Friday, 22 October 2010

Heaven on Ecclesall Road

It's not strictly art, but 'Cocoa' on Ecclesall Road is certainly a feast for the eyes.

Bought by two young graduates several years ago Cocoa is a chocolate shop, cafe and now the setting for the latest trend in lock-ins. Nestling snugly in the middle of a long terraced block, Cocoa is certainly the jewel in the crown where Sheffield's sweet treats are concerned. As we arrived the baby blue shop front glowed enticingly in the dark, its chequerboard tiled steps and candy striped awning winking at passers by. 

Once you've pushed open the door, it's a bit like stepping into Kath Kidston's larder. The shop is overwhelmingly 'vintage' but in a charming and somehow unpretentious way. The front room is where the goods are kept, row after row of glass jars full of sweets, shelves of truffles and countless boxes and bags of chocolate. The products look expensive and so do the fittings and fixtures, large wooden counters fill what little space there is and enhance the painstaking detail that has gone into the displays. Hand written labels, pretty bags and flyers all add to the comforting atmosphere.

Greeted by big smiles we were ushered through into the back room and the setting for Cocoa's new tasting evenings. A rather clever concept which allows groups of people to learn about and taste different types of chocolate. The evenings are not exclusively for women but I'm guessing very few men succumb to such indulgence in public. Much like the shop floor the second room is crammed to the ceiling with trinkets, teapots and cake shaped gifts. The walls are lined with frames full of vintage prints, packaging and adverts from yester-years and bring a certain retro charm to proceedings.

The session itself was as nostalgic as the decor. Sat on pastel wicker chairs and a comfortable old settee, our host for the evening introduced herself and the shop before launching into the history of chocolate. The chatter that accompanied the evening was informative, interesting and lovingly executed. Kate and Anne seemed dedicated to their enterprise, demonstrated in particular by a recent trip to Grenada where they have forged links with a self-sustaining chocolate factory. Chocolate samples were served in delicate teacups and each was explained with care, we were teased with chilli, strawberry and liquorice flavours and appalled by the Cadbury bars that we previously enjoyed with X-Factor. Saturated by Black Forest Gateau tea, all six of us were converted by the end of the night. A group of rather loud Rotherham ladies seemed equally as transfixed by their evening in the larger room upstairs.

Leaving the shop clutching our party bags (a selection of the shops truffles in case you wondered) the autumn air felt a bit less sharp. I'm not sure whether it was the warmth of the tea or the lingering impression of hard work and excitement that put a smile on my face, but I do know what everyones getting for Christmas.

Cocoa Wonderland can be found at:
462 Ecclesall Road

...and I thoroughly recommend it.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Wish You Were Here

‘It’s very hot. CU soon.’

The holiday text is usually short, rarely sweet and sent to fulfil a promise to your loved ones, made as you kissed them goodbye at Manchester Airport. It’s often an afterthought, hastily written as you hit the streets in search of dinner or dash to your sun-bed after breakfast. It may be swift, it may be easy, but does it fill the void left by the ever decreasing number of postcards being sent back to Blighty from foreign lands?

A trip advisor survey suggests that only 11% of travellers still send postcards home, with 60% preferring to send a text. Admittedly, it has been a while since I’ve sent a postcard but I do still feel a small frisson of excitement when one appears in my letterbox. My most recent communication was from the sunny climes of Cornwall and boasted a pretty fantastic picture of a pasty. Once it’s in your hands, the guessing game begins, where it’s from, who it’s from, what they’ve written (because the writing is always partly obscured by the name of the beach in ten languages)…all of which you know the answer to because you demanded that they send you one before they left. It’s still nice to receive a 3” by 6”inch picture of a flamenco dancer with a net skirt though isn’t it?

That’s what the brains at BA thought when they launched their ‘Save the Postcard’ Campaign last week. With the trip advisor statistics in mind they enrolled the help of various artists, designers and, strangely enough, singers to create a collection of postcards that are to be auctioned off in aid of Comic Relief. Reviving a classic and raising some cash for charity, what honourable people BA employees are when they’re not striking.

So who’s onboard? Florence (of Florence and the Machine fame), Jack Vettriano, Liberty Illustrator Daisy de Villeneuve, Giles Deacon and Tracey Emin have all contributed to the surprisingly exquisite collection. Some are predictable, Manolo Blahnik’s vibrant watercolour shoe for example, others are more symbolic. Vettriano’s dada inspired collage includes a scrap of a map, a newspaper clipping about St. Tropez and the shapely legs of a socialite. On first glance you might miss the snippet of paper that links the French President with Vanity Fair, on second glance it could help you read the card as an encapsulation of all things French. Florence Welch’s contribution is just plain lovely, tiny stars and swirls surround an image of the Trevi Fountain with her swirling handwriting proclaiming ‘Ciao Bella’ across the night sky. It’s safe to say that the designs are simple, economic usage of space is the dominating theme. Tracey Emin’s is, some might say, naturally the highlight of the collection. A roughly executed, navy blue monoprint of the words ‘Margate Just a Kiss Away’ is perhaps a bleak take on the jaunty holiday tradition, but the words sear with meaning. The blue ink against the white paper suggests clear skies and frosty seas, softened by the mention of a kiss. A holiday kiss is always something to write home about, even if it happened in Margate. The scratchy image penetrates the mind as, like in many of Emin’s works, a familiar object is presented in an uncomfortable form. The current bid on ‘Margate’ is £625.

The most disappointing and all things considered the most offensive postcard in the auction is Diane von Furstenberg’s effort. You’d think the designer behind a highly successful and frankly wonderful global fashion house would be able to do better than a love heart with ‘UK’ scrawled inside.  The token sportsman’s childish image I can forgive, but Diane I cannot. If you can design a collection for New York fashion week you can do better than a marker pen and a signature. No one wants your signature, we want an image that can help us relive a holiday romance, revive a Victorian tradition and convince us to pick up a pen next time we’re by the pool.

See the full collection here:
Try Again Diane 

Or read the Guardians take on it here: