Exposing London's sweet tooth

Who knew that one of London’s most eminent chocolatiers was allegedly a lover of King Edward VII or that marmite-flavoured chocolate actually works? These are just two snippets a salivating Jonny Payne found out on London's Chocolate Walking Tour through some of the city's most iconic streets.

The heady smell of coffee hits me as I open the door to the Algerian Coffee Stores (52 Old Compton Street), the tour group meeting point in the heart of London’s bustling Soho. I must have passed this place hundreds of times, but due to its modesty compared to its neighbours – one of London’s busiest gay pubs, an underwear shop and a fashionable juice bar – it had somehow gone unnoticed.

Becky, our guide, soon arrives and dishes out the first tasters: chocolate-covered coffee beans (£2.95 per pack). We eagerly dip into the packet of the white, milk and dark chocolate-coated beans. The bitterness of the chocolate and the crunchiness of the bean immediately tantalise the taste buds ahead of the two-and-a-half-hour tour around some of London’s best chocolate shops.


Hotel ChocolatChoose one of Hotel Chocolat's large slabs of chocolate
WTG / Jonny Payne

Our first stop is Hotel Chocolat (25 Old Compton Street). This gleaming shop is the opposite of the Algerian Coffee Stores, where shiny packaging replaces traditional jars and the displays are tidy instead of chaotic.

We head inside, before being handed some 40% cocoa chocolate that truly melts in the mouth. The cocoa is grown on the English company’s plantation in St Lucia, where there’s also a hotel – the perfect getaway for any self-respecting chocoholic.

What to buy: Rocky Road Giant Slab (£15). 10% discount with the tour.


Paul A. YoungSavour award-winning chocolates at Paul A. Young
WTG / Jonny Payne

Nearby, on the corner of Wardour and Broadwick Streets, a purple shopfront welcomes us with the words: ‘Award-winning chocolates handmade on the premises’. After a short introduction to Paul A. Young (143 Wardour Street) from Becky, who describes the chocolatier as “the Willy Wonka of London’s chocolate scene”, we squeeze excitedly inside.

The small shop has a large table in the middle with platters full of truffles. I move around studying the descriptions. One is made with cigar leaves, another with mulled wine spices, while surely the most unusual is a marmite and dark chocolate blend – definitely one for the lovers rather than the haters of the yeast-based spread.

We’re each given a prize-winning sea salted caramel truffle, which is heavenly. The flow of salty and sweet caramel that oozes out after the first bite makes you want to break into the kitchen downstairs (where the truffles are made), steal the pot of golden gloop and take it home to bathe in. It really is that good.

What to buy: Sea Salt Caramel truffles (£2 each). 10% discount with the tour.


PrestatSqueeze into tiny Prestat in Princes Arcade
WTG / Jonny Payne

After a stroll along pretty Carnaby Street, a hurried walk across hectic Regent Street and a brief stop at Argentinean ice cream parlour Freggo (27-29 Swallow Street), we arrive on Piccadilly.

Just off this road that splits Mayfair and St James's is Prestat (14 Princes Arcade). Established in 1902 by Antoine Dufour – who is credited with bringing the chocolate truffle to London – Prestat is the living embodiment of a child’s dream chocolate shop, with bright blues, golds and purples giving the tiny shop a ‘toytown’ feel.

We try the Napoleon III truffle. Made using the original recipe, it’s very heavy and packs a real punch of cocoa with a rich flavour and a velvety texture. It’s a must try even if just to find out how most chocolates tasted in Edwardian times.

What to buy: 98-piece Jewel Box (£84) – the Queen’s preferred choice. 10% discount with the tour.


Fortnum and MasonAdmire the window displays at Fortnum & Mason
WTG / Jonny Payne

We head along Piccadilly to arguably the most iconically British of London’s food shops: Fortnum & Mason (181 Piccadilly). This jewel of a department store has served the city’s well-heeled for centuries – it’s a place where tweed-clad gentlemen mix with first-time visitors who can be seen gawking in awe at the shop’s sophistication.

After being astounded by the beautiful window displays, we head to the chocolate counter on the ground floor. Here, rows of truffles with very English flavours such as Eton mess or violet creams await. An inscription on the counter informs: “English chocolates: mouthfuls of English eccentricity”, just in case you were in any doubt of their origin.

What to buy: English Cream Truffles selection (made to 80-year-old recipes) (£20). No discount.


Charbonnel et WalkerTreat a loved one to Charbonnel et Walker truffles
WTG / Jonny Payne

After a brief look in the window at macaron maker Ladurée (71-72 Burlington Arcade), we reach our final stop at Charbonnel et Walker (1 The Royal Arcade) just off glamorous Bond Street.

Founded by Madame Charbonnel and Ms. Walker in 1875, the chocolatier has a royal connection stretching back to King Edward VII, whom it is said was Madame Charbonnel’s lover.

Its regal link continues to this day, with a royal warrant displayed on the window. The Queen apparently adores the violet and rose truffles, which we’re soon given to taste. The little chocolates topped with crystallised petals have a subtly perfumed centre that’s reminiscent of granny’s potpourri; the perfect fit for an octogenarian monarch.

What to buy: Pink Marc de Champagne Truffles (from £11.95). 10% discount with the tour.


Algerian Coffee Stores BottomTake time to explore Algerian Coffee Stores
WTG / Jonny Payne

Chocoholics of all ages, from those visiting London to Londoners looking for new inspiration.

The rest of my tour group is made up of three pairs of forty-something ladies, but there can be up to 20 people. I’m slightly surprised everyone in the group is from England, with all but two from London.


The full price of £30 is good value given the length of the tour and discounts in the shops. Overall, it’s a good introduction to London’s chocolate industry, covering both established confectioners and lesser-known vendors.


Whilst the guide was very knowledgeable, a goodie bag with further information and a ‘chocolate shop map’ highlighting other key confectioners would allow customers to explore further in their own time.

Paul A. Young makes chocolates on-site and also hosts chocolate-making workshops – even a quick glimpse of the chocolate-making process would add more variety to the tour.


Arrive 10 minutes early for enough time to explore the quirky Algerian Coffee Stores, it’s a real experience for the senses.

Unless you're aiming to buy something from each stop during the tour, opt for purchases from shops such as Paul A. Young, Freggo and Fortnum & Mason instead of those that can be found more widely throughout London.

RATING: 4 out of 5.

Starting Point: Algerian Coffee Stores, 52 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4PB.
Times: Thursdays to Sundays (12pm or 3pm).
Price: £30. Book through World Travel Guide.

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