What to do with an unseasonable English summer day. Well, you could take a chocolate walk. Meeting up in Islington, the wind blowing wildly, my guide Sela is not only chatty and amiable but has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the brown stuff and its creators. Like me he has a sweet tooth and frustrated by the lack of options for those who wanted to do something other than a pub crawl started organising Chocolate Walks around five years ago. The plan is to visit several of London’s chocolatiers but the weather is proving unpredictable.
Up first is Paul A. Young in the endearing Camden Passage full of boutique shops. The mood here is dark and rich like much of its produce. Each little truffle costs £2.50 (the more you purchase the better the overall pricing). Their range includes anything from Pimms Cocktail to Passion fruit to Coffee, Marmite, Lavender and Maya Honey, less I forget Goat’s Cheese Lemon and Rosemary alongside Madagascan dark chocolate with freeze dried Raspberries – enough to make Willy Wonker spit never mind the weather outside. There are nine to thirty-five piece boxes ranging from £15 to £49.50 and books endorsed by Nigella Lawson too. Sela has ice cream which I can’t contemplate what with it being so nippy.
A downpour puts paid to our pilgrimage, cue the Notting Hill bus. When we visit Melt, its staff comprise Filipino chef Raquel and the equally bubbly Slovak Maria. Melt has an even more astonishing selection than our Camden encounter from truffles to bars presented in square boxes of pastel colours and as many flavours: Wild, Chilli, Smoke, Love and Wine among others. While we are there, a man with frothy white hair appears with what might be his niece or grand-daughter. Whatever, she is the epitome of what being a kid in a candy store is about, grinning with baby white teeth and dancing from one display to another – gathering sticks of Chocolate caramel and lollipops along the way. In the end they settle for the former and some elegant white chocolate. I am fortunate enough to sample the Coconut Square, Banana and Passion fruit, Rose and Violet (chocolate encrusted with wisps of edible flowers) and strikingly rich is its interior fondue though delicious and evocative perhaps of the Orient. In the kitchen Raquel has produced some of her Signature Sea Salt Mud Pie and Brownies for us to sample. They take an hour to prepare and cook but are sumptuously moist.
Toward Bayswater the Artisan du Chocolat store is clean as a laboratory. By this point we are a little tired of sampling the food of the Gods, so only the Orange Blossom Tea truffle is attempted and fine. The stock here is again beautifully packaged in mock perfume boxes, cut out slip cases and mauve design print to name a few. The pearl range is exquisite: small balls of silver, white, gold and green on crisp white plates in glass cabinets. Pearl boxes come in 100, 200 and 500g and cost £9.50, £20 and £45 respectively. Artisan by name and nature as the O range; chocolate discs are printed with elaborate star patterns, cherry love hearts and honeycomb complete with bee. Two varieties of Hot Chocolate are available: a take on the traditional as well as White Chocolate with Green Tea but be warned they are either very sweet (even for me) or richly thick.
Our final stop is at the wondrously quirky Cocomaya. On entering it seems we have strayed into a secret branch of the V&A museum with China ornaments on display and what look like ceramic broaches. It’s almost as if it’s the official chocolatier to Beatrix Potter! And if the product at Artisan was ornate it’s given a run for its money here with a cocoa-butter process enabling typography to be printed directly onto the chocolate! Outside, an overdue sun replaces overcast as I bid Sela farewell, the food of the Gods have spoken.
With thanks to Sela and the chocolatiers for allowing my coverage at short notice (see websites for full details of product and prices).