Ultimate chocolates

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The alchemist of the chocolate world

It’s quite simple; Paul Young’s chocolates are to die for. Bite into a smooth, silky chocolate exterior and flavours burst onto your taste buds. It’s chocolate heaven. They’re fresh, individual, dancing with sensation and unlike anything you’ll have tasted before.

Take for instance his white, Stilton chocolate. As you crush through the wrinkled exterior you can see a thin line of Stilton crowning the top of the filling. Does it taste like the famous cheese? Well; yes and no. You can recognise its provenance but – and here’s the big but – it is still most definitely a sweet chocolate, and a very tasty one at that. And as Paul Young says, “They’re robust chocolates that taste of what they’re made of. If they’re made of raspberries you taste raspberries.”

People travel distances weekly, even daily, just to buy his taste sensations. Because Paul Young is to chocolate what Michelin star chefs are to food. The awards just keep coming. And despite Paul commenting that becoming a chocolatier was ‘never planned, it gradually happened’ you can’t help thinking it was meant to be.

His talent for food in general has been nurtured in the kitchens of chefs such as Marco Pierre White. The lad from the small mining town of Trimdon Station in County Durham has come far. He’s even been spotted on a number of food programmes. And his driving force is the pursuit of excellence and attention to detail.

It took five years from concept to develop the business and find the perfect premises. He found shop in Islington’s trendy Camden Passage (N1), another in the Royal Exchange (EC3) in the City of London and most recently a third in Soho (W1).

Chocolate heaven

Paul’s Camden Passage shop fits the cobbled street of individual businesses like it always belonged there. With its deep purple painted exterior and lavish window dressing you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a jewellers. Walk past the velvet curtain into this tiny shop and a heady smell of chocolate hits the nostrils.

The chocolates are laid out in wooden boxes and look like a display from Tiffany’s. The atmosphere, the ambience and the décor all indicate these are indeed chocolate jewels. Velvety ones are dusted with chocolate powder. Others glisten like mirrors nestling among the gold leafed, platinum leafed and hand painted chocolates. Chocolate shoes look like polished metallic leather in pinks and varying shades. A chocolate mask fit for a Venetian ball lies buried in a bowl of chocolate and an almost life sized bronzed chocolate torso looks down from a shelf. Yet for all the opulence above; slip down the tiny steps to the basement kitchen and it all changes.

The chocolate machine

Small as the shop above, the kitchen houses racks of freshly made chocolates. A large marble slab in the middle is where the alchemy takes place. Paul spends at least 10 hours a day down here creating. He and two others make between them 65 to 75 products for the shops.

The chocolates only have a shelf life of a week. They don’t take to being refrigerated, requiring ambient temperature to bring out the complexity of flavours. Paul says, “Every chocolate is a completely different process. There’s no machinery. They’re filled by hand, moulded by hand and decorated by hand. It’s a true artisan way.” Add to that no stabilisers, no preservatives and nothing artificial, and you soon understand the queues around the block. “I work only in the purest way and use the best ingredients,” says Paul. And for him that means using the best chocolate, Valrhona and Amedei, from which he blends up to 20 varieties of dark, white and milk.

“It’s a fresh product and things will change,” says Paul. So, even chocolates like the sea-salted caramel will occasionally take on a slightly different personality. In fact, taste one in the shop, when your senses are bombarded by chocolaty aromas and it will taste different to the flavours when you get it home. The joy is that these delights have to be eaten straight away because they’re so fresh. It’s an excellent reason to keep visiting the shops to get your chocolate fix.

Getting there

The original shop is paul.a.young fine chocolates,33 Camden Passage, Islington, London, N1 8EA. The closest tube is Angel on the Northern line.

20 Royal Exchange, Threadneedle Street, London, EC3V 3PL. The closest tube is Bank on the Central, Northern & City lines.

143 Wardour Street, Soho, London,W1F 8WA is closest to Piccadilly tube on the  Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines.