Yes, you still have time! Christmas is coming up fast but the London chocolate shops are making tasty treats as fast as they can. A few weeks ago, I submitted to Jennifer Earle’s Chocolate Ecstasy Tour just to prepare for this moment.
My family is coming to Merry Ol’England for the holidays and they do love themselves a bit o’chocolate. I certainly didn’t want to disappoint them and took the tour to acquaint myself with what was available in my adopted city. Little did I know that Mayfair held some of the oldest and most famous chocolate shops in the United Kingdom.
Jennifer explained that we had to start bright and early as the palate is the freshest and it’s the best time to indulge in chocolate. So at 10:00am, indulge we did, sipping a huge cup of Sketch’s famed hot chocolaty drink. Downing a combo of chocolate, milk and cream gave me an instant high and we able to focus keenly on everything that Jennifer was teaching us about the long arduous journey a cocoa bean makes from birth to what I was sipping right now. I do know she assured us that cocoa nips have the most vitamins and minerals than anything else on the planet and more flavor notes that any other food in the world. She was sorely disappointed to hear that my favorite chocolate brand was…Hershey’s. Sorry chocolate snobs out there…for me there is nothing as luxurious as a hand full of kisses! She said my opinion would be sure to change after today’s tour.
As we stepped outside into the nippy winter air, we didn’t have far to go to our next stop, the new improved, East India Company. No, not the one that ruled over the British Raj with a heavy hand. This East India Company no longer peddles opium but chocolate, tea, cookies and other sweet meats. They specialize in mixing their chocolate with fruit, ginger and nuts. They also have tons of samples around so go in and try what you want. Unfortunately buying chocolate here doesn’t permit you entry in the original East India Club established in 1849 and still a private club at 16 St. James’s Square.
I love the origins of the oldest chocolate shop in London – Charbonnel et Walker. Mrs. Charbonnel would walk out with King Edward VII whenever he would visit Paris. She had her own chocolate shop Maison Boissier and the King was said to be a fan of her amuse bouches. He found he couldn’t do without them while home in London, so he set her up with one Mrs. Minnie Walker, the rest is history. Always on Bond street, Charbonnel et Walker has been in existence since 1875 and is still a favorite of the royal family. Garnering a Royal Warrant as one of the chocolatiers to Her Majesty The Queen, C et W couldn’t be more socially accepted. The Queen supposedly has a box of Rose and Violet Creams in every room of Buckingham Palace. Their Pink Champagne Truffles run off the shelves of John Lewis department store – so it’s not only the Royals who are enjoying. My favs are their whole cherries dipped in chocolate and filled with Kirsch!
Out the door we were shuffled down the Burlington Arcade, the first shopping mall in the Europe. It opened in 1819 with its own set of rules and still paroled by its own police corps, the Beadles. (No, not the rock band!). No hurrying, no umbrellas, no whistling, no singing and no big packages were permitted. Today I think they would have a hard time controlling all that but I didn’t want to test their patience. On to Fortnum & Mason, the first department store, established after their hampers became popular and the first to sell imported foods, such as Heinz Baked Beans in 1886.
Finally past Hatchards, the oldest bookseller in Britain, down Princes Arcade to the second oldest chocolate shop in London, Prestat. Messieurs Antoin & Louie Dufour invented the truffle en France and decided the British needed to know all about it. They opened up shop on S. Molton Street in 1902 selling Napoleon III’s preferred truffles with their thinner shell and cocoa dusting. The Queen Mother was a fan of their Mint-Chocolate fondants and I am right there with her. You can’t miss their packaging’s bright almost day-glo colors which I am totally in love with!
Licking the chocolate powder off our hands, we passed the White’s Club – the oldest men’s club in London, learning that it was originally established as Mrs. White’s Chocolate House, serving hot chocolate to those who could afford it. Now it is one of the most exclusive clubs in the city! Two more tidbits about White’s: it refused to take women but their most famous chef was a woman, Rosa Lewis, and Prince Charles held his stag night there!
I know that Melomakarona are not chocolates but cookies, still it’s rare to find them anywhere in London! Carpo is actually the only UK outpost of the ubiquitous Greek chocolate shop. They roast their own nuts and have slabs of Belgian chocolates laden with peppercorns, nuts, praline chips, and other delicious ingredients. Back to Melomakaronas which are one of the greatest Greek treats, usually only available at Christmas – at Carpo you can get them all year round! The Cypriot was overjoyed when he heard that!
Paul A. Young is the bad boy rock star of the chocolate world. Saying his flavors are non-traditional is under exaggerating: cigar, roasted garlic, marmite, pumpkin pie, mulled wine, you get the picture. I tried the apple, stilton and rosemary – yes that’s all together in one tasty mouthful. Hints of each flavor came through and it was pleasantly and surprisingly delish. I bought a dozen of the Pumpkin Pie as I knew they would be perfect for Thanksgiving!
After a slow goodbye, with no one wanting to head out into the cold, I almost had another hot chocolate, also a Paul A. Young specialty. Making my way home, I knew I was very well protected against any Dementors* that were roaming the streets of London. This holiday season and any time you might be in London, it’s nice to know that you can find many chocolate shops ready with a cure for most of the evils out there.
PS: I still love Hershey’s!
- Chocolate Ecstasy Tours
- Chocolate Shops in Mayfair
- Sketch: 9 Conduit Street, London W1S 2XG +44 (0) 20 7659 4500
- East India Company: 7 Conduit Street, London W1S 2XF +44 (0) 20 3205 3395
- Charbonnel et Walker: One, The Royal Arcade, 28 Old Bond Street London W1S 4BT, +44 (0) 20 7318 2075
- Prestat: 14 Princes Arcade, London SW1Y 6DS +44 (0) 20 7494 3372
- Carpo: 16 Piccadilly, London W1J 0DE, +44 (0) 20 7287 7233
- Paul A. Young: 143 Wardour Street, London W1F 8WA, +44 (0)20 7437 0011
NB: I was the guest of Chocolate Ecstasy Tours and I can’t thank them enough for such a wonderful morning.