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Café Noir

Wednesday 30 Jun 2004

It should be fairly obvious that we are tea drinkers. Not that we don't have the occasional cup of coffee, because we do. In fact as a student I drank rather a lot of the stuff, however, that aside I've always had my reservations about coffee flavoured foodstuffs. For example the coffee creams in Milk Tray or was it Black Magic, always got left till last. Occasionally some deviant would chime up that coffee creams were their favourite, and a mental note was made that the afore mentioned confection could be disposed of safely with said individual, much like spent motor oil can be taken to your recycling center. My theory was that they ran out of good ideas for chocolates and just bodged something up using whatever was in the larder. It could have equally been a Bisto cream, or perhaps a Branston Pickle cream in the selection box. The other thing about a coffee cream is that it seems to be a product of the 1970s much like Surprise freeze dried peas, or the Bay City Rollers. Or those Nylon carpets that had sort of swirly relief patterns on them and that our cat used to get hopelessly snagged up in, often requiring cutting free with a pair of nail scissors. Actually I used to quite like one of those (yes the peas). Anyhow coffee flavoured things do seem a bit dated, which is no-doubt why I have given the Café noir a bit of a wide birth till now.

So how has the Café Noir endured? Well from where I'm standing four reasons. Its made by biscuit giant McVities in one of their Dutch factories, which is handy. Tesco's seem to have taken it upon themselves to champion this biscuit, when others have passed it over. It plausibly cultivates that continental street café image through its name and packaging which always cuts sway with those who are impressed by posh coffee. Perhaps the most important factor is that its the only surviving example of a Coffee iced biscuit generally available.

At 56mm by 40mm by 8mm its a compact little biscuit. The coffee flavoured icing has an elegant simplicity to it with smooth rounded lines and a just discernible speckly pattern underneath its silky sheen. The biscuit base is light and crisp and a good bit thicker than one would expect in a biscuit of this type. It holds its graphics well, with the Café Noir logo looking like its been lifted directly from a Toulouse Lautrec poster. The icing is also fairly thick at about 3mm, and is also light and crispy. The coffee flavour whilst distinct isn't overpowering, and all credit to it didn't reek of ghastly instant coffee mediocrity. I suspect given its continental production and the speckling, something far more refined is involved in obtaining the coffee flavour.

So it appears that the Café Noir through thoughtful restraint and elegant styling has managed to carry off the feat of being coffee flavoured, whilst preserving its dignity.

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Lidl's Choco Softies

Thursday 10 Jun 2004

In the second of our Lidl's inspired reviews we couldn't come away with out my picking up a pack of Lidl's own brand version of a German classic the Super Dickmann. A little while back we had a guest review submitted of the mini Dickmann, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to review this item from the farthest reaches of the know biscuit universe. As guest reviewer Jacqui Sayer noted it has a wafer base so we'll consider it a biscuit so that we can marvel at its comedy name, and all round jolliness.

Although I don't know for sure I would imagine that Lidl's Choco Softies are a faithful copy of the Super Dickmann, if not the same thing. This is great as you can get yourself along there if you have one nearby and try the treat that must be occupying the same ecological niche in Germany as the Tunnocks tea cake does over here. Composed of soft marshmallow, similar but not identical to the noble Scottish treat the Choco Softie stands an impressive 55mm high with a 46mm diameter. A thin shell of plain chocolate encloses it and attaches the base which gives the appearance of some form of munition. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there was some form of pump action mallow gun which used Super Dickmanns as its shell. Then again from another angle they look a lot like the ghosts from Pac-Man. The box features a dozen Choco Softies, arranged in two rows with a sort of internal inverted plastic egg tray resting on top. This keeps them all in order whilst they sit there on their wafer bases.

Now I know a lot of you are going to think I've lost the plot here and wandered right off the edge of the Venn Diagram but I don't really care. This is about as 'Carry on' film, as tea time treats get and it would be remiss of us to pass it over just because its obviously hard to classify, or German. About ten years ago I saw an advert for Super Dickmanns on German TV, which in keeping with the rest of German TV left me confused and a little embarrassed. Nether the less it aroused my curiosity, so I'm pleased to finally get some closure. I should also point out that if you like this sort of thing you may well find yourself getting a little carried away. I'm also pleased that I managed to get through that with out recourse to excessive use of double entendre, there's no need really.

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McVities Taxi

Thursday 27 May 2004

Earlier this week we made one of our biannual visits to Lidls, we would go a little more often but its quite far away. Wifey has learned to mostly put up with my excessive excitement about going to Lidls. I love it as its the closest experience one can have in the UK to going into a small everyday continental supermarket. I also like how Lidls can sometimes surprise you with our own British brands. So I was delighted this week to spot a big pile of McVities Taxi biscuits, which I haven't seen in ages. Maybe I haven't been looking in the right places, however, in Lidls they shone out like a beacon.

I'm not sure, but I seem to remember the launch of the Taxi biscuit to be coincident with the zenith in popularity of the american TV sitcom of the same name which ran from 1978 to 1983. Of course Taxi the series was the spring board for such names as Dany DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Andy Kaufman and the bloke who played Geoff Goldblums dad in Independence Day. Although the characters and comedy were unusually entertaining for a US show, the best bit for me was at the end when the receptionist used to say "Goodnight Mr Brookes" and the bloke walking off down the corridor used to grunt "Euuhh".

Anyhow, biscuits. Yes, I had quite forgotten how good a Taxi is, laminated from wafer, caramel, wafer, chocolate cream, wafer, caramel and wafer, and all covered in chocolate. This is definitely mid morning treat material. Of course there will be obvious comparisons to the Tunnocks wafer, and the most striking difference is really in texture. The Tunnocks has many more thinner layers, whilst the Taxi has fewer and thicker layers one of which as we said is cream. The result is a much softer biscuit, whose layers shear slightly as its munched. It also means that the Taxi tastes more like an ensemble of its constituents rather than an indivisible whole.

Of course the outcome of all of that is that they don't last very long. At approximately 21mm square by 80mm long they are also quite diminutive for a chocolate count line, and you should allow for at least two per person per mug of tea. The caramel accounts for 39% and the chocolate which has a slight taste of vanilla for 37% of the Taxis mass. The packs still have that distinctive blue and yellow checker, which again makes me suspect that its Yellow cabs rather than black cabs which have inspired the name. The strap line "Miles more caramel" goes some way to explaining the name. Perhaps "A complete law unto themselves when it comes to caramel" was too long.

Yes I'm very pleased to rediscover the Taxi, and no doubt this will signal the withdrawal of the product by McVities.

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