introduce Kyoto's culture to Singapore. Do check these out if they interest you:
- Shakuhachi flute: 30 April
- Noh drama maskmaking: 6 May
- Calligraphy: 7 May
- Nishijin Ori Textiles: date to be announced

If you happen to be going to Japan, you can visit their main shop cum cafe which is located beside the Kamo River where you can sit outdoors during the warmer months from May to September. The shop offers a wide selection of the company's chocolate products along with desserts and beverages like coffee, tea and wine. Alternatively, if you are in Osaka, you can go to their shop at the B2 level of Hankyuu Sanbangai Departmental Store to buy their products.

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