If you loved something such as, oh, I dunno, chocolate. And you felt that there was more to life than, say, Thorntons. Then maybe you’d consider setting up your own fine chocolates business. That’s precisely what two Leicester women I met this week have done.

Helen Wood and Shami Doshi both felt disatisfied with the retail offer for chocolate in the city but initially it was the simple idea of doing something special for a school fair that made them look into making their own. They booked themselves onto a one day truffle making course and made sure they quizzed the tutor on all aspects of chocolate production. “That gave us some basic skills but it also showed exactly what more we needed to find out,’ says Shami. 

Shami Doshi and Helen Wood work on their strawberries and cream truffles. See below for a chance to win some of their handmade chocolates

The school fair was a great success, so they went on a further course run by top Manchester chocolatier Slattery’s.    Equipped with new skills in tempering, moulding and flavouring they set up Helsham Chocolates and can now be seen at food festivals and events around the county. At the moment they are operating out of their kitchens but at busy times like the run-up to Christmas they are making up to 1,000 chocolates a  week and if things continue to expand they will look to get a production unit. 

Their product line focuses on truffles and they take great pleasure in trying out new flavours. All-year round favourites include salted caramel and sour cherry with balsamic, while this Spring their Valentine’s range includes Gran Marnier, stem ginger and strawberries and cream.  They also produce a range of decorated slabs, chcolate stirrers to melt into your hot milk or coffee and florentines (though it has to be said the odd piece of fruit and nut in these would not satisfy hardcore florentine fans who expect a more substantial layer of caramelised goodness.)

At current production levels  the packaging and administration are starting to become seriously time consuming so they are having to closely manage any expansion plans.  That said, they are now available ina number of high quaity retail outlets in Leicestershire and Rutland such as the patisserie Dominic at David North in Rothley and Deli-flavour in Stoneygate. They are looking at getting restaurants intersted in using their chocs and ultimately they would love to get in shops such as John Lewis and Harvey Nicks.

They don’t lack ambition then and are buoyed  by a high level of re-orders and the positive comments they receive. “People often tell us out trufles are ‘better than Thornton’s,’ says Shami. “We’re not cheap but neither are we that expensive, and I think people appreciate we use natural flavours and that everything is hand-made and hand packaged.”

Helsham have kindly offered a chance for you lot to win a ballotine of their truffles you can present to your Valentine – or keep for yourself, we don’t care.  All you have to do is send an email to sales@helsham.co.uk with your name, address and the answer to the question “Which four flavours are used in Helsham’s Favourites Selection” (visit the Helsham website for the answer). Put “Competition” in the subject line and get your answer in by 5pm Friday 4 February.  UK addresses only I’m afraid.

Chop chop

January 27, 2011

Was in Leicester today as the sleet came down and I needed something warming, cheap and quick for lunch. Somewhat against my better judgment I thought I’d try Choptstix, a  noodle bar  on the Market Place. It’s the kind of limited menu, high turnover place that might just turn out to be an unpolished gem.  Sadly it was a pretty joyless experience. Staff didn’t seem bothered, noodles seemed  fresh enough but overcooked, while the salt and pepper chicken was rather tasteless – tiny scraps of chicken overwhelmed by a thick batter.  In contrast the chilli relish in bowls on the refectory tables was massively ferocious. At £3.50 for a quite sizeable small box it  met my three criteria, but next time I’m thinking along those lines I don’t think I’ll bother.

A pie of rare quality

January 21, 2011


Had a very interesting morning talking with Tom Cockerill of Entropy about his use of rare breed meats, touching on the philosophic and ethical differences between breeding and raising animals for maximum yield or for improved eating quality. 

As part of it  he prepared one of the restaurant’s classically simple British dishes – beef and smoked oyster pie.

...and smoked oyster...

For the full story you’ll need to get the next issue of Great Food Leicestershire and Rutland  (just £15 for an annual subscription!), but basically the dish he cooked features rare breed South Devon steak supplied by Archers of Clarendon Park, Colchester oysters smoked in the kitchen over oak chippings  and a lovely gravy from beef stock,  Guinness and an individually made bouquet garni of fresh herbs. With the possible exception of the homemade beef stock, there wasn’t anything the competent home cook couldn’t have a go at.


Tom knows his restaurant is more expensive than his local competition but hopes his customers will appreciate what he’s trying to do. Certainly the results are evident in this wonderful pie, where beefy goodness is backed up by little hints of smoky saltiness. High up on the pieometer this one.


January 18, 2011

A quick word in praise of our leader. When Svennis was appointed boss of Leicester City you could be forgiven for thinking he’d spend as little time as possible here, swanning off in his helicopter to  more exotic climes – Monaco, Rome, Stockholm, Market Harborough. To give him his due, he is not only achieving success on the pitch  – I write before tonight’s cup replay in Manchester – but is doing his bit for the local restaurant trade.

Sven backs Leicester restaurants

For some time San Carlo on Granby St used an image of him and old flame Nancy stepping out at one of their branches.  Now he’s a proper local, he is popping up all over the place. The newly-opened Lanna Thai on Rutland Street had him in – I think the city’s Thai community are, understandably, trying to make the most of any clout with the club’s Thai owners – and he was in Bistrot Pierrre at the weekend. In both cases it  sounds like he was a most gracious guest, telling Lanna Thai that the Mercury should have given them five stars and writing excellent all over his feedback card for Bistrot Pierre. 

I’m not suggesting we follow him as food critic – let’s face it, the man is a skilful politician and he’s not going to be rude about them. But I give him every credit for going out and being seen to support local businesses.

Let’s see where else he turns up. If he comes into your restaurant or you spot him in a city or county venue, make a comment to this post. If we get  a few, I’ll make a new post rounding up in a couple of months. I’m particularly interested in hearing should you see him sharing a pizza with David Beckham/Thierry Henry/Lionel Messi.

Oh and while we are here – well done to Hambleton Hall and The Olive Branch for retaining their Michelin stars for 2011, and to the Red Lion at Stathern and Jim’s Yard in Stamford for keeping their Bib Gourmands. No new awards in our region this time, and – despite the increasing  clamour –  no second star for Sat Bains in Nottingham.

Not the only fruit

January 15, 2011

Right, where were we?…

Now I know Leicestershire is not exactly famed for the quality of its citrus fruit, but as there’s not much local fresh product to celebrate right now, and as oranges are absolutely on form, that’s what I’ve been out searching for this week.  

Seville oranges can be found for a few precious weeks until mid February, so expect more marmalade-related posts soon. But today the focus is on blood oranges. Not only is this variety exceptionally tangy but I think they are just about the prettiest thing you can put on a plate.      

Look how beautiful these are. I’ll be making a sorbet later on but it seems a shame to only pulp these beauties, so I adapted a Nigel Slater idea and made a vaguely Middle Eastern salad. I know it’s January and there’s a cold wind outside but man cannot  live by comfort food alone and this relatively light and refreshing lunch was just lovely.  

Start by smearing a chicken breast in harissa paste (I always use the part-boned breast – seems to keep it juicy and flavoursome). For the salad just mixed fresh leaves, some cous cous, pine nuts tossed in a little soy sauce and toasted in a pan, and these slices of orange. As lon as you’ve got a sharp knife, it’s pretty simple to cut slices off the top and bottom of the orange so it stands flat and then cut down  between the flesh and the pith/peel before slicing crosswise.  It’s a little messy but do try and rescue what you can of any juice and use it a dressing in which to toss it all.  I just used red wine vinegar, olive oil and grain mustard.

Grill and slice the chicken breast and you’re done.

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