Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Billy's Taste Test - Nestle Quality Street Vs Cadbury Roses

All the way from Halloween through to Christmas, Tesco have been selling tins of Quality Street and Roses at about half price, at one stage for as little as £4. So throughout the last three months I've been consuming them, a cornucopian tin of chocolates seemingly promising an everlasting supply, this plenitude paradoxically working to discourage me from eating too many at a time.

As my supply is now nearing its end, and my mother has bought me a box of Roses for Christmas every year since the late eighties, it might be of value to set down my thoughts - of which I have many - about the relative merits of these two leading brands of relatively inexpensive wrapped chocolates.

How best to collate this data? Well, lets try and compare like with like in so far as its possible to, and award every chocolate a mark out of ten. Think of it as like The Ashes or a series of football fixtures.

The Purple One (Milk Chocolate Hazelnut with Caramel) Vs Hazel in Caramel

(Quality Street 4 Roses 8)

An emphatic early victory for Cadbury's with what should be an identical confection. The much-vaunted Quality Street "Purple One" suffers from very bland caramel and flavourless chocolate. Its also the worst shaped chocolate in this competition, with a ridged structure that doesn't fit well in the mouth. Older readers will realise that the reason for this is because the Purple One used to contain a Brazil nut, which meant that the shape - and the sweet's historical reputation for superiority - made sense.

The Roses version is better in every aspect; The shape is satisfying to both eye and mouth, the caramel has a buttery, runny, texture, the chocolate is marginally superior, and even the hazelnut works better here, often shriveling slightly in this recipe and retaining more nutlike astringency. An extra point is gained by the sweet's attractive molding with its bluebell motif, the most aesthetically pleasing design detail to be found in either selection.

The Green One (Chocolate Noisette Pate) Vs Hazel Whirl

(Quality Street 9 Roses 9)

Kudos to Quality Street for retaining a praline - amongst the most subtle and pleasant of all chocs owing to the mixing together of chocolate and nut pastes, although the unavoidably claggy texture puts many off. Okay, so you could find better versions of praline elsewhere, but even done cheaply, its a connoisseur taste.

Hazel Whirl is also a classic of its kind. Although it isn't technically a hard centre, it feels much tougher than the other Roses in the box and the aforementioned nuttiness (not especially sweet and retaining hints of bitterness) of Cadbury hazelnuts works particularly well in this setting. Hazel Whirl feels like a more serious undertaking than its companions, and therefore the consumer notices the pleasure of eating it to a greater extent.

Chocolate Toffee Finger Vs Caramel

(Quality Street 6 Roses 2)

We'll be encountering an awful lot of toffee in this exercise, and the finger format of this variety makes it the most successful toffee in the tin. The ratio of chocolate to centre is the most generous, while the elongated melt-in-the-mouth shape means that it rests across the centre of the tongue, instead of requiring endless laborious mastication to swallow the thing.

The Cadbury "Caramel" is a terrible misnomer, toffee in all but name, and unpleasant toffee at that.
Its certainly the only "Caramel" that I've ever come across with a hard centre. What a swizz, and there always seem to be about twice as many of these as there are of anything else in the box. Also, like the Woody Allen joke "The food here is terrible. And such small portions!" I observe that these tedious chocs have shrunk in the last few years, adding to the impression that they are makeweights of the second division.

Whenever I get a tin of Roses, I work on the principle of deferred gratification and always pick all of these out and eat them first. The flaw in this plan is that after a few days getting through dozens of these, I'm ill-disposed towards the entire concept of Roses, and even the nicer ones strike me as unappetising.

Vanilla Fudge Vs Country Fudge

(Quality Street 7 Roses 5)

This might not be the result that you were expecting, but its all down to the texture. Quality Street fudge is relatively rough and grainy, reminding you of the fudge you made as a child, while the Cadbury stuff is waxy and processed in comparison. You'd have to be concentrating really very hard indeed to taste any vanilla in the Quality Street, mind you.

Strawberry Delight Vs Strawberry Dream

(Quality Street 8 Roses 7)

Unlike most people, fruit chocolates are my favourites, and have been since childhood. (That and marzipan, too divisive a taste to get into either of these mainstream collections). We get two different approaches to the idea of strawberry here. The Cadbury Dream is generic lipsmaking strawberry goo, but - hurray for Quality Street! - Nestle use a filling with the texture of proper fondant and - crucially - plain chocolate coating, giving their strawberry offering a superior flavour and texture through its boldness.

Coconut Eclair Vs Brazilian Darkness

(Quality Street 3 Roses 7)

Cor! Coconut! I remember this being a staple of any box of chocolates in the 1970s and 1980s, much appreciated by the boy Billy, but its become much rarer since then. Sadly, the Quality Street effort is a pretty horrible coconut chocolate. The taste of syrup completely overpowers that of coconut, and its hard and chewy in a slightly stale way. Eating this is more like chewing a Roses "Caramel" while simultaneously downing a shot of Malibu than a taste of paradise.

Brazillian Darkness is the most eccentric choc in either box by a wide margin. For a start, since the sad withdrawl of the Bourneville Miniature many years ago, its the lone remaining plain chocolate in the Cadbury selection. I can't imagine that plain chocolate is very popular with the majority of Roses consumers, but its actually something that Cadbury do rather better than milk. And then it is the hardest of hard centres that you're ever going to come across in such a collection. Nobody I know who's lost more than about six teeth will even consider putting one in their mouths. Really, the effect is perhaps more striking than scrumptious but I'm always glad that these peculiar chocolates survive each Roses makeover. Like "Caramel" I note that these ones have also shrunk lately, though.

Caramel Swirl Vs Golden Barrel

(Quality Street 4 Roses 8)

This is another incidence where Roses have the clear advantage over Quality Street. As has been seen in Hazel in Caramel, Cadbury are very good at making caramels, most famously in the bar memorably advertised by an orgasmic cooing rabbit in the eighties (an effect that became less seductive as soon as you learned that the voice artist was Miriam Margolies). I think that its a lot to do with a texture that's soft and runny while also feeling a bit adhesive. Cadbury caramel always seems to feel slightly hot in my mouth. The Quality Street Swirl is pallid, frigid, stuff in comparison.

One thing, though. Why did Golden Barrel stop being the more evocative Caramel Keg? I'm pleased that it's still kept the attractive Yo Ho Ho barrel molding, anyway - an attractive piece of craftsmanship of a type never attempted by Quality Street.

Milk Choc Block Vs Cadbury Dairy Milk

(Quality Street 4 Roses 5)

Oh dear. Both of these serve the primary process of reminding the taster that neither Nestle or Cadbury make very good milk chocolate in the first place. Nestle really got it wrong in the nineties when it relaunched Yorkie as smoother and creamier, in more direct competition with its closest rivals, Dairy Milk and Galaxy. For some of us, it was its concentration upon coconess, rather than milkiness, that was its great original strength. Milk Choc Block feels greasy and tastes of very little. Dairy Milk is slightly superior by virtue of its familiarity, but - as always - tastes like a combination of icing sugar and saturated fat to me.

Orange Creme Vs Tangy Orange Creme

(Quality Street 9 Roses 7)

This is a repeat performance of the strawberry match, with the sole difference being that the rectangular Orange Creme - which I calculate has a higher plain chocolate to fondant ratio - is the most cocoey of all the chocolates on offer.

Toffee Deluxe Vs Caramel Velvet

(Quality Street 5 Roses 6)

Its very hard to see what's Deluxe about this toffee - Toffee Routine would be a more honest - if less commercial - name. Acceptable.

The peculiar combination of bubbles and Caramel in Velvet always gives me an odd sense memory of the summer of 1996 and the limited-edition Wispa Gold. Indeed a
particular highlight of my fanzine music writer career was describing ‘Trash’ by Suede as being “as gooey and sweet as a Wispa Gold”. I doubt if anybody else associates the taste of Caramel Velvet with Brett Anderson squealling about nothing places and cellophane sounds. Wispa and Caramel are two things that Cadbury does well, though nothing much is gained by their combination, I maintain.

So - if this was a series of sporting events, the series would be drawn 5 - 5 between Quality Street and Roses. Unfortunately this neat conclusion cannot be, as there are 13 different confections in Quality Street, but only 11 Roses. The two unpartnered Quality Street confections are -

Toffee Penny


This one is a cheat. There was already more than enough toffee in the Quality Street tin without a third variety that isn't even a chocolate. As toffee per se it's perfectly acceptable, but it doesn't belong here.

Orange Crunch


This is as eccentric as Quality Street gets. For one thing, it isn't remotely crunchy. In fact it has a yielding softness that's a bit disconcerting. If this wasn't for the pervasive orange taste, this peculiar chocolate wouldn't work at all. As it is, it goes to show that I will always like orange chocolates.

So, in order to adjudicate the actual winner between the two brands, we have to calculate the average mark out of ten - but before we get to the results, a word about the packaging.

In addition to chocolate, Cadbury's Roses often remind me of two other things; The rose logo of the romance publisher Mills & Boon, in particular processing new editions of their books with date and spine labels in my days as a librarian, and the Neil Kinnock Labour party of the late eighties, when they replaced their voter-frighteningly Bolshevist red flag motif with a red rose of very similar design to the Cadbury box.

Quality Street these days have a dreary design of a constellation of chocolates and stars that always makes me reflect the world of design has vertiginously declined since I first became aware of the brand in the late seventies.
In those days, a tin of Quality Street used to have an amazing line drawing of romantic Georgian troops and maidens, with a dashing officer and elegant lady in a bustle dress in the foreground. The packaging depicted Major Valentine and Miss Phoebe, the lead characters in J.M. Barrie's 1901 hit play Quality Street, after which the chocolates were named. Top that for marketing and lasting cultural influence, David Greig!

Its the same feeling that I get whenever I pass a 2011 National Theatre poster, or look at the present day Radio Times or NME. When did people loose the confidence to use illustrations? Come to think of it, I'd much rather they were still made in Britain by Macintosh's, rather than by a malevolent multinational, but not so much as to prevent me from eating them.

Anyway - The results are as follows;

Quality Street 5.23 Roses 5.82

That's pretty close! It was the toffees that swung it... Roses have rather been let down by their consistent habit of discontinuing the nicest ones; Bournville, Almond Charm, the coffees, truffles and pralines.

Looking at the history of Quality Street, I see an awful lot of discontinued lines that I either dimly remember or would like to have been around to sample; Hazelnut Cracknell, Coffee Cream, Chocolate Truffle, Montelimar Nougat, little boxes of Smarties... and, most intriguingly of all, the exotic Apricot Delight and Gooseberry Cream. I think that a Billy selected, toffee-light synergised Quality Street & Roses Heritage Selection would be my ideal fantasy choc tin.

1 comment:

  1. Illuminating and entertaining. Bet you feel sick now.