Life’s busy in London. Between your inhumane commute, 40-hour working week forever creeping upwards, and a social calendar that demands table tennis in Shoreditch and art galleries in Kensington on a weekly basis, there’s hardly any time for life’s essentials. Shopping has become something you do on your way elsewhere, depending on which stores you happen to spot during your journey.
This ‘hectic lifestyle’ cliché helps to explain another modern trend – the rise of subscription services. Knowing that so many city dwellers are desperately short of time, businesses have rushed to develop handy ‘clubs’ for both the daily essentials and the little treats delivered to the doorstep. You can now subscribe to everything, from wine to lingerie, through a dedicated service.
Chocolate is no exception. There are so many competing firms that offer boxes of chocolate through your door every month, telling them apart can be difficult. Here are three of the best:
Montezuma exemplifies the best traits of the new chocolatiers. Founded by husband and wife team Helen and Simon Pattinson, Montezuma’s Chocolate Club gives you a different selection of hand-crafted treats every month. There’s 600g of chocolate in total, most of it in thick slabs, with handfuls of individual chocolates making up the rest. It’s £19.99 per month, including delivery. The heftiness of the chocolate slabs is satisfying. My box, themed for Easter, features a milk chocolate ‘Hot Cross Bun’ flavoured bar filled with orange zest and raisins, decorated with a big white cross. My initial scepticism is overcome: the freshness of the orange shines through the milk chocolate, which is of a very decent quality. The dark chocolate and pecan bar is another winner, with 70% cocoa solids and whole pecan nuts. The only disappointment is the white chocolate and cranberry, the flavour of which is too flat with a one-note sweetness. All in all, an impressive selection.
Cocoa Boutique eschews bars in favour of individual chocolate treats, specially crafted by chocolate masters and artisans. In each box is a leaflet, introducing you to each chocolatier whose creations appear within. It’s a crafty touch which adds prestige and character to the chocolates, reminding you that this is handmade chocolate, rather than industrially produced stuff. There’s a real sense of creativity in the chocolates, reflecting the cosmopolitanism of the chocolatiers behind the sweets.
In my box, there’s a zabaglione truffle, made from whipped egg yolks, Marsala and milk chocolate, the vanille-mohn truffle egg with poppy seeds and dark chocolate, and an outrageous incarnation of salted caramel, which might be the best of an excellent bunch. Personality and experimentation lift Cocoa Boutique’s selection to the top; a memorable array of classics and new twists from artisans around the world. Barry Colenso, the master chocolatier, has made chocolates for the Queen, created a 390kg chocolate billboard and was Head Patisserie Chef at The Savoy. There’s a cute scoring system as well, so you can let them know what you liked best. And given that every single one is crafted especially for Cocoa Boutique, you can’t get these chocolates anywhere else. It’s £19.95 a month for 300g – you get less quantity for your money, but the quality is flawless.
Hotel Chocolat is so well established now that it’s hard to remember that it was once the challenger brand to dominant Thorntons. Their Tasting Club has been a huge success, now boasting over 100,000 members. Unlike Montezuma or Cocoa Boutique, you can choose which ‘type’ of chocolate selection to receive – dark, alcohol-free, and so on, with the assortment of individual chocolates changing each month. My selection is decent, but not as daring as the others: instead you’ll find old favourites updated with little twists. The Billionaire’s Shortbread enhances the popular dessert which inspired it by adding hazelnut praline and shortbread cookie to the caramel and chocolate. A Champagne Truffle unites white chocolate with cream. And there’s plenty of pure chocolate on offer too, courtesy of the Ghanaian 85% Dark Chocolate Batons. It’s a solid selection, with the quality you’d expect from a brand that associates itself with luxury. At £22.95 for 350g it’s the most expensive of the lot, giving Montezuma’s and Cocoa Boutique the edge in terms of value for money.