Hot Chocolate at Le Delice Imperial, Fontainebleau, France

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Every time I have been to Fontainebleau in the past it has been crowded. Tourists arrive in bus and train loads to enjoy the beautiful forest of Fontainebleau (which has some great bouldering if you happen to be a hot chocolate drinking rock climber) and of course the historic and impressive chateau de Fontainebleau. But not today. Today it was cold, really cold and wet and just generally miserable. Even the local Belifontains (inhabitants of Fontainebleau are called Belifontains), were hiding, many of them in cafes warming up.

While there was still a bit of sunlight, we wondered into the grounds of the chateau. They were empty except for a small handful of couples walking strollers, or small dogs, or both. There was something so magical about the experience. With the light rain, the huge grounds and the chateau looking over us we imagined what it would have been liked to live here when it had been in use. The chateau has 1500 rooms. I cannot even begin to imagine what one would do with 1500 rooms and, as I have seen on a previous tour of the inside, each is more elaborate than the next. If that isn’t enough space for you the grounds are 130 acres.

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After our walk through the grounds we decided that a hot chocolate was in order. We had a lot of choices, as one always does in France because on average they are all good. We decided on Le Delice Imperial, a little café/pastry shop right in the center of Fontainebleau founded in 1889. This little café offered a large selection of delicious looking pastries, hot drinks and some classic French bistro food. The decor felt a little like being in a fairy tale. The walls were a bright red with gold accents. Hanging from the ceiling were these relatively large balls of clouds covered in little houses and people. I could see a lot of people staring up at them with the same confused look as I had.

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The hot chocolate was nice, and quite different than I was expecting. It was a lot sweeter than you usually get when you order a hot chocolate in France but since we didn’t order any of their pastries the sweetness was fine. What we needed was something to warm us up inside and out and this  did the trick.

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Verdict: A nice little spot to rest your tired feet after a walk through the châteauxgrounds. Le Delice Imperial, 1 rue Grande, Fontainebleau, France.

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Hot Chocolate at Yumchaa, London, United Kingdom

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Yumchaa is huge by London standards. It is big and airy and beautiful. That is why we originally walked through the doors. In fact we had no idea what they sold when we first decided to walk in. The counter is at the very far end of the space and it is pretty difficult to see from the window what is on offer.

But from the moment I walked in I loved this space and we went back several times.  I’ve probably mentioned this many times before on this blog but a good hot chocolate is about a lot of things; the chocolate of course but also the location, the feeling of the environment in which you are sipping it. Yumchaa gets points for that.

The thing about Yumchaa that I should probably mention now is that it is, as we soon realised as we approached the back counter, all about tea. Because of that, I wasn’t expecting much for the hot chocolate, in fact I’ll tell you right upfront it was just ok. It wasn’t bad at all, it just wasn’t anything that special. But I still wanted to write up Yumchaa because it was a lot of fun.

 

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Yumchaa is all about loose leaf tea to be precise and they are very particular about it. A typical tea bag contains mostly tea dust and broken leaf particles which do not have the same amount of essential oils that larger leaves have. So Yumchaa says no to the bag and instead provides a range of loose leaf teas and insist that you wait at least 2 minutes before you drink them to give time for the tea goodness to be created.

The tea was lovely, as were the range of tempting cakes they also sell to go with your tea. I had both the tea and the hot chocolate and would come back here for the tea any day. They had a long list of all their tea offerings on display along with little white ceramic pots with a handful of leaves inside for you to smell. My choice was the Chelsea Chai with cardamom, ginger, black pepper, spearmint brittle and sencha green tea.

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So back to the hot chocolate. If you are, like me, a hot chocolate drinker, I think you will still enjoy their hot chocolate. As I mentioned it is fine, but, and I know I don’t say this…ever… I would suggest you take a little tiny break and enjoy a tea as well. Perhaps they have a blend of tea that has a bit of chocolate in it? While you are enjoying your tea think about, as I did, how incredible it would be to have a place just like this that specialises in hot chocolate. The counter would have little pots with samples of different kinds of chocolates to smell and choose from. Any entrepreneurs reading this blog willing to give that a go? Invite me please.

