May 22, 2012
An account of my tour of the Master Chocolatier's Wardour Street flagship.
I was meant to interview Paul A Young. Meant to but couldn’t. Because the man with his name above the door, and his heart and soul in the chocolates, of this glamorous Wardour Street boutique had been called away on a last minute emergency. But I promise I will talk to Paul another time, he is far too important to the world of chocolate for me to let that slide. So no Paul today, but there was still chocolate, so I went anyway!
There was chocolate, and there was the lovely Michael, Paul’s head chocolatier. He guided me round the beautiful trademark-purple boutique and the brand-spanking new kitchens with all the pride and zeal you could possibly hope for in an artist of his craft. A man after my own heart, he greeted me with a dark chocolate truffle made with Pacari 85% Equadorian chocolate. It was supremely light and clean, with the fruity cacao allowed full expression, managing to be both light and fruity, but also having rich intensity. This boded very very well for things to come.
What is instantly clear here is how success, and expansion into 3 shops, has done nothing to dilute the artisanal purity of Paul’s vision. The relationship between the kitchen and the shop is a happy symbiosis, as Michael says how thrilling he finds it that he can check what is needed and make accordingly. And that all the chocolatiers love being able to see the response to what they are making. This is both motivating and can generate ideas.
A consummate foodie I was truly among friends there, as they are all keen cooks. They describe an enviably creative environment, where their own cooking and experimentation with food can inform productive brainstorming sessions with Paul where he will ‘design’ new and seasonal variations of the chocolates.
I would happily have stayed all day, not least because the elegant shop is so inviting and sumptuous. But mostly because it is a treat to find such a passion, and we could have talked chocolate for days. Michael did however, politely, remind me that he had chocolates to make! Heaven forbid I keep him from the most important part.
One truly special thing about Paul is his magical creativity with unusual flavours, his marmite truffle is famous, but there are constantly new intriguing combinations. Some will be to your taste, some will not, but they are all brilliantly judged and there is something for everyone. Equally important is Paul’s dedication to supporting the best new chocolate makers, by showcasing their work in his chocolates and selling their bars. He carefully marries the couverture he uses to the flavours in each and every chocolate.
So what about those chocolates! In my tireless dedication to keeping you up to date with all things chocolate I set out to taste some of the very latest releases, plus a couple of old favourites for good measure.
The dark chocolate faceted shell of the Coffee, Rose and Cardamom chocolate is prettily anointed with a metallic rose lustre. Like most of Paul’s chocolates it looks a picture, the decoration enhancing the experience but without being wacky or dominant. The same could be said for the expert balancing of all the flavours within. It is a soft fluid ganache that starts with the softest coffee flavour, like a well judged cappuccino. Rose comes next, and while not being a fan of floral inclusions generally I really like this, it is fresh, and real, like a damp fresh petal, with not a hint of perfume of soap. The Cardamom is a natural partner for the rose, spicing it, and adding to it. Then the coffee comes back in, darker now, and melding into the cocoa richness of the chocolate.
Passion Fruit Curd in a 70% Raw Ecuadorian shell is as zingy with fruit as I have tasted, short of diving into a fresh tropical fruit. The filling has that peculiar combination of richness and acidity that characterises a curd. For me they can be too rich, but here the passion fruit opens up the taste-buds rather than coating them. The pairing with an intense raw chocolate like the superb Pacari used here is perfectly judged. It can fully match the intense fruitiness of the curd with it’s own acidity, which kicks in just as the passion fruit starts to fade, and pulls the whole back to the warmer notes of cocoa.
Welsh Goat’s Cheese, Lemon and Thyme in 66% Caribbean chocolate, represents the kind of ‘out there’ suggestion that will have some punters raising their eyebrows. I tasted something at last year’s Salon du Chocolat in Paris using sheep’s cheese. And despite being made by a Swedish chocolatier who had won awards from the Salon for their filled chocolates, I did not have any urgency to repeat the experience. Suffice to say there was a little too much sheep in evidence. But I need not have feared, this newly developed flavour is really quite yummy. It comes on like the perfect lemon cheesecake, not so lemony that it doesn’t work well with the chocolate, the goat’s cheese just supplying a pleasing but nonspecific mild tang. The thyme is present but subtle, and arrives after the cheesecake, but before it becomes too much. It is all beautifully balanced, fresh and sweet, with the acidity of the lemon and the slight savoury addition of the cheese bringing out the acidity and fruit in the chocolate.
