I previously reviewed what is arguably the world's best chocolate brownie and at the same time I bought that I also bought a 16 piece box of assorted chocolate truffles.
On entering the store there's a few shelves around the perimeter of the store but the main focal point is a large circular table in the centre of the shop, with chocolate truffles adorning it. Unlike most other chocolatiers where the chocolates are kept locked behind glass cabinets the truffles in this store were on display, each flavour arranged in an ornate way. Flavour cards list each of the flavours and after reading one or two you quickly realise that these chocolates are exciting and unusual flavour combinations.
The only other store I have found that does "unusual" exceedingly well is The Chocolate Line in Bruges. It's so good I've been back a few times. The problem I have tough is twofold. Firstly there's no UK-delivery seemingly available and secondly travelling to Belgium and back for a box of chocolate seems somewhat extravagant. That's why I was really excited to try these chocolate truffles as I knew if they were right I've finally found a UK based source of inspirational chocolate truffle recipes.
Guided by Isabelle I filled up my box with 16 of a combination of the most outlandish flavour combinations I could find together with some classics. I may have only been in the shop for a few minutes but by the end of it I felt like she was my best friend, offering advice on which truffles were popular, which were her favourites, etc. When you are paying the equivalent of around £1.62 a chocolate you expect an experience around the chocolate as well as the chocolate itself. At this store I wasn't short changed. From the high quality box itself (wrapped with a gorgeous ribbon) to the friendly and insightful customer service, right through to even the luxurious card bag with corded handles and the tissue paper to keep everything safe, you definitely get good value here.
When I got home I was desperate to review them and over the course of a couple of days I sampled the lot. Instinct says that you should stretch out the truffles to make them last as long as possible but these are all fresh chocolate made without preservatives. As such they really ought to be eaten within a week or so to enjoy them at their best.
The box is made from very thick and sturdy card, and opens like a book revealing a tale of mystery and excitement to the beholder. Each truffle sits in an individual purple paper case. The only slight disappointment was that there was no flavour card included. I appreciate that flavours change regularly and it doesn't make sense to produce an insert that is out of date. There's nothing more annoying than a card that shows completely different flavours to the ones you have in your box. One workaround perhaps would be to have a list of flavours online as a reference point (as in this example). It's only a small niggle but sometimes it's easier to distinguish flavours when you know what truffle you are tasting.
My memory isn't the best and together with the excitement and theatre of the store I forgot which truffle was which. Thankfully after a quick email to the Paul A Young team they emailed me back a list of flavour names so I had something to work off. Without further ado here's a list of the chocolates I picked and what I thought of them.
Limoncello & Cucumber
When I visited Venice it was amazing to see how many shops were crammed with Limoncello on display. This name of the truffle instantly transported me to Italy though upon tasting it's actually the cucumber that speaks loudest to me. It's an unusual combination that plays on the citrus lemon tones blended with the fresh cucumber tones. In my mind it's an unusual combination but I think it works, resulting in a refreshing flavour complimented by the smooth chocolate. I also think the intricate decoration on the top of the truffle chocolate shell is pretty too.
Goats Cheese with Lemon and Rosemary
I normally think of goats cheese pairing with red onion and a pastry case but I've never thought of pairing it with lemon and rosemary. Goats cheese often has a distinctive, almost bitter, taste but in this truffle it's very creamy and decadent. The lemon is quite pronounced with the rosemary acting as a supporting act, singing away quietly in the background. The rosemary is more of a hint than a main flavour and it works very well to enhance the other flavours.
I love a good Bakewell Tart so expected great things here. The filling was jammy, and the almond coating offered a contrasting crunch. I perhaps would have liked to taste more almond but less of the crunch. It was delicious nevertheless.
Black Pudding with Rye and Sourdough
This savoury treat was perhaps the most unusual of all the truffles I sampled. I've tried a bacon chocolate truffle before and wasn't overly enamoured with that. With an open mind I bit in and found it to actually be very tasty. It's got a very meaty mouth feel with a slight crunch to it. It's not sweet at all but in the same context it's not too savoury. It's perhaps a very bold and brave combination to pull off but I think Paul A Young have managed to achieve this very well. Despite my disappointing bacon chocolate experience I'd definitely give it a go if it came from the same kitchen that devised this bonkers-but-delicious black pudding truffle.
Yorkshire Tea and Biscuit
If you've read this far you may well be thinking to yourself that you need a cup of tea right now to keep on going!
I drink a lot of tea (general builders tea, nothing fancy) but when it comes to drink inspired chocolates I'm a coffee man. In a pack of Revels I hunt the coffee ones down. In a selection box at Christmas I save the best until last (though coffee chocolates are becoming a rare breed). The arch-nemesis to the coffee truffle has to be one made with tea. I really didn't know what to expect with this one and tucked in with an open mind. The crunch of the biscuits is most noticeable with the actual taste of tea being very light indeed. Had I not known it was tea flavoured I perhaps wouldn't have been able to tell, opting for a Christmas truffle. Why? Well, it has a very festive flavour to it. Almost a winter spice type flavour to it. Judging by the rest of the box I really can't wait to get my hands on a batch of festive treats from Paul.
This one I would class as a safe flavour. Even so it had a very powerful flavour. The centre was very creamy with a caramel tone but the main flavour was of banana. And not of fake banana or processed banana but fresh banana, as if you'd peeled on and just taken a bite. Together with the caramel you definitely sense the Banoffee Pie that was intended.
