Saturday, December 3, 2011

Leonidas Grand Opening at the Vancouver Convention Centre

Leonidas on Urbanspoon
UPDATE Dec-5th-2011: Apparently the Grand Opening was extended to Sunday. The Convention Centre is a nice walking route, plus the possibility of free coffee makes it worthwhile to drop by all through December to see if they are extending their Grand Opening specials.

Just back from the Leonidas -- "Fine Belgian Chocolates" -- grand opening at Vancouver Convention Centre! (#29-1055 Canada Place -- squished between Bellagio Cafe, the big Italian restaurant with a lot of blue patio umbrellas; and Subway). Here's the blurb from their mini in-store flyer:

1,400 outlets in 53 countries, LEONIDAS fresh Belgian Chocolate is FINALLY in VANCOUVER. Flown in Fresh from Belgium, and using only the finest ingredients the world has to offer: 100% cocoa butter, natural ingredients like fresh butter & fresh cream; and delicacies such as hazelnuts from Turkey, Morello cherries from the Périgord, almonds from Italy and walnuts from Grenoble.

Fresh Belgian chocolate that has been enjoyed by gourmands and gourmets since 1913
100% quality, 100% cocoa butter, 100% fresh, 100% taste, 100% Leonidas

The tiny tiny store was open quite early, but there wasn't really a buzz there till after Noon. If you've seen the ads in the WestEnder, the promised promotions are definitely on:
  • $0 self-serve Lavazza coffee set up on a table outside the store
  • $1/piece Leonidas Chocolate from the in-store selection at the counter, packaged into classy gold-coloured 2-piece and 6-piece boxes free of charge
  • $2 Signature Hot Chocolate
  • $3 Liège waffles (a type of Belgian waffle)
The tiny store makes for a cramped experience on grand opening day (plus you have to share space with a DJ who, thankfully, didn't blast the music too loudly), but they do try to have in-store seating both just to the left and farther into the store.
The owners were behind the counter helping the new hires, and overall they tried their best to be polite but I think were a bit overwhelmed.

Best part I'd have to say was the coffee. I had the coffee straight with no milk or sugar, and it was entirely drinkable. Not too strong or bitter. Since coffee has a broad range of bitterness and flavour, your mileage may vary.

Lots of chocolate in the counter, all about average size. Seems pricey at $1/piece, but on this Grand Opening, it's actually a steal. Other specialty chocolate places (like Rogers or Godiva) can be more than a buck a piece even at "bulk"/box quantities. It remains to be seen what the regular price will settle on at Leonidas but if the prices on the US website are any indication, one can expect it to be on par and not worth too much time comparison shopping. (At the time I wrote this review, the Leonidas Vancouver website wasn't functional for "Shop Online").
Selection-wise, nothing really jumped out at me. You could probably get something similar at Rogers or Godiva, especially if you're not anal about looking specifically for something labelled "Belgian Chocolate".

The hot chocolate (which always give me gas, probably because of the milk, so I'm wary of buying it too often) wasn't anything to write home about, alas. Maybe you will be able to taste the difference and discern a notch up in quality, but all I can really say is that it wasn't thin, which may be the case at certain places. If you're looking for stronger chocolate flavour, you can try Mink somewhat nearby, where you can even get drinking chocolate -- basically a shot of hot, thick, melted, chocolate that can give you a sugar rush or even very mild nausea if you're not prepared.

The waffles were a mixed experience for me. On the one hand, they were nice waffles. Thick and crispy even after sitting under chocolate sauce for a long time. There's a small toaster oven in the back that appears to be used to ensure a toasty crispy shell on the waffles before they are served -- hence the wait time.
After that, it appears that you can drench it in as much chocolate as you like. There was apparently an earlier promotion at Leonidas at the start of November, and the waffles were just $1, had nuts, and just a lattice of chocolate striped onto them. Today I saw plates with waffles swimming in tasty chocolate sauce.

You may have seen thick waffles coated in chocolate for sale in bags. This is NOT the same experience. I've never understood why people did that -- take a hot, fresh, fragrant, tasty waffle fresh from the wafflemaker and immediately kill all those good qualities by dunking it in chocolate, allowing it to be soaked through and made chewy.
It worth a try at Leonidas, even at $3. But don't let it sit too long. It'll still be crispy, but a cold waffle loses its peak tastiness quickly.

Other things tried were a pastry and a very dark brown, almost black, brownie (which, strangely, was rung in the till as a "biscotti").

The pastry, which had some sort of cream at the bottom and was sprinkled with raisins was sub-par. It had been sitting on the counter too long, even protected under a glass dome. It was cold and tough. This, sadly, is quite the norm with any bakery that has to prep food and wait for it to sell. Just be careful, especially on a promo day like this when everyone's ordering the specials and regular items sit neglected far too long. Quality on pastries go down very quickly with time, I find, especially once they get cold.

The brownie was quite good -- very soft and moist even though it had sat in the refrigerated display long enough to leave a bit of a footprint when it was pulled out and put on a plate. Flavour-wise not chocolatey enough for me, so I take points off for that, but presentation and texture were very good.

There were also beautiful cupcakes with generous and beautifully decorated cream on top. Mostly a dark, rich, chocolate colour on the cupcakes, and I imagined they were really good, but in the end I gave it a pass. They were sitting on the countertop EXPOSED for god knows how long. With that many people passing so close by on a busy day in a small store, I think they should have at least tried to put it inside the counter or maybe slapped a glass dome over them.

Other things to look out for are small decorated tins of flavoured hard candy (lower shelves on the left side, just as you enter) and ice cream (!) -- end of the counter inside the store.

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