The arrival of a new chocolate shop is always to be welcomed. London’s Notting Hill is now home to Alexeeva & Jones, a distinctly upmarket chocolate shop founded by Gareth Jones and his wife Natalia Alexeeva, which opened in October 2012. “The inspiration for this shop was that I’ve always liked very nice chocolate!” explains Gareth simply.
Having developed a taste for visiting individual chocolatiers’ shops while living in Paris, Gareth had a ‘eureka’ moment. “I’ve worked for various corporate companies around the world and, in a lot of countries, there are some fantastic chocolatiers but often what they do is supply mostly to restaurants and hotels. They might have a shop, but it will just be one shop and you have to cover a lot of ground to get the range. My idea was a simple one. I thought wouldn’t it be nice to get some of these excellent players whom you can’t find easily and bring them together as a range. We said we’ll be a specialist in chocolate and only in the best chocolate, not the mass-market brands.”
With this approach, Alexeeva & Jones showcases a number of chocolatiers and chocolate companies, both British and from abroad, stocking both fresh chocolates and ambient chocolate products. “The idea is to have a range where the chocolatiers complement each other. We’ve got some world class players here in the UK but it can be hard to get hold of their chocolates, so that’s where we come in. We’ve got Damian Allsop, the master of the water ganache, Paul Wayne Gregory, whose proposition is all about indulgence, and Iain Burnett, the Highland chocolatier, who uses local Perthshire ingredients and very visual presentation.”
European chocolatiers are also represented. “We have French master chocolatier Franck Daubos. If you’d like to buy his chocolates, you can either go to Paris or come here!” says Gareth proudly. From Belgium, comes Geert Decoster’s Centho Chocolates, “considered by the Belgians to be one of the best, which is not a bad recommendation. He supplies The Dorchester and The Ritz.” Chocolate bars are well-represented here, too, with the ‘bar library’ wall display featuring assorted high quality bars from an international range of eminent makers including Italy’s Amedei, America’s Amano, Ecuador’s Pacari,Original Bean, Laurent Gerbaud from Belgium and Madagascan Menacau.
With its white walls and elegant fittings, Alexeeva & Jones resembles a serenely chic boutique. On discussion, it turns out that Gareth and Natalia have put a lot of care and thought into the environment they were creating in their shop. “What I wanted to do was provide an environment where people feel relaxed and which was easy to be in,” says Gareth, “and that’s why we’ve combined it with the small café area in which you can have a cup of tea or a glass of champagne. We wanted to make it feel like somebody’s home, so we used a lot of reclaimed furniture. The main display table was a billiard table in an earlier career!” As well as opting for a particular aesthetic, practical considerations and an admirable eye for detail have also played their part in the choices made. “The idea was also to present the chocolates at a lower level than you often see them in a chocolate shop. These chocolates are so nice to look at that we present them the way you would goods in a jeweller’s shop, in a low cabinet, so that you can see them easily. The advantage of presenting them in this way is that you can see the person behind the counter and talk to them easily – ask them questions or point out the chocolate you want. We sell the fresh chocolates by weight and we bag them separately.”
Instead of using refrigerated units to store the fresh chocolates, Gareth has opted for a temperature controlled environment in the shop. “The fresh chocolates are in a glass box which holds the temperature constant and on marble, which drops the temperature down.”
Good, knowledgeable service is very much part of Gareth’s vision and to that end he has recruited Helen Heslop as General Manager, whose chocolate CV includes working with companies including Rococo, La Maison du Chocolat and William Curley. “When Gareth approached me and explained his idea, I thought ‘fantastic’!” says Helen. “As a chocolate lover, much as I love visiting all the individual shops, I just don’t have the time and I like the idea of being a discriminating source of good chocolate.” Word of the new chocolate shop arrival has been spreading in the local area and Helen is pleased that the shop is already getting regular customers. “Our clients here like to spend money on good food, so that’s a treat. It’s about achieving a level of trust. Once you’ve given people good advice, recommended something, helped them assess their taste, they come in and say ‘I’m in a hurry. I need a box. What do you suggest?’” Regular shop-based events at which customers can meet the chocolatiers such as Paul Wayne Gregory or Damian Allsop are very much part of the approach here. “The chocolatiers we work with are such lovely people; so nice and down-to-earth,” observes Gareth warmly, “and they’re great at events, as their manner is so good and they talk about what they do so well.”
With Easter approaching, Alexeeva & Jones have been busy stocking up with assorted goodies from their regular suppliers and other treats besides. “We’ve got some marvellous things,” says Helen happily, “including Guido Gobino’s lovely little foiled eggs; I’m so pleased we could bring him in.” With word spreading of this new kid on the chocolate block, Gareth and Natalia’s vision of a truly civilised shop for chocolate-lovers seems set to flourish.
Alexeeva & Jones, 297 Westbourne Grove, London W11 2QA (020 7 229 1199)