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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
I made a list of hot chocolates to try in New York if I had time. I didn’t have time for many of them but we did manage to visit Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho. This Bakery is tiny with very few places to sit. We grabbed the cute little bench outside and then went in to order our hot chocolates.
I was excited about this stop but it is often dangerous to go into something with high expectations. The display case was filled with beautiful looking pastries, expensive, but beautiful. There was a ‘chef’s’ hot chocolate on the menu and we ordered that. Dominique Ansel is a famous New York City pastry chef with an impressive resume and he makes the hot chocolate.
First thing I noticed is that the hot chocolate comes in a paper cup. Yes I know I have this thing about paper cups but I guess since this is such a small bakery with very limited seating they have chosen to give everything to go. Still, they have seats for 20 or so people so they could have a few mugs…I don’t like hot chocolates in paper cups. You lose the whole experience, you can’t smell it, you don’t see it. But since this is going to be a good hot chocolate I decided to look past the paper cup and we went back to our little bench outside and took my first sip.
There is nothing wrong with this hot chocolate but I didn’t really enjoy it. It has this really nice, rich consistency, almost like pudding, a beautiful colour. The smell (even combined with the smell of the paper cup) was very nice and inviting. But the drink itself didn’t really taste like anything. We kept trying to figure it out but sip after sip it just never clicked. Is it even legal to say that I didn’t enjoy a hot chocolate made by a famous and very much loved New York City pastry chef? Will they let me back into the city next time I want to come visit?
The one thing I loved about this bakery though was our little bench. From here we had front row seats to the Soho show, all sorts of different kinds of people walking by, some with dogs, some with babies, an older man holding on to his 20 year old model girlfriend who wanted to buy cigarettes next door before going out to dinner, a young man singing a pop song at full volume as he walked by.
Verdict: I will be back here to try the desserts and homemade icecream which look like works of art and to sit on my bench again. I might give the hot chocolate another try…but probably not. Dominique Ansel Bakery, 189 Spring street, New York, USA