While tea party baking is a pretty big part of this weekend’s festivities at parties up and down the country, I was fortunate enough to receive and invitation to a tea party at Charbonnel et Walker, traditional London-based chocolatiers and…ta da…holders of a royal warrant.
So these are the people who provide chocolates to Buckingham Palace. As you can see below, they are also feeling very patriotic at the moment!
Charbonnel et Walker have been “purveying” chocolates in London since 1875. You might wonder where the French link comes from? Well, the future King Edward VII was rather partial to continental chocolate, and encouraged a French chocolate maker, Mme Virginie Charbonnel to leave Paris to seek her fortune in London. She teamed up with Mrs Minnie Walker, and the pair set up shop in Bond Street in fashionable and expensive Mayfair.
This is very much a traditional chocolate shop – beautiful boxes, lovely packaging and satin ribbons. The Jubilee, in particular, has inspired a lot of the gift boxes – lots of crystal crowns and Union Flags. However, if that’s not your thing, there are lots of more restrained (dare I say more British?) boxes to suit those tastes.
This last photography in particular is quite special – it is the actual royal warrant granted by HM The Queen.
I know Charbonnel et Walker’s chocolates, but the treat of the evening was the chance to actually taste things side by side – which truffle was my favourite, what chocolates did I like, and what new ideas are they thinking about?
We started with the classics – truffles, and would be tasting pink champagne, milk and dark versions. First of all, the very romatic pink champagne truffles. These are a milk chocolate centre with a white chocolate shell and dusting of powdered strawberry to give them a blushed look. These are the sweetest of the lot, and look very romantic, and are one of the best sellers. For the Jubilee, there are limited edition boxes encrusted with Swarovski crystals – I thought they looked rather amazing. If you were going for a more bling look at your party, this is clearly the way to go.
We also tried milk truffles, and then finished with dark chocolates dusted in cocoa. I liked all three, but it was the dark truffles that I loved. Rich, smooth and with a lingering warm earthiness from the cocoa powder. I might even go so far as to say the man’s truffle of choice?
After the intense richness of truffles, we got the chance to taste some more of their classic chocolates. And this is where things got very, very British. English rose and violet creams! These are fondant centres with rose or violet essence, and then topped with a crystallised petal. I’m normally someone that is a little wary of florals in chocolates but I was very pleasantly surprised by these – you know that these have rose and violet in them, but it’s delicate and refined. These have a very traditional flavour, so rather fitting for the nostalgia of the Jubilee. Indeed, I though these would be the sort of chocolate that would make wonderful wedding favours.
We also tried a couple of the “in development” flavours, which I gather are still top secret so I won’t talk about them. But there is one that I am going to rave about. For, to finish off, we were then treated to a new truffle that was about to go on sale. Salted caramel truffles.
Now, you might be sitting there thinking “yes, I’ve had salted caramel flavour in truffles before”. But these are different. Inside the chocolate shell there is actual liquid caramel and actual salt. Some bit into the truffle, and the caramel got everywhere. Others popped them in whole and let the flavours unfold. I was impressed. These things are very rich but seriously stunning chocolates. I’ll be keeping an eye out for these.
To wrap up our evening, we finally did get offered some teacups – it was a tea party, after all – but they did not contain tea. It was Pimm’s o’clock, the perfect summer drink to get us in the mood for a weekend of celebration.
So if you’re a visitor in London, you might see these chocolates on sale, but if you’re passing Piccadilly, you might want to pop in for a glimpse into the traditions on British chocolate. You’ve even got a portrait of Mme Charbonnel on the wall, keeping an eye on the whole affair.
Charbonnel et Walker, One The Royal Arcade, 28 Old Bond Street, London W1S 4BT. Tel: 020 7318 2075. Tube: Green Park.
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