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Verdict: Great spot. I’d love to visit a hot chocolate café that does with chocolate what Yumchaa has done with tea. Now that would be the ultimate hot chocolate! There are locations all around London including a range of stalls at some of the coolest London markets. yumchaa, 9/11 Tottenham Street, London, UK

Hot Chocolate at Paul A. Young, London, United Kingdom

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Paul A. Young is organizing a class in a few weeks, an evening with Paul A. Young, where you can learn everything you have ever wanted to know about chocolate. Too bad I won’t be around because I would love to spend a bit of time down in the chocolate laboratory at Paul A. Young where Paul and his team make all their creations in small batches, completely by hand in the kitchens at each of his three shops, one in Islington, one next to Bank and this shop we visited in Soho.

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Paul is considered to be at the forefront of the British chocolate scene. He has worked alongside many a big name in pastry and has won quite a few awards. He even has a book, Adventures with Chocolate, which looks pretty decadent. But really, why make the chocolate creations yourself when you can come here and enjoy them all! The Soho shop is just overflowing with all sorts of beautifully packaged little chocolate creations.

Although they looked beautiful, I never stop long at the chocolate displays. My main concern was the hot chocolate and this is one I have been waiting to try for a long time. The past 3 times I came by his Soho shop it had just closed, so this time we were organized, and came by with plenty of time to spare (15 minutes before closing time!). Behind the large round table covered in chocolates, two women were packaging and labeling a fresh batch of chocolates to be sold in the store. A young man came over to help us with our hot chocolates, an Aztec Hot Chocolate made with water at GBP3.95 a cup. He poured a couple of ladles filled with the rich dark chocolate from a large pot sitting upon an electric burner. Because there was no place to enjoy the hot chocolate in the shop they were prepared to go, in a paper cup. We were given the choice of spices to add to the hot chocolate; delicate ginger, aromatic green cardamom, sweet cinnamon, classic nutmeg, smokey black cardamom or fiery cayenne pepper. I chose Cayenne and Rich chose nutmeg. The young man proceeded to add a touch of the spice into our cup and whisk it delicately with the smallest metal whisk I have every seen.

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I loved a lot of things about this hot chocolate. I loved the colorful shop, watching the careful process of putting our hot chocolates together. I loved the selection of spices and how much kick the tiny bit of cayenne pepper I asked him to add gave to my chocolate. Even the spices seemed to be better versions of the same spices I had had before. I loved how rich and delicious the chocolate itself was. I even loved that we had to take it away and walk through the busy streets of Soho on a cold winters night. The heat of the chocolate combined with the spiciness of the cayenne warmed me up completely and made me walk down the streets with a silly smile on my face. I almost got run over by a black London cab turning the corner at full speed because I was having trouble concentrating on anything else.

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Verdict: Now if only I can convince Mr. Paul to put a little chair in front of his chocolate shop with my name on it then I could pass by everyday, have my hot chocolate and watch Soho walk by. A must try. Paul A. Young, 143 Wardour St., London, United Kingdom

Hot Chocolate at Cafe de Flor, Paris, France

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Café de Flor on Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris is an institution. One of the oldest and most well known cafes in Paris it was opened in 1885. Its main rival, Les Deux Magot which sits just down the street, was closed for renovations which meant that Café de Flor was very busy even at the early hour we went on a Saturday morning. Inside Parisians and tourists alike were enjoying their coffee with a croissant or demi baguette with strawberry jam. Outside to one side a covered area was full of smokers busy smoking while reading the morning paper and sipping their café au lait. Despite the chilly temperature we decided to sit on one of the tables outside so we could watch the world of Saint Germain go by.

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We weren’t in a rush which was good because it took the waiter a good 15 minutes to serve us. ‘Deux chocolat chaud’ or two hot chocolates will set you back 14 euros which may seem steep. But despite the price I would sit here again and again and have over the years. The hot chocolate came in a little white ceramic pot on the side. I love it when hot chocolate is presented in a separate little pot. I have only found places in France do this but it is such a great idea. I filled my white cup to the top and sipped it happily, refilling whenever it got low or the liquid a little cool. It seemed that my little pot of hot chocolate never got low, it seemed never ending. In the end there were a good three cup fulls of hot chocolate for one person in that ceramic jug making it well worth the 7 euros, and probably enough to share with another person, not that I’d recommend sharing it!.

