The Chocolate Room's menu has a formidable line-up but it doesn't melt hearts
Let's start with the last straw for a change. In this case it was a cookie. Ordered in a fit of relentless optimism, the kind that leads people to believe that they will, one day, find unicorns shyly snacking on coriander in their backyards.
Sigh. The audacity of hope. Crushed with a cookie. Desserts can teach tough lessons.
The cookie in question arrived brazenly stale, smothered in overly-sweet chocolate sauce, like an aging socialite spiritedly trying to cover frown lines with flashy diamond solitaires. According to the menu it contained white chocolate or dark chocolate chunks and nuts covered in "our hot chocolate sauce." However, the flat biscuit, which tasting startlingly similar to the ones from the tea shop down the road, was so worryingly anaemic I almost dialled 911. It was sprinkled with an occasional tasteless chocolate chunk and - of course - their signature sauce. (Pssst: Here's a wild guess on their secret recipe. Pick sauce bottle off random shelf. Open. Store. Heat in microwave when required. Serve.")
The most frustrating thing about The Chocolate Room is the hope it inspires. This place should be good. It has potential. It could stand out.
Set in Velachery, the one-month-old café is centred on what's usually a never-fail food: chocolate. Chocolate cafes all over the world do great business. Like a cappuccino, a good cup of hot chocolate requires great ingredients, the right equipment and skill. All relatively easy to acquire today. Yet, although Chennai has many places serving up cappuccinos that rival Europe, great hot chocolate still proves elusive.
Considering how enthusiastically the city's embraced designer coffee, this clearly is a great location for a chocolate café. And The Chocolate Room has all the necessary ingredients to do roaring business. Their hot chocolate alone comes in twenty versions, including Tiramisu, Belgian Zabaglione and Coffee Mocha. They offer 'Choctails' like Vanilla Lattes, Caramel Frappes and Hazelnut Granitas. There are chocolate pancakes, and pizzas, and fondues. The online menu is so exciting, you feel like singing a little song and skipping across the room clapping your hands, when you see it.
Then the contradictions begin. The Chocolate Room is set on a bustling main road, which is good. But it overlooks an open sewer. Bad. Fortunately, once you're inside, the interiors done up in dark wood are so restful you forget the outside world, and that's good. But the tinny music system sounds like an annoying cell phone ring tone. Bad. Then there is the staff, particularly manager Kumar who is warm and welcoming. Good. However, the food arrives in exasperating fits and starts, one by one. Let's say it together now - bad.
Following this theme the dark chocolate which arrives in an adorable 'cuddle cup,' so you can wrap your fingers around it, is hot, frothy and comforting if not world-class. But the cottage cheese crepes are cold and ugly. They taste better than they look, though, despite being roughly the same temperature as Darth Vader's heart. Fortunately, they're accompanied by a deliciously velvety Torroncino shake, flavoured with almond syrup and topped with a cloud of fluffy, whipped cream. The best thing we try is, ironically, the simplest and contains no chocolate: a cottage cheese baguette, crusty bread generously stuffed with crunchy capsicum and crisp onion rings, laced with aromatic cheese. It's a nice ending. So I'll avoid bringing up that cookie again.
Actually, I won't. Because it's really a symbol of what's going wrong. The Chocolate Room needs to get its act together by putting more effort into it's food. Perhaps they'll manage.
After all, as we've all learnt, it's uplifting to look for unicorns. And to have faith in the audacity of hope.
(The Chocolate Room is at Old No. 15, New No. 26, 100 Feet Bypass road, Velachery. Call 044-22591435 for details.)