Szechuan and Lemongrass
I very much prepared myself for quite a fiery truffle with this one but was pleasantly surprised. The firm texture delivered a powerful lemon-grass flavour to begin with which felt vibrant before making way for what tasted like a very subtle pepper taste. This lingered for a short while but there wasn't a fiery heat at all, just a pair of cleverly balanced flavours.
Scone, Jam and Clotted Cream
To review this one I'd probably suggest you go and get yourself a fresh baked scone, slather it with jam, then with lashings of clotted cream (not the other way around!) and then enjoy, making a good 'ol mess. Either than or eat this ball of amazing flavour that compresses all of that into one bite. It instantly took me back to a cafe on Sunday morning in Padstow overlooking the harbour whilst enjoying the very same treat.
For years they've been looking into how to make compact yet tasty treats for space explorer folk. Clearly none of them have visited this shop!
Blackberry and Elderflower Pimms
Blackberry and elderflower reminds me of an autumnal hedgerow so as we've just entered September and officially Autumn this seemed like a very appropriate choice. I wasn't too keen on this truffle as whilst the initial flavour was fresh and floral, it lead to an acidic after-taste with a very slight burn from the alcohol. For me I thought the fruity floral flavour was cut dead with the acidic after-taste rather than a gently choreographed switch between the two.
Peanut Butter and Jelly
I've been to America a couple of times although I can't afford to go back for a while. So in the meantime my addiction is being fed through some stockists of American Foods in the UK. There is one American dish that I've never been able to get my head around and that's Peanut Butter and Jelly. A PB&J sandwich just sounds so wrong so I was intrigued to see what this really tasted like. The truffle leads with a strong raspberry jam that seems to dominate all other flavours. then slowly but surely a subtle peanut taste comes through. It's an interesting pairing though even after tasting this legendary dish in chocolate form I'm still not sure what to make of the humble PB&J sandwich.
When I go out for a meal I always opt for a chocolate dessert. But occasionally it's a slice of Blackforest Gateau that has my name all over it. Chocolate, cherries, cream - what's not to love? The cherry flavour is what is most noticeable with this particular truffle, although it does lead to a slight acidic flavour and I'm pretty sure a detected a slight drop of booze in there. I could be wrong but I'm sure I picked up something, perhaps to enhance the cherry and chocolate flavours?
One word: intense. The moment you bit into it the aroma of passion fruit takes over. It's a very safe truffle and very simple but it is done exceedingly well.
Mango and Lime
When listing pairs of fruit that work well together I wouldn't have paired mango and lime. But this ingenious combination really works very well. Initially there's an overpowering bursty of mango but the zesty lime cuts through this on the after taste. It's a flavour that has been very cleverly paired together to produce a tiered flavour effect and it's delicious too. It's a nice, bright, summery and zingy tropical flavour.
Billingtons Triple Sweet
I was in two minds if this was named after the puppy or the sugar but sided on the latter. I can only guess that this uses three different types of sugar and the result was an incredibly sweet truffle, sickly sweet in fact. The overriding flavour was a dark treacly flavour which whilst it was pleasant detracted from the chocolate itself. Overall I found this one a very clever concept but too sweet for me.
They say that every day is a school day and I pleaded ignorance on this one. Kalamansi it transpires is also known as Calamondin and has an aroma of tangerine with a sour taste. Lesson learnt I tucked in. I could detect sweet and fruity flavours with no hint of bitterness or sourness. It wasn't an easily distinguishable flavour so "fruity" does sum it up quite well. It was very fresh and very pleasant
I saved the most controversial one until last. The advert says you either love it or hate it and I wonder whether the shop staff see that very reaction from customers. Being broad minded I tried it. I'm in the "I like Marmite but not too much of it camp" which contradicts the advert entirely! This chocolate truffle was really pleasant though. It had a distinctive Marmite flavour but it was mild. I expected an overpowering wallop of Marmite flavour but instead was treated to what was quite mellow and well executed. better still the chocolate helped to minimise the after-taste so you're not left with a Marmite taste on your palette.
Overall I am so chuffed I discovered the Paul A Young store. The in-store experience is everything you could want from a chocolate shop and the taste sensation is spot on. The flavour combinations are a mix of traditional and safe combinations together with outlandish and brave concepts. The only thing I could fault in the entire experience is the lack of flavour card though I'm pretty sure if you as particular about chocolates as I am and you email the Paul A Young team a photo of your box they would bend over backwards to help identify which is which.
I love the way that each flavour has been developed on the basis of levels. Most of them use a couple of levels whereby the first flavour is the most dominant, like an opera singer and then the secondary flavour harks up as a background choir. This is simply genius and must take some skill to develop the flavours as such. I certainly doth my cap to the development team who seemingly have strived for (and achieved) perfection.
Without a shadow of a doubt I would definitely buy another box of assorted truffles again, and would even consider a subscription if one were available. At £26 for 16 truffles it is a bit pricey but you are paying for an experience together with quality and a set of ingenious flavour combinations. This is most certainly not your average chocolate box and cannot be compared.
Disclosure: I paid £26 for a 16 piece box from the London Soho Paul A Young store and wasn’t asked for a review.