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The hot chocolate itself is so nice, the perfect everyday French hot chocolate and the perfect way to start that morning. It was creamy and chocolatey without being too sweet, but still light and airy. Paris was just waking up and there were more and more people walking by, eyeing my hot chocolate jealously. I imagined all the interesting people over the years that must have walked in and out of these doors. The Surrealist Manifesto was set down here and during the German Occupation of 1939-1945 Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir made this café their office. Sofia Coppola the film director uses this café for her production meetings and a literary prize is given here yearly. IMG_6174

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Verdict: What can I say, this one is a no brainer – one of my favourites. If the price seems a little high you can always get one for two and share. Try to go early so that you will be surrounded by more locals than tourists. Café de Flor, 172 blv Saint-Germain, Paris, France

Hot Chocolate at Said, London, United Kingdom

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We stumbled across SAID the other night on a walk through Soho. It was cold and damp and SAID was a bit like a beacon, calling out to us to walk in and sit down and be taken care of. It worked. Without even planning to stop, we somehow found ourselves inside, sitting at a small wooden table towards the back end of the shop, drinking our hot chocolates lit up by candle light. 

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The SAID chocolate factory was founded in Rome’s San Lorenzo district in 1923 and if you happen to be in Rome you can visit 135 Via Tiburtina to enjoy all of their creations.  They have a gorgeous little spot in London now.  The walls were covered in silver chocolate molds of all shapes and sizes and a fire was lit in the fireplace along one wall .  The counter was covered on one side with large glass jars filled with white, milk and dark chocolate and on the other side a range of hand made truffles.

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SAID is very obviously a beacon for Italians in London. Pretty much everyone working in the shop, visiting the shop, sitting in the shop was Italian. Perhaps that means there is some Italian in us because we too were drawn into this magical little place. I’m fine with that, quite happy in fact. A handsome Italian man helped us move some seats around to fit in the stroller. He was very friendly and we very quickly decided that he must be the man in charge. I watched him as he kept a eye on everything that was happening while still seeming so relaxed. One woman was sitting near the fireplace having a work meeting, and hadn’t touched her cappuccino. He promptly sent someone over to ask her if everything was ok with the drink and that if it wasn’t they would gladly make her a new one. The woman promptly answered that she was so relaxed here in this beautiful space that she had completely forgotten to have her drink. I completely understood her feeling, I shared it,….but I would never forget to have my hot chocolate!

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Now to the hot chocolates. The hot chocolates are kept warm in large glass containers on the back counter that stir and heat the hot chocolate constantly. We were given the choice of having white, milk or dark chocolate, and in three sizes, small (tiny really), medium or large. There aren’t a lot of places that give you this sort of selection in terms of size interestingly enough, so I really appreciated that. I got a small dark chocolate knowing that if this was a traditional Italian hot chocolate it was going to be rich and dense almost like a chocolate pudding. It was, but beautifully so and was so easy to drink, so much easier than I had expected and I had wished that I had ordered the medium (as Rich did). I thoroughly enjoyed this moment at SAID with the romantic dim lighting, the fire place roaring, the dark chocolate wooden tables and the little candles on our table, the whole place was just so warm and cozy. I loved it.

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Verdict: The hot chocolate was beautiful. It was all like a big warm Italian hug. Try to get the seat next to the fireplace. SAID, 41 Broadwick Street, London, UK

Hot Chocolate at Charles Chocolatier, Paris, France

IMG_3468Once upon a time, it seems like quiet a long time ago, rue Montorgueil in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris was my home. I would wake every morning, walk downstairs to buy a fresh baguette and a pain au chocolate. In the afternoons I would walk up and down the street buying cheese from the cheese shop, meat from the meat shop, veggies from the veggie shop. Then in the evening I would meet friends for a glass of wine on one of the many terraces.

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This evening while on a long overdue trip back to Paris, we walked up and down Montorgueil again. We bought some cheese, some bread and as we neared the end of the street right next to Les Halles we spotted Charles Chocolatier. I thought I knew every single inch of this neighborhood by heart but it seems I missed this little chocolate spot. I honestly don’t remember it being there. But then again, when I lived here I wasn’t as obsessed with hot chocolate as I am now! This family business has been here since 1993, but has been operating since 1910 making chocolates in the traditional way using, no milk, no butter, no crème, just 100% cocoa butter.

