The British make really fabulous chocolates. Here's where to find the best choccies in the UK.
Chocolates are a classic holiday present. Whether you're shopping for Christmas, Valentine's Day or a special occasion just remember this is one category of gift where it isn't only the thought that counts. If all you could think of was a box of choccies from the supermarket or the gas station - well, after thoughts don't really count.
This list will steer you to some of the best chocolate makers in Britain. A cellophane and ribbon wrapped or moire silk-dressed box from one of these shows that on the scale of thoughts that count, you are most definitely a heavy thinker.
Though most of the shops in this list are in London or the southeast of England, Scotland - which is experiencing a chocolate Renaissance - is also represented. Some of these chocolatiers have branches outside of the capital, most will take online or telephone orders and some will even ship to the USA.
- London's Oldest and a Royal Favorite - Charbonnel et Walker have been trading from the same tiny shop on Old Bond Street since 1875. Founded by a Mme Lévy (née Charbonnel) who trained at a famous Paris chocolatier, and Mrs. Minnie Walker, the shop's distinctive gold-banded boxes and coffrets are familiar to chocolate lovers worldwide. The two ladies had been encouraged to join forces by that notorious womaniser, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. We wonder if his mistress Lillie Langtry liked the exquisite marc de champagne truffles they still sell. They hold a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty the Queen. Charbonnel et Walker,One The Royal Arcade, 28 Old Bond Street London W1S 4BT, +44 (0)20 7318 2075, website , also other London branches and Leeds Victoria Quarter.
- Willy Wonka's Inspiration? - Roald Dahl was a fan of Prestat. The shop, now tucked away in a historic Piccadilly arcade began in London's Oxford Street in 1902. It has held a Royal Warrant from the Queen since 1975. Known for bright colored packaging and unusual flavors - orange and cardamom chai thins, black forest gateau or London gin truffles - they also use recipes that date back to the 18th century. The founder of the business, Antoine Dufour, came from a French family who created the first chocolate truffles in Chambery in 1895. The current owners discovered a locked room in the basement with a treasure trove of original, period packaging, some of which is now used or has influenced the style and garish colors of the present. Prestat, 14 Princes Arcade, Piccadilly, London SW1Y 6DS, 44(0)20 7629 4838, website .
- Eccentric Surprises - Rococo Chocolates, with branches around London and in Chester, was founded more than 30 years ago by Chantal Coady, also a founder member of the Academy of Chocolate. In July 2014 she received the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen's Honours List for services to charities and also for completely changing the way that chocolate is viewed in Britain. Rococo co-owns a chocolate plantation in Grenada. According to popular story, her punk roots resulted in her being fired from the chocolate department at Harrods when she dyed her hair green. The King's Road shop, the first and our favorite, is packed with goodies wrapped with colored ribbons and the shop's signature blue and white paper. Standouts are dark chocolate bars flavored with chilli, basil and Persian lime, thyme, rose, Moroccan mint and a seasonally changing variety (gold, frankincense and myrrh for Christmas). It's one of the few places in London where you can consistently buy chocolate covered stem cherries in cognac, and their soft nougat, studded with nuts or candied fruits, is to die for. And don't even let's get started on their candied orange slices dipped in dark chocolate. Rococo Chocolates, 15 Moxon Street St, London W1, +44 (0)20 7935 7780, and 321 King's Road, London SW3, +44 (0)20 7352 5857. Check out their website and read their blog.
- Artists in Chocolate - Artisan du Chocolat on Lower Sloane Street, between Chelsea and Belgravia in London, offers handmade chocs made from single plantation chocolate beans, fresh cream, butter, spices, herbs and even flowers. Fancy banana and thyme flavor, or tobacco? They claim credit for inventing salted caramels while making chocolates for Gordon Ramsey's restaurant at Claridges. Very special and very delicious. And their latest wrinkle is chocolate that's so good for you you're supposed to subscribe monthly to use it as a nutritional supplement. Okaaay. Artisan du Chocolat, 89 Lower Sloane Street, London SW1 8DA, +44(0)20 7824 8365, website . Also branches in Notting Hill, Selfridges, Borough Market, Dublin, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
- Arty Flash - Choccywoccydoodah - you've seen the television series (on Watch TV in the UK), now buy some sweeties. This very eccentric flash mob of bakers and chocolatiers are artists and designers first. From their start in the Lanes of Brighton, they've moved on to Carnaby Street, creating wild, bespoke creations, gorgeous (or sometimes very naughty) cakes and chocolates. For a Valentine - perhaps a pair of handmade white chocolate love birds, some pretty pink rose turkish delight or a stack of multi-colored Giant Jazzies (chocolate disks with colored sprinkles). Visit them at their London flagship - 30-32 Fouberts Place, Carnaby, London W1F 7PS, +44 (0)207 734 9713 or their original location, the Brighton Mothership - 3 Meeting House Lane , Brighton , BN1 1HB, +44 (0)1273 329462, or read all about them on their website.
