Some people enjoy monotony. They’re never happier than having one day the same as the last. If their favourite selection box doesn’t have the exact same chocolates in the same order as the previous then they’ll be straight on to the internet to find when their MP’s next surgery is. Change and the unusual are bad and should be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, there are thrill-seekers willing to try anything once. If you’re this kind of person then you should head down to one of three Paul A. Young shops in London and see if you’re adventurous enough to try Roquefort, walnut and Thames honey chocolates; or may be a cigar leaf caramel; salt and pepper marzipan or even red onion and ginger conserve with balsamic vinegar ones. I hope you are, because they’re just damn gorgeous.
Before I lose all of you with “classic” tastes, Paul does make the most wonderful caramels and truffles with more traditional flavours. However for those of you interested to see how these unusual ingredients come together then read on.
At the top-left of the box sat the Bloomsbury prairie chili, and with a mild dose of OCD I felt compelled to start there. Much the chilli chocolate I’ve recently reviewed could easily be declared as weapons of mass destruction – as they could burn a hole in even the toughest of throats. These, however, could easily be labelled as ‘chocolates of mass seduction’ as they’re sweet and seductive as a lingering kiss on the back of the neck. Instead of any harshness it has more of a balsamic flavour with just a hint of the chilli coming through at the back of the mouth. I would have expected more of a sweetness of the mango to come through, but it seemed to lurk more in the background than come to the fore. The subtlety this chilli ganache gives it a more sophisticated feel than any other I’ve tried.
And now we take that turn into left-field with the red onion, ginger conserve and balsamic vinegar. Most of my childhood memories revolve around food, and one of the finest was a huge, thick cheese and chutney sandwich. But the pickle wasn’t any Branston affair – instead it was my mother’s red onion chutney. Although there have been many years passed since then I regularly have a jar of caramelised onion in the fridge I’ll liberally spread over door wedges of extra mature Cheddar cheese. Also a favourite is ginger – which I can consume in vast quantities. Combining those ingredients with balsamic vinegar was sure to be a winner.
The aroma brought those pre-teen culinary memories flooding back. It was acidic but with a roundness and slight fruity tone. The flavour was like rolling around in an onion field – the flavours were bombarding me from all angles. During part of the experience my mind was focused on the ginger texture and then the earthiness of the chocolate shell and then the balsamic vinegar. Thinking about it, it must be like standing in the middle of Oxford Circus with all the sights, sounds and aromas dashing around you whilst you’re looking for your way out. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But for many more traditionally-minded people it may a step too far away from the traditional notion of “chocolate”.
It seemed wise to bring my taste-buds into some sort of equilibrium by trying the classic truffle. What a stupid notion that was. After completely demolishing it I found it dark, rich, robust and boozy (although it’s alcohol free). Thoughts of late night Soho came to mind. Even though I don’t think it was intended to be so intense, it served as jolt to the system and a palette cleanser too. Those dark chocolate flavours and the acidity within lingered for seemingly a lifetime. Little flecks of the chocolate find themselves being lodged around your mouth and then decide it’s time to dispatch their load of flavour. Cunning little blighters.
Again, having been fascinated by food in my pre-teen years I graduated to actually working with food in my post-adolescence. For next to nothing I worked in a fairly decent restaurant – washing dishes. Being close to food was more than enough compensation for the long hours and low pay. One of the tasks was to be clean all the sticky utensils uses in the making of banofee pies. As a result the aroma and thought of toffee and condensed milk fills me with horror.
Paul and I disagree here, I love the flavour of cooked banana, and seeing as it’s wrapped in fine chocolate I felt able to try it. And, boy, is it good‽ Aroma-wise there’s some good acidity, the texture has some small crunch and some sublime smoothness whilst the balance of the banana, cream and toffee makes it sweet but not in a faux supermarket-bought kind of way. There’s a heap more sophistication than that. There’s a touch bitterness that mitigates the toffee and brings it more into the adult realm of chocolates.
This Marie truffle was forceful, slightly acidic in a natural salty manner and is a bit of a slap around the chops when I just expected something sanguine and inoffensive. It might look unsuspecting but it’s a belter. Those of you who love high cocoa solids chocolate will love this as it’s got all the characteristics of a Mast Brothers Black Truffle bar. As you bight in, the flavour shoots up your tongue to the back of your mouth and then up the sides of your cheeks. Your mouth is left paralysed with flavour which wanes after a while. I’m thinking that this isn’t the Marie truffle (as instructed) but is actually an XO Marmite one as it has that direct, “get stuck in”, yeast flavour.
And the salt and pepper marzipan is ****in amazing. I loved how as I bit in I pictured irregularly-shaped salt crystals in my head. That salty flavour is more deep and flavoursome than any salt you’ll find in the shops – it has more character and warmth. The pepper bridges the gap between the salt and the marzipan which just flickers with a touch of spice before that heavenly marzipan takes over. As that subsides the beautiful thick chocolate becomes prominent – delivering some sweet, creamy tones as it melts. I really did love this one, but I am a sucker of good quality marzipan.
The Roquefort, walnut and Thames honey ganache was next. These sort of flavours are very much 17th century ones, although, with a less local cheese. To the nose the walnut dominates, you can’t actually pick up much of the Roquefort and certainly not the honey. But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’d be an non-event. My ability to pick out the Roquefort flavour may have been hampered by the saltiness of the previous, but I can still isolate the creamy and unusual flavour of the cheese along-side the honey and the milk chocolate. To my mind, I see honey and Roquefort as having similar flavour profiles as much of both of them have a round, wholesome characteristic with top-notes that stand out – either the salt or the fructose in the honey. Perhaps I preferred some of the others but the textures with the crushed walnuts juxtaposed with the Roquefort was delightful.
The orange martini has a strong aroma of grape seeds tempered only by the mildest orange tone. But oh my God the creamy texture along the boozy orange is just sublime. It hits you as you bite in. It then lulls you into a slight sense of security as it gently subsides and the flavours come bouncing back. Again the sweetness is mitigated by the fine chocolate dome which heaps more elegance into the mix.
Lastly I had the tobacco leaf caramel which seemed to melt into nothing quickly in my mouth but deliver the most amazing, curious flavour that seemed heaven-sent. The Brazilian chocolate which encased the caramel didn’t really get much of a look-in as it almost acted in a chilli, acidic way. Certainly don’t expect anything soft and “old man in a jumper and slippers” like Old Holborn, this is brusquer than that. Again, it didn’t appeal as much as the fruity ones, but still pleasurable nonetheless.
This box full of ganaches, truffles and caramels is like walking through an art gallery with an eclectic range styles and genres on display. Here we have modern, post-modern, classic and pop art. However, all artists, whether they perform with the brush or the dipping fork should be allowed to express themselves in different manners. Henri Matisse had the dark “View of Notre Dame“, the simplistic “Blue Nudes“, and the puzzling “The Snail” and the chocolates chosen for me in this selection box represent an artist with the freedom to express himself and a desire not to restrict his creations to the “accepted” norm.
Life should certainly be like a proverbial box of chocolates, but one with full of adventure and intrigue. Those willing to open themselves up to the wonder and variety the world has to offer will be reward with fine experiences. Step out of your comfort zone and try something different. You won’t regret it.