So… I went to Caffè Nero in my lunch break expecting to get a big black coffee and the standard chocolate brownie, to eat and then blog about. I was not expecting this: it’s marketed as a “Nero Espresso And Chocolate Brownie”. And it has two pieces of biscotti stuck to the top!
Caffè Nero is a European-style coffeehouse brand headquartered in London and bla bla bla. You don’t care.
Caffè Nero is pretty good as they go, though. They have the best tasting coffee of the major British coffeehouse chains: this is my #opinion, of course, but Which? came to the same conclusion when testing the coffee of five different coffee chains (if you’re interested: Nero, Starbucks, Costa, M&S and Pret). They have pretty good food, although a lot of their packaged sandwiches seem underfilled to me. The interior decor makes it seem like a welcoming place to sit and actually enjoy a coffee. I have fond memories of coffee-and-pastry breakfasts with my family in a Nero on Sunday mornings.
I’ve eaten the Caffè Nero brownie a few times in my life and was all ready to eat another one and give you my verdict on it (short version: not bad, nothing great). However. Caffè Nero currently seems to be trying for a more upmarket feel to its food selection, which now includes bowls of pasta salad and hand-made deli sandwiches under its food counter. There’s probably only so far this can go, but it’s actually quite refreshing to go into a major coffee chain and see (some of) the sandwiches are not wrapped in plastic and stacked in a fridge.
It had not occurred to me that this would also affect the baked goods, but of course why wouldn’t it? A lot of the staples remained (there was still a chocolate fudge cake, for example) but there was also a selection of three different types of brownie, or what I might less generously call “brownie bites”, because they’re not big, no no no. The flavours offered were ‘Belgian chocolate’, ‘caramel and sea salt’, and ‘Nero espresso and chocolate’.
You know what I chose, because I said it in the top section, but it wasn’t a very hard decision: I’ve had both salted caramel and ‘Belgian chocolate’ brownies quite recently for this very blog, whereas espresso brownies are something I’ve never seen on sale before. I’ve made some myself (fun fact: the first time was by accident as I just spilled too much coffee powder into my mixture and ran with it) but wondered if I was alone in having discovered the secret of coffee in brownies. Now I know I’m not!
I think Nero might be alone in deciding to put biscotti on top of their brownies, though. It took me a few moments when I saw this to work out what it was, and even now I know, I’m looking at it sat on my desk and pondering. Biscotti is (hopefully) a very different texture to brownie, do these two even work together in a bite? Does this mean I’ve been wrong to dip my biscotti in my coffee all these years? Have all Italians who’ve ever watched me have a proper coffee just pitied my childish behaviour? Why does this brownie explicitly state it has chocolate in when the salted caramel one didn’t?
It’s probably time to stop pondering, and start eating and judging.
Taste: Like the Nero brownie of old that I remember, this brownie is pretty good at getting across a rich chocolate flavour without being overly sugary. The espresso taste is actually quite subtle: I didn’t get anything while I was drinking my coffee alongside it, but then I finished the coffee and came back to the brownie after a couple of minutes and could distinguish the brownie coffee flavour. Is it better to judge the coffee-flavoured brownie without drinking coffee at the same time, you suggest? Probably, but it’s sort of to be expected if you sell a brownie in a coffee shop, I retort. 7/10
Texture: There’s an irritating gradient here: in the middle it’s pretty close to perfect brownie, then it gets worse towards the outside until the edges are an awful ghastly dry crumbly mess. That does mean that most of the brownie is good, but also makes it hard to take a bite that doesn’t start with “ugh”. The best way to do this is to take a bite of a bit with the biscotti on top, and despite my earlier misgivings the biscotti-brownie combination is actually pretty fun – slightly hard to eat, but it works! 6/10
Presentation: Nero could easily have made an espresso brownie that just had a whole lot of coffee in the recipe: their salted caramel brownie (sorry, ‘caramel and sea salt’, totally different) basically just has some caramel drizzled on it, as far as I can tell. But for this brownie, Nero said “no, let’s stick biscotti pieces to the top with melted chocolate”. It’s bold, it’s inventive, and I like it. 4/5
Value: This was £2, and it’s small. If not for the biscotti on top making it a bit more of a challenge than usual, I would have devoured it in two bites. I like it for the novelty value, but I don’t see it as value for money in the long-term unfortunately. 4/10
Fudge Factor: I’m going to throw a couple of points to this brownie because the biscotti thing (I know, I’m going on about it) does feel new and original. It’s not something I’ve seen anywhere else and if this is the sort of new idea that’s going to come out of Caffè Nero’s reimagining of their food selection then I’m all for it. Think of it this way: if this was biscotti pieces on top of a truly great brownie base, I’d be raving about it. 2/5
Points Total: 23
Should I Buy And Eat This Brownie?
This is not a bad brownie. I would recommend, if you’re a brownie fan like me (or if you just like slightly off-the-wall things), that you get this brownie once for the experience. Maybe next time you’re in Caffè Nero! I definitely think it was worth me eating this one, but I’m probably not going to do so again. At least not any time soon.
I cycled to work today for the first time in a year and a half! (This isn’t a symptom of laziness: my bike was stolen about that long ago and I couldn’t really justify the expense of a new one for ages.) I had honestly forgotten how much nicer it is than taking a crowded rush-hour train or Tube. Here’s hoping the weather holds.
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