- Watch your treats being made - At Melt. Their shops in Notting Hill and Holland Park have open kitchens where you can watch the chocolatiers make some of their signature treats, like crispy sea-salted chocolate feuillantines and passion fruit and mango squares. The chocolates are luxurious and so fresh they should be eaten in 10 days. They deliver and they run classes too. 59 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill, London W11 2AA, +44 (0)207 727 5030, or 6 Clarendon Road, Holland Park, London W11 3AA +44 (0)208 354 4504, website.
- Scottish Fantasies - Coco Chocolatier in Edinburgh, specialise in single origin dark and milk chocolate bars in the most extraordinary flavors - apple crumble, haggis spice, gin and tonic, rose and black pepper, caramel with hazelnut and sea salt, roast espresso. They also do colorful assortment boxes and thoroughly intoxicating liqueur cherries. Coco Bruntsfield, 174 Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh, EH10 4ER, +44 (0)131 228 4526 and Coco Stockbridge, 20 Reaburn Place, Stockbridge. Edinburgh, EH4 1HN, +44(0131 332 7029 , website.
- Champion Chocolatier - Ruth Hinks, who runs Cocoa Black, a school and a coffee shop beside the Tweed in Peebles, is UK World Chocolate Master 2013. She turns out beautiful boxed chocolates, single origin and plantation tasters and exquisite patisserie that's also available online. Try the chocolate fruit selection box, flavored with tropical fruit, banana and passionfruit, morello cherry, and cold pressed raspberries.Cocoa Black,1-3 Cuddybridge Peebles EH45 8HX, +44 (0)1721 723 764, website.
- Iain Burnett the Highland Chocolatier - Wonderful truffles and such treats as whole clementines and cherries enrobed in chocolate. Also suggested whisky pairings. Sold at his own locations - Legends of Grandtully in Perthshire and St Andrews as well as Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh. For the Queen's 90th birthday, he's produced an exclusive range of blackcurrant truffles made with blackcurrants from the Queen's own garden at Sandringham. Iain Burnett, Grandtully, Perthshire, PH9 0PL, +44 (0)1887 840775 and 145 South Street, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9UN, website.
- William Curley - Chocolatier and dessert bar. Some Japanese influences such as chocolate flavored with Japanese black vinegar. Available at Harrods or through the Online Boutique.
- Paul A Young , claimant to title of Best Sea-salted Caramel in the World gives sea-salted caramel classes in his Camden Passage, Islington Shop. Boutiques in Soho (143 Wardour Street, Soho, London W1F 8WA, +44 (0)20 7437 0011), Islington (33 Camden Passage, Islington, London N1 8EA, +44 (0)20 7424 5750), The City of London (20 The Royal Exchange, Threadneedle Street, London EC3V 3LP, +44 (0)20 7929 7007).
- Chococo - Fresh cream, handmade chocs from this award winning Dorset maker. A high level of visual artistry enhances these beautiful sweets flavored with local ingredients. We want the "Love Pod", a large chocolate pod filled with gorgeous chocolates. Chococo, Commercial Road, Swanage, Dorset BH19 1DF, +44 (0)1929 422748,152 High Street, Winchester, Hants SO23 9AY, +44 (0)1929 421777 and 22 Gandy Street, Exeter, Devon EX4 3LS. +44 (0)1392 249 422.
- Montezumas - Another chocolatier with roots in Brighton's Lanes. A pair of lawyers who turned their travels in South America into a chocolate making passion, they now have six shops in the Southeast including the Brighton original and a shop in London's Spitalfields. A good choice for your dairy free or vegan Valentine, they have a big selection of dairy free chocolates. Montezumas, 15 Duke Street, Brighton BN1 1AH, +44 (0)1273 324 979,
51 Brushfield Street, Spitalfields, London E1 6AA, +44 (0)207 539 9208 and shops in Winchchester, Chichester, Kingston and Woking. They even make a chocolate lager! Check their website for details.
Charlotte Flowers - Simply shaped, very fresh chocolates filled with seasonal flavors or with sea-salted caramel. The easiest way to buy these chocolates is online, from the website. Or you can look for her regular market stalls at Perth Farmers Market, Aberfeldy Farmers Market and Logierait Country Market. Other seasonal market dates are posted here. Charlotte Flower Chocolates, The Old Schoolhouse, Acharn, Aberfeldy, PH15 2HS, +44 (0)1887 830307.
Oban Chocolate Company - This very Scottish company does lovely artisan bars and a selection of whisky chocolates that includes whisky barrels and cranachan truffles with whisky, honey, raspberries and toasted oatmeal. An acquired taste are their Marmite choccies. Online and overseas orders as well as the Oban shop and cafe in western Argyll. Oban Chocolate Company, 34 Corran Esplanade, Oban PA34 5PS, +44 (0)1631 566099 .