As I planned my chocolate tour of London, I knew that a visit to Paul A. Young's Soho store on Wardour Street was a must. I visit every time I head to London to taste inspired and highly creative chocolate recipes, such as Caramelised Cheese and Rye Bread or his infamous Marmite Truffle.
Then, I discovered the branch had closed down. His website states "for the foreseeable future". Thankfully, though, the chocolatier still has an outlet in Islington, so I made a trip to Camden Passage to stock up on his festive flavours for 2021.
In estate agent speak, the Islington shop is quaint, intimate, and cosy, with barely room to move around. It boasts plenty of charm but not much in the way of space. Even so, the store has been fitted out so that chocolate lines the walls of any available space, with a counter of fresh loose chocolates taking pride of place at eye level as you walk through the door.
Paul A. Young has a reputation for creating culinary wizardry, fusing ingredients together in chocolate that you wouldn't find elsewhere, like his Grilled Cheese Marmite Toast chocolate, or his Christmas Dinner chocolate, hiding a rosemary, sage, and thyme and beef dripping-infused sea salted caramel inside a Firetree 75% Makira Solomon Islands shell and topping it with a crunchy beef dripping roast potato crumble .
However, perusing the counter, I was struck by the quantity of 'safe' flavours on offer this year. Think fruit and nut, or after dinner mints and you'll get the picture. There were only a couple of flavours that stood out to me, so I opted for the four-piece chocolate box instead of my usual 16-piece box.
The sturdy board box used for the larger selections is traded in for a dinky brown card box, with a simple Paul A. Young sticker on the front. A black ribbon is hand tied onto the box once your selection is complete. Whereas the 16-piece box packaging looks and feels decadent - and is something you'd readily give as a gift - the four-piece box looks fairly ordinary.
Paul A. Young 4 Piece Winter Collection Review
The box doesn't come with a menu card, and so the staff advise you to take photos (or make a written note) of what is in your box, should you wish to have this information to hand when you eat the chocolates later.
I chose the most unusual chocolate flavours available on the day, but even these flavours sounded very safe compared to Paul's track record. Staff in the store said the focus this year was on creating exceptional traditional recipes.
Black Spruce & Cloves
A rich dark chocolate aroma, laced with smokey and tobacco notes, and a pretty shimmery finish lured me in to biting my way through this chocolate dome. As I did, I discovered a ganache layered with a jelly top. This bonbon was dense, rich and satisfying, yielding floral, berry and fruity flavours along the way. The overall effect was quite subtle, though.
Spiced Mulled Benevolence Rum
As you would expect from a premium rum chocolate, the aroma was laced with alcoholic fragrance, with the dark chocolate shell adding smokey, tobacco notes into the mix. The smooth ganache inside was spiked with booze, serving up a powerful kick, although it stoped shy of the burn you'd normally expect to receive at the back of the throat from a quality rum. As it died down, the fruity notes from the dark chocolate worked their way through to the forefront, creating balance.
Creamy, vanilla and caramel notes emanated from this white chocolate number, The ganache inside was quite dry, with a subtle boozy flavour that wasn't overpowering. As the tipple kept at bay, it allowed the creamy vanilla notes and gentle spices to come through, serving up a gentle warming background instead.
Buttery caramel and ginger notes tempted me into this one, and once inside, I found a thick dark caramel. The flavour of fresh ginger rushed in as soon as I took a bite, along with its notoriously fiery kick. Meanwhile, the dark chocolate added richness and depth. The heat from the ginger lingered long into the aftertaste.
Paul A. Young 4 Piece Selection Box Review
RRP: £7.95 | Paul A. Young | Shop now
It's always a pleasure to visit a Paul A. Young store and see what zany creations the chocolate magician has conjured up. The winter 2021 collection wasn't as exciting or as creative as in previous years, with the traditional Christmas flavours on the menu this time around. While I enjoyed the chocolates, I did not uncover the usual wow factor I've experienced before from Paul's £2-a-piece chocolates.
Where to Buy Online
Right now, the Soho shop in Wardour Street is closed, so if you are heading to London, you'll need to head to Camden Passage in Islington to get your Paul A. Young fix. Alternatively, you can order your indulgences online here.
The staff tell me that Paul is on the lookout for larger premises in London, with plenty of space for his chocolate creations and room to host in-person live masterclasses. Fingers crossed this comes to fruition.
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Have you tried any items from Paul A. Young's winter range? Let me know your recommendations in the comments below.