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Hotel Chocolat Trials New Birthday Theme Lock-In

Much like the Queen, this year I have two birthday celebrations. First is my 'official' birthday, and second is a chocolate themed birthday, courtesy of Hotel Chocolat.

The 'more cocoa less sugar' people have devised a chocolate themed birthday party for grown-ups, and I was invited by the Bridgend store to test out this new experience.

Hotel Chocolat Bridgend
Hotel Chocolat shop in McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Bridgend

Birthday Lock-In

The birthday lock-in derives its inspiration from Hotel Chocolat's other lock-ins.

As this was a trial event, the information below may well change from the final event. In some areas, this is a good thing, as I'm not sold on everything quite yet.

The intention is to have three package tiers, and you can book either the Bronze, Silver, or Gold birthday lock-in. These themed events build on the regular lock-in experience, elevating it with upgraded booze and goody bags.

FeatureBronzeSilverGold
Welcome drinkProseccoCocktailChampagne
Chocolate tasting6 pieces per person6 pieces per person6 pieces per person
Goody bag100g Happy Birthday Message Box°
£10 off bean-to-bar experience
£5 off chocolate tasting adventure
Free café drink
Discount on ice cream
140g Happy Birthday Gift Box
£10 off bean-to-bar experience
£5 off chocolate tasting adventure
Free café drink
Discount on ice cream
180g Patisserie H Box°
£10 off bean-to-bar experience
£5 off chocolate tasting adventure
Free café drink
Discount on ice cream
In-store credit£10 per person£10 per person£10 per person
Price£20 per person£25 per person£30 per person

The bean-to-bar experience° is currently available in London, Cambridge, and Leeds. The chocolate tasting adventure° is currently available in London and Leeds. There are 29 Hotel Chocolat cafés around the United Kingdom right now.


How it works

Head to the store after hours as you would for a regular lock-in. You'll be greeted by the store team and will receive a welcome drink of either Prosecco, a Cocktail, or Champagne, depending upon your package.

My hosts in Bridgend were Matt and Lois, and both were superb. Both helped to make the experience fun, lively, and informative. If you live near Bridgend and book any lock-in here, you're in for a real treat.

Birthday themed chocolate lock-in
Best of the Best selection at the birthday-themed chocolate lock-in

Oddly, the venue didn't ooze a birthday vibe, except for a solitary helium balloon that Matt had purchased (currently, there are no decorations planned for these birthday events). In my head I had pictured at least a couple of banners hung on the shelving. At least something. Anything.

Back to the event, you'll begin by learning about how the chocolate making process, and what sets Hotel Chocolat apart from the competition. Then it's on to the tasting, where you'll enjoy a set of six chocolates to taste.

Hotel Chocolat Patisserie H Box with Happy Birthday sleeve
My Hotel Chocolat Patisserie H Box with a grey Happy Birthday cardboard sleeve

You'll receive a goody bag (the contents depend on your package) and you'll have time to browse the shop and make purchases if you wish. To my delight, I found the Rare & Vintage Saint Lucia 100% Dark° slab so I picked this up, along with a slab of Rare & Vintage Vietnam 60% Supermilk° upon recommendation.

I don't believe the chocolate selection has been finalised yet - it may well be the 'Best of the Best' selection I tasted below. I believe it might be the case that the guests can influence the selection, or it may be cake-themed (although that risks a duplication of the 'Patisserie Through a Chocolatier's Lens' lock-in experience).

I'd love to see the Hotel Chocolat development team devise six exclusive flavours only available to try in a birthday lock-in, although that might be technically- and logistically-difficult. Another idea would be to draw selections from the latest creations from Hotel Chocolat's monthly Tasting Club, which usually features flavours not yet released to stores. I love the idea of being able to exclusively taste something nobody else can buy in-store (yet).


My 'Best of the Best' chocolate tastings

Best of the Best chocolate lock-in tastings
6 tasty treats up for testing in the Best of the Best lock-in selection

My six chocolates on taste-test at this event were:

  • Florentine Isabelle°
    • The blurb: A florentine of honey, caramel, and roasted almonds sits atop of soft praline inside a milk chocolate shell.
    • Tasting: I thought the crunchy toffee caramel was too chewy and spent ages afterwards fishing bits out of my teeth. The rich and creamy milk chocolate added a nice contrasting texture, though.
  • Pistachio Chocolate°
    • The blurb: Smooth pistachio paste sealed in a caramel milk chocolate shell.
    • Tasting: I found this one overly sweet, perhaps as a result of the addition of sweet caramel in the milk chocolate. There was a comforting creaminess to it but the nuttiness was quite delicate and I would have liked a stronger pistachio flavour.
  • Kirsch Cherries° (replacing Cherry Deluxe)
    • The blurb: Whole pitted cherries soaked in kirsch and covered in layers of milk and dark chocolate.
    • Tasting: When it comes to boozy chocolates, Hotel Chocolat does not do things by half. In this cherry liqueur chocolate, it was the kirsch that dominated. It had a punchy aroma and a very strong initial kick, with a slight burn in the mouth. I found the liqueur overwhelmed much to the detriment of both the cherry and chocolate. I struggled to get any flavour out of the chocolate as the kirsch completely overpowered it.
  • 'Dizzy' Praline Chocolate°
    • The blurb: Smooth hazelnut praline in a milk chocolate shell.
    • Tasting: This is a classic in the Hotel Chocolat repertoire and is one of my favourites. It had a strong roasted hazelnut flavour complimented by a rich, smooth, and creamy milk chocolate. This was my favourite from this 'best of the best' selection.
  • Salted Caramel Milk Chocolate Slab°
    • The blurb: 40% caramel milk chocolate blended with caramel pieces and Maldon sea salt flakes.
    • Tasting: There was a definite crunch to this one thanks to the caramel pieces. It was sweet but not overly so, and there was a saltiness to it, but again, this was delicately balanced. I'm not a fan of salted caramel, but I could merrily chow down an entire slab of this. If, like me, you're not a salted caramel lover, give this one a whirl and you may become a convert. Let me know what you make of it in the comments below.
  • Trillionaire Shortbread°
    • The blurb: A richer Billionaire's Shortbread°, amped up with hazelnut praline and a butter caramel.
    • Tasting: This one featured a smooth caramel and a creamy chocolate, contrasted by the biscuity crunch. The flavour lingered long into the aftertaste. Be warned though, this one was heavy-going and I needed a lie-down after eating it!

DID YOU KNOW?
If you have a group of around half a dozen or more people, you can request your own private lock-in at your local store°. You'll need to speak to the in-store manager to arrange your private event, which is subject to minimum numbers and availability. It costs £10 per person (with £10 in-store credit), and you can express a preference over the type of chocolates your group tastes. It can be a fun and interesting way to celebrate a birthday, kick off a stag do or hen party, or be a useful experience if you and your friends want to shop for the perfect Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, or Christmas gifts in style.


Improvements

I understand that as this was one of six trial events to take place around the country, and the results have been collated. I expect the final proposition will be adjusted accordingly.

As it stands, I don't believe there's enough differentiation between the regular and birthday lock-ins to warrant the noticeable price difference.

There's a handful of adjustments I'd like to see:

  • I think the birthday boy or girl should receive something extra in their goody bag. It could be as simple as the next size up box of chocolates (e.g. a Sleekster instead of a H box), or an extra £10 voucher to use in store. A small token that nobody else in the group received would be a nice gesture.
  • The store really needs some birthday decorations. In our trial event, the manager purchased a helium balloon to at least differentiate the experience. Environmentally, I'd like to see some decorations that Hotel Chocolat stores could reuse at multiple birthday lock-ins to minimise unnecessary waste. Balloons aren't essential, but some reusable birthday banners that affix to the shelving would make a massive difference to the aesthetics.
  • There needs to be some extra value added to the event to differentiate it from the cheaper regular lock-ins. If there was something more exclusive about the birthday lock-in (be that extra samples, exclusive chocolates to taste, or chocolate-themed party games), I'd be more inclined to book such an event. Psychologically, the private lock-in appears far better value for money right now as it costs less and offers a remarkably similar experience (sans the goody bag).

I look forward to discovering what the final experience looks like, and feel very privileged having been involved in its refinement. I'd like to thank the wonderful staff at Hotel Chocolat in Bridgend for inviting me to be a part of the trial experience.

Would you book a grown-up birthday party at Hotel Chocolat? What would you like to see happen at such an event? Let me know in the comments below.

Disclosure: I was invited to take part in this trial event and received a sample birthday goody bag. I paid for my travel to and from the Bridgend store. I was not asked for a review. My opinions are my own.

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