Bel Cafe: Hot Chocolate Festival and Roasted Butternut Squash Sandwich Smothered in Brie and Apple Marmalade
801 West Georgia Street, Vancouver
For those of you going through Street Food City withdrawal, fear not, the Hot Chocolate Festival is still going strong at multiple venues. And just a hop, skip and a jump away from the former venue of Street Food City is Bel Cafe, the little sister to the famous, Hawksworth in the historic Rosewood Hotel Georgia. Named after Chef David Hawksworth’s wife, Annabel, the Bel Cafe offers a take out counter as well as a full service dining area. And believe me, the service is super attentive. Not only did they check on me three times (and all I ordered was a hot chocolate, a sandwich and macarons), but the server opened the door for me too when I left the cafe.
Being the macaron lover that I am, the first thing that I ordered was two macarons – vanilla and pistachio. When I picked them up, I could already tell that they were lighter and more airy than the ones at Thierry. When I bit down, I found the creamy filling to be lighter than Thierry macaron fillings too, with a fluffy and silky creamy texture. My vanilla macaron totally collapsed upon my first bite though. The top part cracked and caved into the middle of the cookie. There were a few hollow spaces inside the cookie. This is sort of a macaron no no but maybe I got a bad one. The pistachio macaron didn’t collapse the same way that the vanilla one did. The vanilla macaron tasted delicious though, I could taste the subtle sweet vanilla bean notes.
The pistachio macaron had a lot more creamy filling than the vanilla macaron. It tasted wonderfully sweet and nutty. These little macarons were definitely light and delicate. I liked that they were chewy but I have to admit I prefer the slightly sturdier Thierry macarons.
I also ordered the featured hot chocolate as part of the Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival: the 70% Valrhona Guanaja dark chocolate with citrus and green cardamom hot chocolate. I normally don’t order dark hot chocolate but since this was part of the festival, I went with it. The hot chocolate was presented in such a gorgeous way with the fancy thick swirl of whipped cream topped with sprinkles of nutmeg, green cardamom seeds and orange zest that even the diners from the next table looked over to comment on how lovely my hot chocolate looked. I quickly scooped up most of the whipped cream with my teaspoon before even getting to the hot chocolate (old habit). When I finally took my first sip, I was surprised to find that the hot chocolate wasn’t bitter at all. It was more nutty and wonderfully refreshing with citrus notes only further enhanced by the green cardamom. The light fluffy cloud of whipped cream also melted into the hot chocolate making it creamier and thicker.
Also served with my hot chocolate was a Valrhona dark chocolate fudge cookie, and boy was it dense! I love dense cookies. This one wasn’t chewy, as it was literally a little clump of thick, rich fudge. When I ate it along with the hot chocolate, it really was like a chocolate explosion in my mouth, the cookie bringing out the sweet and tart citrus notes in the hot chocolate and the drink bringing out the bitter nuttiness and natural sweetness in the fudge. For someone who doesn’t usually enjoy dark chocolate, I quite liked this cookie and will even rank it better than the macarons at Bel Cafe.
Now, onto the main course: the sandwich with all my favourite ingredients, the Roasted Butternut Squash, Asian pear, arugula, brie, and apple marmalade sandwich. The sandwich, much like all the other food presented at Bel Cafe was extremely pretty to look at, colourful and appetizing. But I was hungry. I was surprised to find that the butternut squash wasn’t as soft as I had expected, it was actually a little bit on the crunchy side. It still tasted amazing though, juicy with a deep sweetness, a great accompaniment with the more neutral flavours of the Asian pear. The slices of very juicy pear were definitely crispy, fresh and crunchy. This fruit is so juicy that even the thin slices caused my sandwich to drip as I was eating each half of it. It was great though, I loved the contrasting textures in this sandwich.
The brie cheese was also the perfect creamy and mild cheese to pair with the sandwich fillings and it really helped glue the sandwich together. The sweet apple marmalade really brought out the arugula’s peppery taste, and also added another flavour dimension to the sandwich.
Even the little side salad that came with the sandwich was tasty, even though it was a tad overdressed.
Unfortunately, the hot chocolate that I tried was only offered for a few days of the Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival. They are now onto their new flavour. The Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival will be going on at Bel Cafe and other local chocolate shops and cafes until February 14, 2012. Check out a full listing of venues and hot chocolate flavours here.
I will definitely revisit Bel Cafe soon for more sandwiches and desserts though!