The rise of high-end chocolate shops in London is a sign of the interest in quality chocolate in the UK. In recent years, talented chocolatiers, such as Paul A Young, have opened shops in the capital, while Alexeeva & Jones curates and showcases fine chocolate from an array of chocolate makers and chocolatiers. The arrival of Akesson’s chocolate shop in Notting Hill, however, represents something different – a direct route from cocoa plantation to high street shop. A suave and dapper figure, Bertil Akesson, the son of a Swedish diplomat, is a cocoa grower, supplying a number of acclaimed chocolate makers with beans grown from the Akesson family’s plantations on Bali, Brazil and Madagascar. Significantly, Akesson’s are also a chocolate brand in their own right, with a highly regarded, elegantly-packaged range of chocolate bars, made, of course, from their own cocoa.
Chocolatier.uk asked Bertil Akesson why he had decided to open a shop (Akesson’s first ever) and why had he chosen London. “I chose London as my personal base - when I am not on the plantations - because it is my favourite city in the world… and Nothing Hill is my favourite area in this beautiful city. So when a space became available, only 50 metres away from my apartment, I jumped on the chance, even though we haven’t had experience of retailing. I realised a shop could be a fantastic window for our activity and our products. I also needed an office and I thought I might as well have a space divided between office and retail. Learning about the latter only brings me closer to my usual customers and it is a new adventure, cosmopolitan this time.”
In setting up the shop, Bertil has drawn on his globe-trotting life to create a distinctive and atmospheric décor. “The space has a slightly colonial atmosphere, with elements from China (I purchased the furniture that was part of a 1900 bar in Suzhou), a Vietnamese fan from 1920, chairs from India made in the 1950, photographies by P.Men, the leading Madagascar artist.”
Naturally, the shop offers a showcase for Akesson’s own single plantation cocoa chocolate bars, as well as those made by other chocolatier makers using Akesson’s cocoa beans. In addition hot chocolate and coffee to go are on offer, although the shop is not a café as such. “The drinking chocolate and coffee to go are all made with beans from our plantations. Because this is the main identity: our plantations in Madagascar, Brazil and Bali,” explains Bertil. “We want to offer crops grown there: cocoa, peppercorns, vanilla, nuts, coffee and other tropical foods. Chocolate being the link between everything. And of course some treats like cookies and brownies to take away with our hot chocolate”
Creating a shop like this is a bold move for a cocoa grower and high-end chocolate bar producer. Bertil is on a mission to bring the name of Akesson’s to public attention. “What really is special about us is that we are the only grower in the world supplying the highest quality of cocoa and chocolate, from three plantations on three continents, to almost all the top chefs and chocolate makers in the world. And we literally placed a country, Madagascar, on the map of cocoa and chocolate. We were too long in the shade and want to get a little bit of the sunlight our customers have been enjoying. But just like for the best cocoa trees, it is the right balance between shade and sunlight that helps to grow.”
Akesson’s,15b Blenheim Crescent, London W11 2EE, telephone 020 7221 0190.