Tag Archives: Shopping

Diamond Jubilee: a tea party at Charbonnel et Walker

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.

LondonEats locations map here.

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Macarons from Yauatcha (Soho, London)

I have blogged before about macarons and my attempts to make them. It’s fun to do and you feel a sense of pride about having mastered something complex, but you are then usually left facing a mountain of the things, all in the same flavour. Given just how rich the filling typically is, they are also not the sort of thing that you would sit down and eat a lot of in one go. But I am sure that has not stopped many from trying.

For this reason, it is still fun to buy macarons, as you can then choose from the exciting flavours on offer. I have had the excellent dim sum at Yauatcha in central London before, and on Thursday picked up a selection of their macarons. The main draw for me was the flavours they offer – in addition to the French classics such as coffee and vanilla, they also have matcha (green tea), earl grey and an intriguing black sesame. If I have one niggle from my recent visit, it is that they didn’t have quite the same range as I have seen in the past. It might have been due to me passing rather late in the day, so I’ll check back in the near future for the promised ginger, violet or yuzu…

I took a box of fourteen. I have so far worked my way through the matcha (with very grassy notes), raspberry (fruity) and black sesame. This last one was excellent. The filling was a black sesame paste and white chocolate ganache, with a pronounced but not overwhelming sesame flavour. It was clearly black sesame too – not toasted white sesame. Almost like poppy seeds. This was innovative and delicious, and so far, my clear favourite.

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On Location: marqt (Amsterdam)

On my recent visit to Amsterdam, I was taken to marqt, a rather fancy new food store.

I was not too certain if the focus was on organic or just good quality, but the place looks amazing and has the air of a chic boutique with concrete floors and walls and bright minimalist lighting. Food is displayed on the shelves in a manner approaching art (check out the rather cool stripped-back design on the milk) and I would defy anyone to go in and come out empty-handed. Much hipper and fresher than Wholefoods or Planet Organic, but certainly not cheap. If you are around the Rembrandtplein area, I really recommend popping in for just about anything your heart desires, from fantastic fresh bread (observe the baker actually kneading the bread!), fish, fruit, cheeses etc. Postcards are fine, but a little edible gift for the nearest and dearest really shows you were thinking of them, and so much of a culture is linked to its food!

But my mission is food, not (just) style, and after sampling the bread on offer, I did indeed buy a few things. My absolute favourite is the Groningerkoek, a sort of teacake made from syrup, rye flour and spices. It’s a little like German Christmas biscuits and utterly delicious, and I am just sad that I was not able to bring a second one back to London.

I also have pink muisjes, literally “little mice”, which are aniseed balls. These are put on buttered rusks and served when a baby is born, so I will produce these as part of my contribution to an upcoming baby naming day here in London. It is supposed to be in a garden, assuming the weather perks up. Fingers crossed!

Finally, I picked up some anijsblokjes, sweet aniseed blocks that are dissolved in warm milk, which I imagine makes for a comforting drink when it is chilly outside, and some hagelslag, which are real chocolate sprinkles for eating on bread.

As they say in the Netherlands – Lekker!

(and in case you are wondering – I had my fill of gouda on the rest of the trip, so I wasn’t feeling the need to buy more here!).

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