Those that have been reading the blog for a while know that every year I participate in the annual Menu For Hope fundraiser (and last year I even sponsored a prize). I’ve traditionally had very good luck winning prizes (including a walking food tour of London in 2008). This year was no exception, with my winnings include a “Chelsea Chocolate Ecstasy Tour” from ChocolateEcstasyTours.com. So Carol and I invited my brother and sister-in-law along for a 3 hour walking tour of high-end chocolate stores in and near the Chelsea neighborhood (I’ll try to carefully avoid defining the borders of London neighborhoods, that’s always a mild issue of confusion and dispute).
Our first stop on the Chelsea Chocolate Tour: Hotel Chocolat in Mayfair. Hotel Chocolat is an international chocolate retailer who runs their own growing plantations and specializes in single-variety chocolates.
One of the major features of Hotel Chocolat is single-variety chocolates (their “Purist” line), wih high percentages (up to and including 100%) so you can really taste the difference between varieties. I ended up getting two really nice bars of Hacienda Iara chocolate from Ecuador, in both 90% and 100% versions. I rather liked our first stop at Hotel Chocolat, but it was definitely more mainstream and less inventive than most of the other stops.
Our second stop on the Chocolate Tour: Rococo Chocolates. Rococo works with their own cacao plantation (Grococo) in Grenada to supply their own chocolate, emphasizing the idea that the processing of the chocolate should be be done where it is grown. From these chocolates, Rococo makes quite a few truffles and flavored chocolate bars. The latter of these were what I really enjoyed, since Rococo applies the flavors with a gentle hand, not overpowering the underlying chocolate.
Despite that, they had quite a few interesting pairings, including the now-obligatory sea salt, caradom, Earl Grey tea, rose, and geranium. They also make miniature bars, which allowed us to try a half-dozen different flavors for only a few quid. Rococo is also where we had a celebrity sighting: Nigella Lawson came in to buy chocolate while we were on the tour.
L’Artisan du Chocolat, the third stop on our chocolate tour. A small London chain of chocolate shops run by chocolatiers Gerard Coleman and Anne Weyns, they are known for single-origin chocolates, liquid salted caramels, and unique flavor pairings. They are also one of the chocolate makers that produces their own chocolate from ground cocoa beans, conching and refining (most end-product stores start with already refined chocolate, usually from Italy).
And when I say “unique” pairings, I mean it. Several of their flavored truffles and bars included matcha (with white chocolate), and tobacco (with dark chocolate). Yes, you heard me right. Dark chocolate bar infused with tobacco. This resulted in a very intriguing taste, reminiscent of both fine dark chocolate and a top-notch cigar.
The other thing L’artisan is known for is their Liquid Salted Caramels: little dusted dark chocolate pearls filled with salty caramel liquid. These pretty much explode in your mouth in a salty, caramel explosion. Made in a variety of flavors, from basic salt to various spiced combinations (pink and black pepper, for example) and seasonal flavors (spiced fig, at the moment I’m writing this). I’ve always loved the combination of caramel, salt, and chocolate, but these took this to a new level. I’ll certainly be back for more of these.
The final stop was William Curley Patissier Chocolatier. William Curley focuses on combining chocolate and Asian flavors, as well as having elaborate multi-course desserts. After giving us a brief tour and showing us some of the exotic flavors of chocolates there (particularly the Asian ones, like Black Vinegar, Yuzu, and Wasabi), they sat us at the Dessert Bar for our choice of hot chocolate, chocolate ice cream, or chocolate sorbet. Between myself, Carol, and my brother, we got all three. I opted for the sorbet, which was so soft and delicate that I could barely tell this wasn’t dairy product. My brother’s ice cream was almost as good, having a nice soft note added by the dairy. And the hot chocolate was probably one of the nicest I’ve sampled since my trips to L. A. Burdick’s in Walpole, NH (the place where a single Hot Chocolate can give me the shakes).
But the nicest thing about sitting at the dessert bar was that we could watch the staff assemble desserts for people having the multi-course tasting menu, including meticulously slicing fruit, and applying gold leaf. I’m intrigued enough that I’m going to try and fit in a trip here during our Christmas visit.
Overall, we were extremely pleased by the chocolate shops, the tour itself (including a discussion of some of the local sights in and around Chelsea), and the very pleasant tour guides. I highly recommend Chocolate Ecstasy Tours and the shops they took us to:
Chocolate Ecstasy Tours
5 Montpelier Street
Knightsbridge, London, UK
(as well as many other locations in the UK and US)
5 Motcomb Street
Belgravia, London, UK
(as well as Chelsea and Marylebone locations)
L’Artisan du Chocolat
89 Lower Sloane Street
Chelsea, London, UK
(As well locations in Notting Hill and Selfridged)
William Curley Patissier Chocolatier
198 Ebury Street
Belgravia, London, UK
(as well as a location in Surrey)