XO Marmite Truffle is a long standing bestseller of Paul’s. It shows how his off-piste approach can produce something that becomes an in-demand classic. It is a water based ganache of 64% Madagascan blended with XO Marmite. The lack of dairy means that, like the 85% Pacari truffle I ate earlier in Wardour Street, there is no extra richness and the flavours are undiluted. In this case it means that there is no mistaking the Marmite hit. This is not one to try if you don’t like the stuff, and even if you do it may not appeal combined with chocolate. This is a melting ganache that has the almost beefy taste of Marmite coming through. I found it rather thrilling. The saltiness is a natural partner to the dark fruitiness of the Madagascan cacao, which warms up the flavours and brings them back to sweet as it begins to melt in the mouth. This started to happen at just the right moment for me, bringing it back from borderline savoury to a more comfortable chocolatey place before I had stopped enjoying life on the edge. Not something for everyday maybe, but a worthwhile wild card for when you feel like living dangerously.
Malden Sea Salted Caramel in 64% Madagascan. This is Paul’s Academy of Chocolate gold medal winning classic. It could be regarded as the more crowd-pleasing cousin of the Marmite truffle, in that it is all about the marriage of salt and sweet. But this one can have space in my daily calorie allowance every day of the week. I do have to declare a bias, as it is a long loved favourite. The almost fluid caramel starts off gently honeyed, but then develops through brown sugar and the proper rich hit of a fine caramel brought just to the edge before burning, intense but without a trace of bitterness. The salt joins in preventing any cloying sweetness, and then just as it fades and I wanted it back I bit the base of the shell and was rewarded with the strongest salt hit of the tasting. This is then tempered by the deep fruity Madagascan chocolate so that the whole finishes with citrus and cocoa.
Pea and Mint, is a natural marriage of flavours, but not as likely when encased in a chocolate shell. This is a new one for spring, so new that mine was whisked up from the kitchens especially, having not yet graced the shop floor. Another natural combination is chocolate and mint, and that is what this does really well, consequently it is really delicious, not hard to like at all. The pea is really a hint, a sweetness that mellows out the mint and balances the dark chocolate. The chocolate here is mellow too, with slight caramel tones. The whole is smooth and fresh and mild, perfect for spring.
Pimms Cocktail was a real surprise hit for me. I don’t know how it is done, but this chocolate burst with the freshest flavours. It is a clean, dark ganache of 66% Caribbean chocolate, the flavour of which is brought out by the alcohol that is the first taste to arrive. This is followed by a truly surprising and quite delicious wave of fresh cucumber. Subtle hints of fresh mint leaf come next and then strawberry is suggested. The gentle acidity of the fruit works really well with the naturally zingy fruit notes of this chocolate, which also manages to be dark and mellow.
Cigar Leaf Caramel is a sea salt caramel cooked with cigar leaves, in a 62% Brazillian chocolate. The caramel has the sweet, buttery, but granular quality of real fudge, and is very good. The masterstroke here is the extraordinary effect of the cigar leaf. It is not evident in taste, there is no smokiness or bitterness at all, it is in the most unusual warmth in the mouth. But this is something more than warmth too, it is a buzz that conjures up smoking dens and private clubs. There is a sense of something illicit and pleasurably wicked. Combine this with the comfort of chocolate and you have quite a stunning experience.
Last, but by no means least, the chocolate Paul himself chose as his desert island chocolate, 15 year Bowmore Darkest Whisky Truffle with 67% Santo Domingo dark chocolate. There is good reason Paul chose this, it is a joy. The whisky is woody, even peaty, with a glorious smokiness. The chocolate it is seamlessly blended with echoes it, with smoky notes and tastes of roasted grain and coffee. It is dark and fulfilling and brings to mind winter firesides. It would be pretty high on my list too.