IMG_6187Their hot chocolate, chocolate a l’ancienne (3.80E) is 100% cocao powder, pure cocao butter, a little milk and very little sugar. The hot chocolate was unsweetened but the woman at the counter offered us sugar to sweeten it to taste.. We didn’t add any sugar, since I usually prefer my hot chocolates less sweet, but this was really unsweetened, a little bitter for my taste.  With hindsight, I wish I’d tried adding a bit of sugar, as this had the making of a very good hot chocolate.  The shop is very small but there are a few seats along the side in sit in and since the hot chocolate is presented in a paper cup you can either drink it in or take it out to enjoy as you walk up and down rue Montorgeuil.

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Verdict: If you like your hot chocolate unsweetened this is the place for you. Charles Chocolatier is also known for their delicious looking Buches de Chocolate made from nuts from Piemont region. Charles Chocolatier,  15 rue Montorgueil, Paris, France.

Hot Chocolate at Scandinavian Kitchen, London, UK

Scandi KitchenTrying to find a spot for lunch in Fitsrovia in London that has space for strollers is a challenge. Somehow today luck was on our side and we managed to find space at the extremely busy and very popular Scandinavian Kitchen.   Thanks to Bronte (a Dane) and Jonas (a Swede), London has its own little Scandinavian food paradise. Back in 2006 they were walking the streets of London looks for some good food from back home and found nothing and were inspired to open this hot spot.

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IMG_3342There are two parts to Scandi Kitchen. First they import food from home to sell. This includes everything from candy, alcohol, breads, cheese and all sorts of other goodies, also available online. Second they have a selection of beautiful food that you can eat in or take away.  To round that all up they have a great sense of humor. They have a blackboard they put out on the sidewalk everyday with a different saying. Today it said “I like big buns and I cannot lie”. The website has pictures of past board sayings including “Goodness Gracious Meatballs on fire”, “May the Norse be with you”, “Swede child of mine” and even “Free meatballs for all nudists”.

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I wanted to order everything they had, but settled on a plate with Swedish meatballs and a selection of three of their popular salads, one with sweet potatoes, another with beetroots and apples. We also ordered a mixed platter of Swedish Tunnbrod, little pieces of bread covered with tasty delights, one with smoked salmon, another with an egg mixture, all very tasty.

Of course we finished off lunch with a hot chocolate. It too, like everything else here, was Scandanavian.  It was made with O’boy, the best selling Scandinavian instant chocolate milk drink. (Check out this fantastic advertisement from O-boy from the mid-90’s). Although it seems to be a hot chocolate for kids, I would argue that it is too rich and creamy for kids and all this goodness should be reserved for adults instead! It was very enjoyable, one I could easily make a habit of drinking.

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IMG_6161Verdict: The world needs more Scandi Kitchens…as long as they keep offering O-boy chocolate! Scandinavian Kitchen,  61 Great Titchfield Street, London, UK

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Hot Chocolate at Chocodippity, Winchester Christmas Market, Winchester, UK

IMG_6074IMG_6073One of the things I love most about Christmas has to be the Christmas markets. There is really nothing better to put you in the Christmas spirit. I have been to a lot of Christmas Markets over the years, but the one I went to today in Winchester next to the cathedral could very possibly be my favorite.

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The Christmas Market has been going since 2006 and, modeled after the traditional German markets, attracts almost 400,000 people a year. It was absolutely packed, making it a slow walk to get around. But that wasn’t a problem at all, it just gave us more time to admire the dozens of little wooden chalets all lined up, each filled with something unique and interesting. One called the Mouse Trap had a selection of beautiful cheeses, another had handmade wooden toys including a flying dragon I almost bought. Then of course there was the traditional roasted chestnuts filling the air with their holiday scent, and a small but very popular ice skating rink in the centre of it all.

One of the highlights for me, other than the hot chocolate of course, was a little stall with a small open fire going, where a young man was toasting marshmallows on sticks and selling them for 50p. What a fantastic idea.

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IMG_6088There were quite a few spots that offered hot chocolates, all with whipping cream and mini marshmallows on top. After making the rounds I chose to order mine from Chocodippity. I expected the hot chocolate to be really sweet but it was surprisingly good. Dark and bitter, made with water not milk, done well. With the cool weather and the Christmas cheer it was really enjoyable.

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IMG_6072Verdict: If I had more time I would do the tour and could easily have 15 reviews of hot chocolates for the Christmas market alone. And then of course there is Winchester where we passed another half dozens really fantastic looking spots. I’m going to have to go back and spend some serious time there. Who knew. Winchester Christmas Market, right next to the cathedral, Winchester, UK