William Curley Patissier Chocolatier (Belgravia, London, UK)

(Update: William Curley and his business partner parted ways in 2016, and the business is now “R Chocolate” with a similar business model).

One of the many things I love about visiting London is that it has a rather nice variety of chocolate shops. Indeed, a few years ago, we did a chocolate tour in London (wow, has it been almost three years?), and William Curley Patissier Chocolatier was one of the stops. Our visit there highlighted their ice creams, sorbet, and hot chocolate, but they showed us what they serve for their "Dessert Bar", which is a multi-course dessert. We vowed to come back. Several trips to London since then threw various complications (primarily, coming during the holiday seasons, when they were either closed, or packed with holiday celebrants), but this trip, we were finally able to get a decent seating for their dessert bar.

The concept of the dessert bar is relatively simple: it’s basically a “chef’s tasting”, if that tasting was organized by the patissier. The menu for our visit consisted of an amuse bouche, four full course of dessert dishes, and a small, well, dessert dessert of petit fours. The result was quite impressive, with flavors ranging from tart, to fruity, to chocolatey, to spicy, to sweet. The idea is to break dessert in to several courses, and, I’ll have to say, the concept works pretty well. It’s not like you are completely gorging yourself on dessert, instead, it’s several smaller courses focusing on different flavors and ingredients. By the end of it, we were definitely full, but not overwhelmingly so. That said, going here after a large dinner wouldn’t be the greatest idea.

Our “dessert bar” experience opened on a nice crisp note: a narrow glass filled with an apple granita. Nice, crisp, and crunchy crystals of frozen apple juice, this was a rather pleasant granita, and a great way to cleanse your palate.

Next up was a basil ice cream with a cassis compote. I’ve always rather liked basil ice cream, and this was a particularly good version of it. And combined with the compote, this actually resulted in something vaguely similar to a caprese salad, with the dairy notes of the ice cream combining with the basil and the tannic notes of the cassis compote. Again, a solid second course.

Course number three was a Peach Melba with some poached peaches and a vanilla panna cotta. I’m generally not a fan of peaches (I’ll trace this to a childhood of low-grade canned peaches, followed by several summers of living in the US Southeast, where it’s “all peaches, all the time), but this was a pleasantly done dish: the peaches were nicely ripe and perfectly poached, without being overly sweet. The panna cotta was rich and light, and the whole dish was topped with a nicely done almond tuille.

Next up was a platter with both poached apricots on a lemon sponge, and a scoop of almond milk ice cream. Like the peaches, I usually eschew apricots, but these too were pleasantly poached and served up on a nice slab of sponge that was nicely flavorful and not overly sweet. The almond milk ice cream was one of my favorites of the meal, with a rich toasted almond flavor, smooth texture, and little bits of toasted almond. I’d happily come back for a scoop of this.

Course number five was obviously meant as the highlight of the meal, with a gianduja chocolate tart served up with pistachio ice cream. This was indeed one of my favorites (it’s really hard to beat the combination of chocolate and hazelnut), with a nice, rich chocolate and gianduja ganache atop a crispy biscuit, topped with a thin wafer of chocolate. This had the rich chocolate notes I was looking for (after all, William Curley is primarily a chocolate shop!), and was nicely complemented by a perfectly executed pistachio ice cream.

Closing out the meal was a nice tray of petit fours selected from William Curley’s chocolate case, and this was a good selection: a little macaron, a raspberry truffle, and a chocolate-coated piece of caramelized ginger. The “dessert” to a dinner of desserts, this was a light and pleasant way to close it out.

Overall, I was very, very pleased with this dessert bar. While the sampled food was quite extensive (a granita, three different scoops of ice cream, a tart, a panna cota, a sponge… the list goes on), they did so without the result being too heavy or excessive; I didn’t feel like I had just eaten six courses of dessert (although we did have a modest dinner of vegetable soup and bread), instead, I felt like I had a nice survey of William Curley’s dessert offerings. While both caloric and budgetary considerations (although at 20 quid, including beverage, this wasn’t all that excessive) will keep me from repeating this too often, I can see myself trying them again on another visit.

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