Paul A Young has opened a new store in Soho.
This is good news.
Actually this is great news.
Actually this is bloody fantastic news!
Why? Because, for me, Soho is a lot more convenient than either his Islington Camden Passage or Bank locations. Which means more fabulous Paul A Young chocolate in my life! (OK, the only bit of not so good news is the impact this will have on my bank balance).
Paul's third store is right in the heart of Soho, towards the top end of Wardour Street.
It's more spacious than either of the other two locations, decorated in the same classy purple colour scheme, plus a feature wall of very pretty Cole & Son cocoa pod wallpaper. Big glass windows give plenty of light and the square shop space is furnished with some very beautiful hand-picked furniture including a huge, ornately carved church alter as a counter, a vast round table made from reclaimed elm wood, a white-painted Welsh dresser and a 19th century Parisian glass display unit. The only piece that isn't reclaimed is a black Ikea unit which Paul customised himself with some fancy gold paint and golden cocoa pods. And crowning it all is a gorgeous blown glass chandelier, made by London company roast designs– eat your heart out Chihuly, this is simply stunning!
The shop looks good.
Not least because Paul has decided to pare back the number of products on offer, making for a cleaner look and allowing the customer to focus more easily on what is there. He also plans to offer more seasonal chocolates than ever before.
For those who've visited the tiny kitchen in his Islington Camden Passage store, an even bigger change is hidden below in the form of a huge kitchen area with high ceilings, lots of storage space and even a space for staff coffee and lunch breaks. It sits below the chocolate shop but also extends below neighbouring stores too. Given how much Paul achieved in the smaller space, it's exciting to think what he will manage in this vast and shiny arena.
He's already promised tasting sessions, classes and demonstrations down there, which I'm very much looking forward to.
(First. In. Queue.)
Invited to the launch day, it was a pleasure to see Paul's (and partner James Cronin's) plans come to fruition, albeit some months later than originally planned, due to complications with the planning approval process. When work finally started, it took them just six weeks to convert the entire space, upstairs and downstairs. This was a bigger job than you might think given the derelict state of the basement - it had formerly been a nightclub and had nicotine stained walls, a collapsed archway and walls that crumbled to the touch!
And of course, we were also invited to try some of Paul's new seasonal collection.
A confession: I loved Paul's chocolates when I first tried them a couple of years ago, but in recent months, I'd had less consistent experiences. Some of the chocolates I'd tried during the last couple of visits I'd found too insipid, lacking the punch and sheer excitement that had drawn me in before.
To my delight, the new collection were full of flavour and exciting combinations and I fell head over heels with nearly every chocolate I tried.
There were lots of new flavours including Appleton Estate rum and golden raisin, St Germain liqueur with elder flower, coconut water and lemon grass, delicately dark raspberry… (all of which I really enjoyed) and a number of classics including the summery Pimm's cocktail, the sea salted caramel dome and the love it or hate it Marmite truffle. I was really impressed with the goats cheese, rosemary and lemon which is much more robust than previous incarnations thanks to Paul switching to a different goats cheese and goats milk. The new tomato, basil and olive oil chocolate (made with a tomato passata supplied by a fellow Soho trader) was intriguing; although tomato is a fruit it's still odd to experience flavours that are normally associated with savoury dishes in a sweet chocolate!
The huge summer pudding chocolates, featuring berry compote, basil, raspberry ganache and caramelised hazelnut pieces in a white chocolate shell inlaid with freeze dried raspberry, were deeply satisfying. Before you wonder just how greedy I was, can I point out that several of us shared one of these beauties!
The three chocolates I loved the best were passion fruit curd and coffee (such a naturally balanced pairing it's amazing it's not been discovered before), sea salted black sesame tahini (which had a gooey interior balanced against the roasted sesame crunchy topping) and the Kernel Brewery stout and dark muscovado (which was out-of-this-world delicious; who would ever have thought that I'd be choosing a beer-based chocolate as my top choice of the day?)
I grabbed a few moments of Paul's time for an impromptu interview. As always, no preparation in advance, so forgive me if the questions are a little disjointed. And, what can I say, I'm not a very steady camera woman!
Although we were given some samples to take away, I could not resist buying a couple of the Kernel Brewery stout and dark muscovado chocolates Pete and I both loved best.
To my delight, this resulted in my being the very first paying customer in the store, how cool is that? Well, I think it is, anyway!
Welcome to Soho, Paul!