There are a million things you can do while in London and possibly a million tours to follow, but one of them sounded unique: the Chocolate Ecstasy Tour, possibly the most scandalous name for a tour. Upon her arrival in London, Australian-born Jennifer Earle began discovering a whole generation of artisan chocolatiers who made an impact in London’s chocolate scene and went on to meet them all. Before she knew it, she created for herself the dream job: she became a chocolate expert. Of course, it exists.
Searching her delicious website and drooling while reading the descriptions of her various chocolate tours, I decided I would follow the Mayfair chocolate tour right in the city’s centre. Jennifer’s instructions were pretty clear: “If you are having breakfast, pick something light, and certainly without chocolate”.
Along with Kathy, my travel buddy from New Zealand, we waited for Jennifer outside Sketch, a very popular multi-space consisting of a café, a restaurant and a tiny igloo-like bar but also the most unique toilet space I have ever encountered. The weather was rainy –typical London, I hear you saying – but who cares about the weather when a chocolate tour is about to start?
Jennifer is delicate, with an enviable silhouette, green eyes like a cat, red hair and an aura tres chic.
Here are some of the highlights of the tour:
Hot chocolate and apple pie at Sketch
We were greeted to Sketch’s cafeteria by our chic tour guide, Jennifer, and got to know the fellow tour participants. With her green eyes, red hair and totally enviable silhouette you would rather think she is a model and never, ever indulges herself into chocolate. But you would be terribly mistaken.
Once we briefly introduced ourselves to the fellow tourers, our breakfast was served: a thick, hot chocolate accompanied perfectly by an apple pie in puff pastry. While indulging in our sumptuous breakfast, Jennifer explained to us some basics of chocolate tasting. She taught us that you should be using all of your senses in order to truly experience and decode a piece of chocolate. We touched and tasted raw cocoa beans and smelled the cocoa mass, one of the main ingredients while producing chocolate.
Enrobed chocolates at The East India Company
The East India Company might not be an obvious stop for a chocolate tour but they have a few amazing chocolate products. We tasted a wide variety of their «enrobed chocolate» range featuring fruits, peels, speciality nuts and coffee beans covered with rich chocolate. My absolute favorite was the Milk Chocolate Enrobed Latte Coffee Beans: Costa Rican peaberry beans roasted in a manner to complement the fine Belgian milk chocolate. I do prefer dark chocolate in general, but this combination was too hard to resist so I ended up taking home with me one such precious box. They also have dark and milk chocolate bars infused with teas, coffee and exotic spices such as the milk chocolate bar with pink peppercorns.
Paul-A-Young’s exquisite chocolate workshop
At the neighboring Soho we visited one of London’s most prestigious chocolatiers, Paul-A-Young’s workshop with its distinctive purple colour. This is a chocolate boutique. Once you enter, the smell of chocolate coming from the underground workshop enrobes you.
At the center, there is a round show-table with the state-of–the-art chocolate bites which come at the most surprising flavor combinations ever: chipotle, mint leaf and Greek yoghurt or mango and lime caramel. They look so pretty you are ashamed to eat them but you do anyway because you know they must taste as good as they look. And guess what. They truly are! My personal best seller was the one with goat cheese, rosemary and lemon.
The surrounding shelves are filled with Paul-A-Young’s chocolate bars and a few others from various cocoa farm producers with whom they cooperate. We also tried their famous brownie; the hype around them is not for nothing.
I picked a modest-size chocolate box and then struggled to decide which chocolates to take away with me. There is one thing I particularly like about these places: it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. The extra price tag you are paying is well worth it as you realize that you tend to cherish every single chocolate you taste.
Nuts, dried fruits and chocolate bites at Carpo
At the lively Piccadilly street, Carpo is a Greek shop and therefore a great surprise for me the fact that it was included in the tour. Why? Because unfortunately, Greece is not particularly well known for its quality chocolate so far. Carpo is stylish and filled with nuts, dried fruits and fine Greek products like honey, coffee and chocolate bars. Curious to know, I asked Jennifer about her favorite and she told me that she loves the Florentine biscuits at Carpo, made of hazelnuts, almonds and covered in chocolate. Personally, I was thrilled to learn that they also serve freddo espresso and freddo cappuccino, which was always missing from London.
Chocolate truffles at the colourful Prestat
Prestat won the award of the most colourful chocolate place. Their chocolate truffles are a hit and in combination with the playful packaging, they are the perfect gift for your loved ones. Honestly, who wouldn’t like to be offered chocolate as a gift?
I loved tasting their dark sea salt caramel truffles. They have much more such as banoffee truffles, earl grey tea truffles, London gin truffles, and red velvet truffles.
Aristocratic chocolates at Charbonnel & Walker
One of Britain’s first fine chocolatiers, Charbonnel et Walker was founded in 1875 and is currently housed in the Royal Arcade on Old Bond Street. They take pride in their high-profile customers, w, ich include royals, aristocrats and legends such as Princess Diana. Royal or not, you can still indulge in their aristocratic chocolates and truffles which are hand-made following the traditional recipes of Madame Charbonnel. Satin ribbons and lavish gift boxes seem a perfect fit for these aristocratic chocolates.
Jennifer decided we should try their Fine Rose & Violet cream which is considered to be a great British classic. The description on their website reads “Our unique fondant recipe is infused with attar of Roses and Violets (the essential oil extracted from the petals). Enrobed in our finest dark chocolate and entirely hand finished with crystallised Rose and Violet petals. These chocolates are just as popular today and still made to Madame Charbonnel’s original and esteemed recipe.”
They are definitely unique and as pretty as a flower is.
Jennifer happily fed us with interesting trivia about London and also gave us recommendations about places worth visiting for their desserts. I loved that girl.
In the end of our tour, it was simply impossible to eat any more chocolate. But it’s about time I re-visit these places to check if they are still up to their game or not and report back to you. Someone has to do the hard job, right?
What is your favourite chocolate? Are you a dark, milk or white chocolate lover? Have you tried any of these chocolate shops in London? If not, are you now planning to do so?
Duration of the tour: 3 hours
Walking distance: 2 km(1.3 miles)
Price per person: £44 + £1.50 booking fee
Other chocolate tours you might consider: Chelsea chocolate tour, evening chocolate tour, ice cream tour of Soho and Covent Garden, chocolate from around the world tasting event
Check more here: www.chocolateecstasytours.com
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Chocolate Ecstacy Tour on this occasion but all viewpoints are my own.