So here’s a post on my 2 day chocolate tour in London. I initially went to attend the monthly tasting event with Martin Christy and Steven from the website www.seventypercent.com, and grabbed the opportunity have a broader look at the London chocolate offering.
I had two goals: first was mainly looking at the artisan origin bar offering in the city, and second idea was to visit the best chocolatiers in town and look at their position to working with ‘real chocolate’.
(This post is about the tour, tasting reviews of bought bars follow as I eat them;-))
Day1. Chocolatiers and Gourmet Food departments
Whole Foods Market
First stop was the Whole Foods Market main store on Kensington High St. Beware, if you are a foodie, stay away from this place, it’s too dangerous for your credit! The overall offering is awesome, but also the chocolate section included almost all the high-end Valrhona origins, and the vast collection of Pralus was a treasure discovered.
Artisan du Chocolat
Next I tubed to Bayswater for the newest store of Artisan du Chocolat on Westbourne Grove. All of their clean white fashionable stores show a miniature conching machine. They say to make their own bars, but probably step into the process halfway. The shop staff was very friendly and though for sure I share little with the daily visitor profile, they were eager to engage a conversation.
We tasted some bars sampling very different flavors, chocolates, and caramels. I must say the ganache with red wine filling was very pretty, though I missed a tobacco one. An enthusiast customer even joined the talk and charmingly confessed discovering the Artisan du Chocolat chocolates scattered her Neuhaus addiction in favor of this “so much better” chocolatier
At a moment the friendly staff even tried to call the retail manager to give me a personal tasting session, unfortunately our agenda’s didn’t match. I left the shop with some of the origin bars: Bali, Madagascar, Brazil Rio Doce.
Since both staff of Artisan and Martin from seventypercent.com suggested Melt Chocolates, I walked down the road for short peek at the Melt store. Located in charming Nothing Hill in a small house, the atmosphere was very open, with a kitchen in the back for live chocolate making. Here too staff was friendly and liked to share their story, however their concern to chocolate bars was less obsessed as mine, and their focus is a more open kitchen chef-like approach to chocolate creations.
What I found was nice were the handwritten manuals for each creations, which also mentioned at what time of the day the chocs were best savourated.
The Chocolate Society
Next and last on the ‘chocolatier’ list was The Chocolate Society in Westminster, near Sloane. The brand and idea was founded by Chantal Coady in close collaboration with Valrhona, but now operates more independently. Given that background off course the whole Valrhona bar range was available.
I had a chat with the sales rep on how and what people buy in chocolates as opposed to bars. She confirmed earlier suppositions where people are more interested in bars, especially dark ones, but that for the majority the desire for health overtakes the curiosity for true tastes.
Another nice one liner was the idea that chocolates are bought for others, while bars are being kept for oneself. There was one customer who actually bought all of the yearly origin editions (i.e. the Gran Couva, Palmira and Ampamakia), kept them in a wine cooler, and every year he compared the new release with all of the previous ones, dating back to 2001!
With that in mind, I couldn’t resist buying the gorgeous looking limited wooden box selection from 2008 to follow his example. My Varlhona series only date back to 2005…
Harvey Nichols & Harrods
From The Chocolate Society I walked back to posh Sloan Square and took Sloane Street towards the Harvey Nichols and Harrods food departments. Harvey Nichols had a nice set Amedei available, including a fresh batch of the CHUAO, and the Tavoletta series. Valrhona again too, they are really actively marketing their way on the London chocolate shelves. Next to that was a lot of candy though.
Harrods was much more on ‘Belgian’ chocolates than on bars, with a rather limited offer on the latter, which was disappointing for such an institute, but then again.
I guessed that was enough for one day. I still had to spare some energy for the real goal: the chocolate tasting event later that evening…
Day 2. Kew Gardens & Amedei-day with William Curley and Selfridges
Second day in London was a very different one. I traded London city for Richmond, strolling down to the large botanical KEW Gardens and UK’s best chocolatier.
Background story goes that one of my tweets on ‘cacao genealogy’ got tracked and answered by a Twitter user studying genealogy. She knew about KEW Gardens having ‘Theobroma Cacao’ plants, so that’s how I found out actually. And now being in London, I never was so close to see a real-life cacao tree living outside of the comfortable 20° equator habitat. It’s such a funny and sexy plant actually, and the one in KEW Garden’s special greenhouses was a very young example though, with others being in nursery that day.
Next stop in the neighborhood was the shop of William Curley, (one of) the UK’s best chocolatiers, who explicitly traded Valrhona couverture for Amedei chocolate in order to make his stunning, award winning creations from the most precious source materials. Upon entering the small store, a sublime smell of chocolate crawled my senses as in none of the other stores. Wow.
The staff here was very friendly and we had a nice chat on chocolate, passion and hard labour, while sipping from a delicious Hot Chocolate made with Amedei Toscano Black 70 It was fascinating to listen to how William Curley and Amedei work together on some levels, where also the Amedei related foodie family supplies some of the other ‘best in class’ materials used in Curley’s chocolates.
It’s the only shop where I eventually did buy some of these award winning ‘chocolates’!
Last stop of my 2 day visit was back at Selfridges, just to check one last time… one more time… And Yes!… There was a new “San Jose Del Tambo 70%” bar from Askinosie which I hadn’t spotted last time at Selfridges. Even ‘worse’ was to find Amedei relaunched their whole collection, added completely new origin bars on top of that, and did a really beautiful packaging redesign. And next to all this, I finally found the famous Amedei ‘9’, a masterblend of 9 origins.
What else did a guy like me need to spend the last pounds…
The London chocolate scene is in a vibrant era for sure. With branches like iconic Rococo and new talent Paul A Young left unvisited, I should probably have tried & tasted more chocolatiers’ creations (like truffles and ganaches), and maybe be a little less obsessed by bars at such moments.
However the world of origin Grand Cru bars remains a very special one that doesn’t often overlap the one of a chocolatier, and world’s best cacao bars currently feel more comfortable at the luxury food shelves.
I surely had a great time in London and took back a lot of experience! If there’s something you’d like to know more about, just comment or mail me.
(Some more pic from the London Tour on my Flickr set)