I don’t really associate London with chocolate, aside from the fact that you can obviously buy it here. Beyond that, I suppose I don’t really think about it much at all. Fortunately, it turns out we’ve got quite the heritage and one or two places that make rather good chocolate!
Meeting at Green Park tube on a chilly February morning, unsure if the other people were also doing the tour or just in fact keen on loitering around tube stations. Guessing who fell into which category made for an amusing game for a few minutes, before our guide appeared clutching a sign saying Mystery Walks. Clearly we were about to be inducted into the mysteries of chocolate. We couldn’t wait!
After a quick introduction, a bit of background and a short wait for two latecomers, off we toddled towards one of London’s most exclusive streets – New Bond Street. Charbonnel et Walker was our first stop and suitably exclusive. They are one of two companies in London that hold royal warrants as Chocolate Manufacturers to the Queen, and well deserved too. The pink champagne truffle we sampled was delicious and among the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted.
From there, a brief stop for a little more chocolate history, a quick quiz (Where does the best cocoa come from? Venezuela apparently) and a sample of Hotel Chocolat brownie and we were off again. Next up – Fortnum & Mason’s amazing Food Hall where more samples were on offer and we were informed of the ‘impurity’ of white chocolate. It turns out it’s not even remotely chocolate, it is in fact cocoa butter. A quick stop in the powder room for the ladies or water closet for the gents and we piled out past the behatted doorman.
Just a little further east on Piccadilly is Prince’s Arcade, where the Prestat shop can be found. This has to be one of the most colourful shops I’ve ever been in, full stop, let alone chocolate shops and is worth a visit just for the sight. It happens to also do amazing chocolates and also counts royals among its customers. The holders of two royal warrants for Chocolate Manufacturer and home to an amazing array of truffle flavours (personal favourite, their new whiskey truffle) these guys really know their stuff and come highly recommended for the value of their chocolates as well as the obvious quality.
The shop is tiny, however, so we had to visit in shifts. After a little wait, giving us ample time to browse the rest of Prince’s Arcade we regrouped and prepared to brave the weekend madness of Regent Street to visit the Godiva shop. Sadly, no royal warrants this time, we’d been spoilt for those so far, but an excellent array of chocolates nicely presented and with an interesting story – Turkish, but named after the lady who rode naked through Coventry. Go figure. A worthy more modern stop on the tour.
Our final stop, as is always the way, was the biggest and best. Paul A. Young. I can’t say either of us had heard of him before, but he is a big deal in the chocolate world and justifiably so. His shop is located in the heart of Soho and has an amazing range of flavours of chocolate, from their multiple award-winning salted caramel to a marmite flavoured truffle. They were welcoming and obviously very serious about chocolate. The marmite ones, as expected, are polarising. I chose not to taste that one, but instead go for their salted caramel one and I’m fairly sure made the right decision. That said, we were told that some people come in and just order a box of the marmite ones, so there must be something to it!
With that, the tour wrapped up and we were free to go our separate ways. All in all, it’s a tasty, well researched and interesting tour that takes you to places you might walk straight past otherwise. Should you want to purchase chocolates from any of the places mentioned, you also get a 10% discount if you go on the tour, so it’s worth it just for that, if nothing else!