Award-winning author and master chocolatier Paul A. Young deserves the accolades he receives for his creativity and mastery with all things chocolate. Walk into his tiny Camden Passage original chocolate shop and inhale the intoxicating aroma of fresh chocolate being made on-site. Young is one of the British chocolatiers who launched the chocolate revolution in London about 15 years ago, casting aside the overly sweet British chocolate of old for the fresh and innovative chocolate offerings that you’ll now find in at least a dozen top-notch chocolatiers in the capital city. Try his dark chocolate sea salt caramel pecan brownies—guaranteed to seduce every unsuspecting chocolate lover. Three locations in London found in Camden Passage, Royal Exchange, and Soho.
This was, hands-down, Krader’s favorite. “Oh, my God,” she said. “I feel like I just fell into a pool of chocolate.” More to the point, the Neuhaus truffles did everything Krader said a good chocolate truffle should: The tender coating gave way to a luxurious whipped mousse filling, with layers of flavor. (“It comes in waves,” Krader said.) The units were big enough for two satisfying bites, and they tasted as if they'd been made five minutes earlier. “A chocolate like this makes you realize how many old chocolates you’ve eaten in your life,” she said. "And how many mediocre ones."
The scene: a quaint Italian cafe, an espresso, and a piece of Italian chocolate. What’s not to love? The most popular chocolate producer in Italy is Amadei. They buy their cocoa directly from growers, which means they know exactly where the beans came from, and how they were grown. They use that knowledge to produce some of the best chocolates in the world. The Italians also enjoy using chocolate in their pastries, a win for anyone with a sweet tooth.
One piece had a very good blend of hazelnut and almond with a fine crunchy texture. The marzipan was very good; Jacky Pédro brought out the flavor well. He must have sense of humor and self-confidence to label one of his products Le Crottin du Pin. To avoid spoiling your appetite, I will not translate the name, but the piece is a cocoa meringue with a chocolate cream filling. It was nice and very unusual and just a bit bitter. I also strayed from chocolate and tried the Patés de Fruits, which were very good.
The Quatre Epices was well balanced blend of four spices. Wild Cherry had a nice piquant cherry flavor the first time I tried it but was milder on a later occasion. The Praline Noisette was good with a sharp hazelnut flavor, and the Mocha Cream was good, but some of the other gianduja pieces were mild or weak. The Honey had mild flavors with not much honey shining through. The cinnamon of the Cinnamon Toast was present but stood alone, not partnering well with the chocolate.
In 1991, Alessio and Cecilia made a pilgrimage to Tain l’Hermitage, in the Rhône Valley, for an appointment at Valrhona. The Tessieris were humored for a while, but when they were ready to make a deal, they were sent away with nothing. The French wouldn’t even negotiate. According to Cecilia, they were told that Italy wasn’t evolved enough to appreciate such extraordinary chocolate.
The only drawback that we found is that Simply Chocolate's prices are often considerably higher than the competition. For instance, many of the chocolates made by Vosges can be purchased directly from that retailer at a significant savings, even when factoring in Vosges' higher shipping costs. You'll want to shop around a bit, especially if your chocolate purchase includes a brand that may be sold elsewhere for less.
For the chocolate purist, or anyone looking for the perfect corporate gift, we think Maison du Chocolat ($60 for 28 pieces) is a great premium choice. The flavors are subtle enough to really let the chocolate shine. The packaging, reminiscent of brown pebbled leather, is understated and innocuous enough to gift for professional reasons. Although these chocolates are incredibly smooth and slightly less sweet than the Michel Cluizel, the overall flavor profile isn’t quite as daring as those in the Recchiuti box and might not provide the same sensory adventure as our main pick. We also think the assortments available online are a little big for a Valentine’s gift (although you can purchase smaller boxes in their stores).
MarieBelle’s chocolates have fun designs, but the flavors did almost nothing for me. The Swiss chocolate is a thin shell around the fillings and contributed little to the taste. Good ingredients were used, and the flavors, when I could detect them, were well done. However, even pieces I would expect to have prominent flavors, like the Pineapple or Mandarin, were weak. The Spices piece was good, and the Hazelnut Praline was good except for the slightness of the flavor. I could not recommend these at half the price, let alone the $100/lb. charged.