There are benefits, says William Curley, to the capital developing hotspots for haute couture chocolaterie-patisseries. “I like the thought of having a real emporium of fine chocolate shops huddled together. There are parts of Paris that have this, so if people decide they are going to have a nice little bit of chocolate they go there. What you get in the end, too, is a local community that is educated about fine chocolate. That has already happened in Belgravia because of L’Artisan du Chocclat and Chantal Coady’s Rococo shop.”
Coady, if you’re not aware of her, has been a pioneer in opening up the fine chocolate world, producing artisan bars and chocolates for 26 years – selling them through her three London shops, including her flagship Belgravia store in Motcomb Street. Unlike the current crop of pastry chef-proprietors, her background is not in professional kitchens; rather she was a chocaholic amateur with the passion and drive to bring fine chocolate into the London arena. But today’s craft specialists owe much to her trailblazing which began to raise public awareness that there was more to chocolate than mainstream confectionery bars, says one of the UK’s leading chocolate experts, Sara Jayne Staines (author of Chocolate, the Definitive Guide and a founding member of the Academy of Chocolate). “The best chocolate shops in London today are all run by top pastry chefs, but Chantal Coady laid the foundations for the current trend” she affirms.
And there, in a nutshell, you have a generic reason for why the market is opening up to pastry-chef-proprietors. Education. Public awareness and knowledge in food and restaurants has been growing ever more sophisticated for three decades now, particularly over the past 15 years. Food scares such as BSE fuelled a desire for information about produce sourcing and this fitted cocoa and chocolate production like a glove, with its stress on the bean variety, soil (or terroir) growing conditions and lengthy and complex couverture-making techniques. As Staines says, “The interest in dark chocolate has come along at a time when people want to know where things come from and that’s perfect for chocolate.” In many, ways, it’s inevitable that a chocolate-loving nation such as the UK would eventually discover the world of high cocoa-content, fine-quality bars and hand-made chocolates in its quest for further foodie knowledge.