Hot chocolate 2, Diet 0
The food-based points system inside my head is generous, to a waistline-expanding fault.
On some days, getting out of bed on time alone can warrant a congratulatory dollop of clotted cream on the porridge, so it doesn’t take much to persuade myself that I truly deserve a hot chocolate.
To clarify, we’re not talking the type of sweetened murky water that comes out of a packet, giving off a vague whiff of cocoa before the acrid taste of sweetener washes over the tastebuds. I mean the thick, rich, velvety liquid which sticks to the corners of the lips and coats the tongue on the way down – the type of stuff that sent Augustus Gloop over the edge.
The real thing is hard to come by, but happily for me, it is served in a café so close to my home that I can form a thick chocolate moustache and a large grin within minutes of the first craving. The Café at 36, on Exeter’s Cowick Street, is the type of place you would expect to find in the trendier parts of London or Paris. Instead, it has been miraculously dropped into a line charity shops and hardware stores of St Thomas, which made it all the more glorious when I first ventured inside.
Here, they serve a selection of hot chocolate options, from Cadburys finest to the sublime Belgian chocolate special. The counter is laden with towering layered cakes, all baked by an Exeter supplier, and the bacon and sausages for the breakfast come from the nearby Courtenays butchers. Rod and Ben’s organic soups, made from ingredients grown within ten miles of the café, feature on the menu, alongside elegant paninis, and a wide selection of dainty Italian biscuits.
Owner Jim Hannan knows his coffee. Having trained in one of the faceless chains which have taken over every high street, he peeled off to create somewhere more personable. His wife Diem’s bright paintings adorn the walls, incorporating flowers, birds and insects in almost mathematically precise designs. The Vietnamese-born artist has an incredible back-story. During the Vietnam War, the Daily Mail latched on to an American operation to fly plane-loads of orphans to the West. Diem was one of the children the paper re-homed in the UK and she is regularly approached by Mail journalists to give an update on her life story.
When I visit, I only have one thing in mind – that rich, delicious hot chocolate. It needs neither cream nor marshmallows, but I order both, anyway. It is guzzled down with a sigh of satisfaction so loud that other customers turn their heads. I contemplate another cup, but, for once, the internal calorific points system says no.
But then I search the archives, remember that I cleared the backyard at the weekend, and I join the queue.