Andrew Baker, author of the recently published From Bean To Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain, talks about some of his favourite chocolate spots in London…

London is full of secret and out-out-the-way chocolate spots – some of them destined to remain out of the public eye. 

The Queen’s favourite chocolates, for example, are made by the Prestat company in a marvellous factory crammed with delicious and exotic ingredients – and almost in the shadow of the prison at Wormwood Scrubs. As well as Her Majesty, Prestat’s lovely truffles were a favourite of the author Roald Dahl, of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…but this particular chocolate factory remains off-limits to visitors.

The same goes for the premises in Bethnal Green at which Phil Landers is currently the only person in the entire metropolis making chocolate from scratch, or “from bean to bar” as the technique is properly known. Phil’s lovely bars are available from his website and might be said to be the authentic taste of London chocolate.

But one place where you can both enjoy the finished product and – from time to time – watch it being made and chat with the master behind it is Paul A Young’s eponymous shop at 143 Wardour Street (pictured).

This long-established thoroughfare has existed along its present course since at least the 16th century, and in its time has been justly celebrated as a location for the stars of the music industry (David Bowie and The Jam, among many others) and the movie industry, which still retains a hefty presence.

PICTURE: Google Maps

But Young’s lovely purple corner shop has become a celebrated place of pilgrimage for fans of all things chocolatey.

The ginger-bearded, twinkly and genial Young has become one of Britain’s best-known chocolatiers through frequent appearances in print, online and on television, most notably making the treats of yesteryear in the deliciously nostalgic series The Sweet Makers.

But there is substance behind the fluency and charm: years of training as a pastry chef, working at an early stage with the superstar chef Marco Pierre White, and years of experience in the kitchens of his shops.

There are branches in Camden and Threadneedle Street in the City, but the most substantial outpost of his empire is here in Soho. This is a must-visit location not only for fans of filled chocolates – for Young is one of the finest exponents of those of those in the world – but also for barflys, because he stocks a full range of bars made by the wonderful Cleethorpes bean-to-bar maestro Duffy Sheardown. What is more, Young serves an enormously tempting cup of hot chocolate ladled, in the winter months, from a glorious copper cauldron steaming in the shop window. What better way to lure in customers on a chilly day?

The Barnsley-born Young is often to be found exploring new flavour combinations in the kitchen in the shop’s basement. There are frequent chocolate-making classes here as well, and there is no-one better at imparting, in a kindly and witty manner, the mysteries of tempering and ganache-making.

But he is at his best inventing wonderful new combinations of fine chocolate and delicious fillings, and it would be a foolish visitor to London who departed the capital without sampling at least several of Young’s most celebrated truffles – the Marmite version, for example, which I adore, the beer and crisp version made with Camden’s Brewdog ale, or the homage to his roots in the Yorkshire tea and biscuit truffle.

These and many, many more are laid out in mouthwatering rows in the Wardour Street shop, freshly made and so to be consumed as soon as possible. That is not a difficult piece of advice to heed.

From Bean To Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain:  is published by AA Publishing.

Advertisements

Happy Easter! We’re taking a break over the Easter weekend…Our next update will be on Tuesday, 2nd April.

Mary-of-Modena's-bedA new exhibition exploring the secrets of the bedchambers of the Stuart and Hanoverian courts of the 17th and 18th centuries opened at Hampton Court Palace this week. At the heart of Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber are six royal beds which tell the story of why the bedchamber became the most important part of the palace and detail some of the events that took place there before an audience of courtiers, politicians and family members – from births and deaths to the consummation of marriages and the discussion of important affairs of state. It tells of why courtiers would fight for positions such as the ‘groom of the stool’ or ‘necessary woman’ and how beds which could cost the same as a London townhouse were sometimes never slept in. Among the beds on display is the ‘Warming Pan Bed’ (pictured), the State Bed of King James II’s queen, Mary of Modena, and scene of the royal birth that ultimately led to the end of the Stuart line, and the ‘Travelling Bed’ of King George II which travelled as far afield as Hanover and the battlefields of Europe. The exhibition also gives rare access into the Prince of Wales’ Apartments, designed by 17th and 18th architect Sir John Vanbrugh, and now open for the first time in 20 years.  Admission charge applies. Runs until 3rd November. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: HRP

The Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum are the subject of a major exhibition opening at the British Museum today. Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum brings together more than 250 objects from the two cities which were buried in just 24 hours during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The objects include celebrated finds and recent discoveries, many of which have never before been seen outside Italy, and help explore what daily life was like for the inhabitants. Artefacts include a beautiful wall painting from Pompeii showing baker Terentius Neo and his wife, wooden furnishings including a linen chest, inlaid stool, and even a baby’s crib from Herculaneum, and casts of victims including a family of four and a dog who died at Pompeii. Runs until 29th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Find out more about the history of chocolate at Kew Gardens this Easter, from the ritualistic use of cacao in ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures to the arrival of chocolate in 17th century London, where it was a luxury item for high society to indulge in at newly fashionable chocolate houses. Running from tomorrow until 14th April, there will be a range of workshops taking place at the gardens around the chocolate theme along with a traditional Easter Egg Hunt on Easter Sunday (31st March). The garden’s cocoa tree can be found in the Princess of Wales Conservatory. Admission charge applies. See www.kew.org.

Harry Beck, designer of the innovative first diagrammatic Tube map, has been honoured by an English Heritage blue plaque – inscribed in the Underground’s new Johnston typeface – at his birthplace in Leyton in London’s east. Beck, who was born in a small terraced house at 14 Wesley Road in 1902, was working with London Transport as a draughtsman in the London Underground Serial Engineer’s Office, when, in 1931, he produced his first design for a diagrammatic map. He continued to update the map with new stations and lines even after leaving London Transport with the last version of his map published in 1960. Beck died in 1974. Meanwhile, a blue plaque commemorating railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley (1876-1941) has been returned to King’s Cross station following the completion of building work. It can be found on platform 8. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

On Now: The Underground. A commission from Art on the Underground, this exhibition of artist Mark Wallinger’s work at the Anthony Reynolds Gallery (60 Great Marlborough Street) features some examples of 270 labyrinth designs – one representing each of the Underground stations – which are being installed at the Tube stations themselves. Among those stations represented at this showing are Westminster, St James’s Park, Oxford Circus, Victoria, Embankment, Green Park, King’s Cross St Pancras, Baker Street and Tottenham Court Road. While labyrinths are already in place at these locations, the remainder of Wallinger’s labyrinth designs will be appearing at Tube stations over the coming months. Runs until 27th April. For more, see www.anthonyreynolds.com.