Today I want to talk about a pop-up shop, which sold amazing desserts, known as “Cocoa” or “Cocoa Patisserie” by Ali Imdad. #Cocoabyali is the official hashtag! Do you know of Ali Imdad? He was a contestant on the Great British Bake Off a few years ago (Google him!), and a fellow Brummie.
Before I get to Cocoa, let’s lay some background. If you’re from Birmingham you may be aware of “Artisan” on Lady Pool road, a dessert parlour that Ali is affiliated with, offering a different range of items compared to the usual waffles and Nutella found everywhere else across the area. I, and so many others, were so excited for Artisan, however it has drawn mixed reviews from a lot of people. All of my friends were slightly disappointed Artisan, perhaps we were all expecting too much? I have only been to Artisan once, to have afternoon tea with a friend, and I actually enjoyed all the desserts I tried, however the service was rather poor, giving a bad initial impression, and taking away from the experience, but the business was still new, and I appreciate it takes a while for things to run smoothly.
There was an incident a few months later after my first visit, where Artisan took a photo from my Instagram, placed their own logo over it, and uploaded it to their fb. I would have been absolutely fine with them using my photo, even without asking me, as long as they had credited me somewhere, and not slapped their logo on the picture. Ali did apologise, and informed me that a separate team had been hired to run the social media side of the business, but unfortunately the entire situation put me off visiting Artisan again.
Now, here is where our story really begins.
In Dec 2016, Ali Imdad opened a pop-up shop, “Cocoa”, in the Link walkway in the Bullring, for 6 weeks. At first I was very hesitant about visiting, because of my previous experiences with Artisan, and I had decided to give it a miss, but the photo of a large chocolate x matcha x raspberry macaron caught my attention, and I could not resist. I HAD TO TRY THAT DESSERT! Raspberry, chocolate and matcha are 3 of my ultimate favourite dessert flavours! Not to mention I am a macaron nut.
My friend, Mars, and I visited the store in early January, and we were greeted non-other than by Ali himself! He was super friendly, and told us about all the desserts available, whilst pedestrians passing by stopped to take snaps of the eye catching desserts on display in the front cabinet. As it’s a pop-up shop, space was limited, but there was enough seating for about 4-5 people. Unfortunately, the large macaron I had gone to try wasn’t available that day, but Ali offered us samples of an éclair, and one taste of that éclair and I was in love. It was so amazing, and definitely the calibre of dessert I had been hoping for. Seriously! I ordered a full one right away! It was raspberry x white chocolate x jam x spiced caramel. We decided to eat in, whilst casually asking Ali a thousand random questions, which he kindly answered, whilst serving his other customers.
Mars got a brownie éclair, which she said was delicious. We also got 4 regular sized macarons to share between us. Unfortunately, we dropped one of the macarons, ‘cause I’m super clumsy, but Ali was super nice about it, and gave us a replacement one! Honestly, the eclair was simply stunning, the flavours were sensational, and my taste buds were alive! The macarons were very nice too, I liked their presentation, but I thought the extra chocolate/coconut/nuts etc distracted from the true flavour of the macarons, and I am the kind of person who thinks macarons are special enough, and don’t require extra embellishments, however this is just a personal preference, as everyone enjoys things differently.
I was so impressed with the éclair I ate, that I couldn’t come away empty handed. I bought 3 more éclairs to share with my family. I got another 1 of the raspberry x white chocolate x spiced caramel flavour, and 2 of the coconut x raspberry flavour. The coconut x raspberry eclair was also heavenly, and my parents both loved the combination of flavours, and the care and effort taken to make the éclairs.
This visit was followed by 3 more…Oh My! I was addicted.
The next visit to Cocoa was just by chance, I happened to be passing with my Mom, and I just quickly glanced at the yummy dessert display, but behold, in front of me was the matcha macaron I had initially wanted! I couldn’t resist getting it, there was a white chocolate x matcha tart too, which I also purchased. When I came home I cut the desserts to share with my family members, and they were truly superb! Again, the flavours were wonderful.
The macaron shell was wonderfully crisp on the outside, but so soft on the inside. Perfect! The matcha cream was plentiful and delicious. If you enjoy strong matcha flavours, you would have definitely loved this! The raspberry complimented the chocolate and matcha flavours wonderfully. The pastry on the tart was crisp, and not soggy at all, and the matcha flavour was subtler than the macaron, as it was mixed with white chocolate, yet still delicious, and finished off with red currants. These desserts were truly exquisite.
My next purchase at Cocoa, was a bit of a whim, I had originally gone to see if there were any éclairs or matcha desserts, but there were none in stock that day. They did have donuts though, and I remember reading lots comments on facebook about how delicious and amazing they were, so I decided to try one out. I got the cream filling with chocolate topping. It was a nice donut, there are no complaints about the taste or the quality, but for me, it was a bit bland and lacklustre compared to all of the previous desserts I had tried. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good donut, but I suppose I had been spoilt by all the other items I had tried in the past. Comparing the donut, to what I had eaten before, made the donut seem a little boring. However, I understand that not everyone wants a matcha laden cake or likes raspberries in their treats, and whilst I was a bit underwhelmed by the donut, it would definitely tick the right boxes for other people.
Finally, during the last week of Cocoa, I picked up 2 different kinds of tart. Bannoffee, and orange-chocolate. Again, both flavour combinations that I loooove. The tart casing was crisp and firm, whilst also delicious! Not soggy at all! The chocolate-orange tart was like a delicious ganache, which surprisingly wasn’t too sickly or overwhelmingly chocolatey, finished off with a nice gold brush on the top. The banoffee tart actually had little pieces of banana mixed into the toffee, which was soft and gooey, topped with yummy cream. They were both wonderful, but I was slightly won over more by the banoffee tart, as it had several layers of different textures, whereas the chocolate-orange mainly comprised of just ganache and the tart case.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with the desserts from Cocoa, and I’m so glad that photo of the matcha x raspberry x chocolate macaron persuaded me to go and try it out. I feel Ali puts a lot of care and consideration into his creations, and I feel his strengths particularly lie in making amazing flavour combinations, that can’t be easily found in other shops or restaurants, at least in Birmingham.
Whilst Ali did tell Mars and I that he hopes to return with something more permanent, I’ve read on his fb page that he has something in the works for other cities around the UK, so keep your eyes peeled! If he opens a shop near you, please do go and try his creations, and support an independent business! If like me, you weren’t fully impressed with Artisan, or you’ve heard bad reviews, you should still definitely consider Ali’s future ventures. If Cocoa was anything to go by, I’m so sure his future business ideas will also be awesome and delicious.
Ali’s hopes for Cocoa included delivering fancy high quality deserts, akin to patisseries in London, such as Maitre choux and Peirre Herme, to the people of Birmingham. I am a huge dessert lover, and I always look forward to trips to London, because then I can buy something from a popular patisserie, as Birmingham is truly lacking in this area. There is definitely a market for high quality desserts here in Birmingham, as Cocoa has been a hot topic over the past few weeks, and it’s so sad to see this pop-up has now gone. I think Ali successfully introduced Birmingham to a better dessert scene, and I hope the quality of treats on offer in the city will continue to improve and rise.
Did you visit Cocoa? What did you eat from there?