When we went to Melbourne in March one of my top priorities was scoping out the chocolate shops and doing a completely necessary taste-test of their wares. On returning home I realised we have a few pretty good chocolate options on our doorstep, so embarked on a similar venture here. Well, clearly I had to wait a little while to recover from the chocolate-induced coma, but I've bounced right back so here goes round two.
Stop number one on the tour is L'affaire au Chocolate, tucked away in Berhampore. Unassuming, but the aroma of chocolate hits you as you walk in the door, and the ever-helpful Jo will tell you all you could ever want to know. She gave us samples of some amazing French chocolates, with different origins and bean quality/grade, and it was very interesting to see how this changed the tasting experience, the melting speed varies and texture and flavour differed too. We've tried chocolate from various regions before, with our Michel Cluizel sampler box - a great DIY experience and you can get the boxes online from Aji if you want to give it a go, but the grades of bean were new to us - they were distinctive, though I would struggle to tell the difference if I wasn't having them back to back. I guess I need to eat more chocolate so my tastebuds learn! ;-)
The chocolates were wonderful - the chocolate itself was wonderful, and they were very rich, very smooth. The ginger one had a creamy, dark filling and the ginger was strong - just how I like it. The honey flavour was also lovely, and again the flavour came through very well. The chilli one was quite potent - good, but not for the faint-hearted (Mr Cake loved it)! Very good chocolates, distinctive flavours (but well balanced) - well worth seeking out. If Berhampore isn't so handy to you you can also pick these up at Kirkcaldie & Stains.
Bohemien have two shops - the original is in Hataitai, but my regular haunt is the one on Featherston Street (Moore Wilson Fresh also stock the chocolates). This time we visited Hataitai, where if you're lucky you'll get to chat to George, the owner (he's great, we attended a workshop run by him last year, and he runs group classes from the Hataitai kitchen from time to time, so if you want the full chocolate experience give him a call).
The chocolates are always great here (as are the macarons), and at $1.50 each they're cheaper than most boutique chocolates. Bohemien means "fresh" and the chocolates are fresh and the flavours are very true - no artificial flavourings in use here. My all-time favourite is the sea salt caramel, and the passionfruit caramel is another noteworthy specimen, but I am yet to try a flavour I don't like (and I have tried almost all of them!). A bonus here is that many of the chocolates are made in both milk and dark varieties, so you can pick whichever you prefer - great for milk-chocolate lovers like myself.
I also quite like the presentation - a little different from the norm, which makes them distinctive, and also perfectly proportioned for sharing, so you get to try all the flavours if you have a willing partner in crime - well, if you're willing to share at all. ;-)
The third stop on my tour was the more commercial Butlers - this is an Irish brand, and the Willis Street store was the first outside of Ireland to open. Oddly, they don't allow photos of the chocolates in the shop, though the staff were perfectly friendly and helpful. The chocolates themselves aren't bad, but when compared with the alternatives (and with Bohemien being slightly cheaper, even) I would definitely veer towards one of the others. They were quite sugary and clearly not fresh - perhaps I was spoiled by eating the others first. Sorry, Butlers! I have heard they serve a good hot chocolate...
Last but not least I stopped in at the Esque stall at The City Market. Esque don't have a store, but you can make contact via the website and they are at the market most Sundays. Their range consists of tablets in a variety of inspiring flavours - beautifully presented, simple and chic, and each hosts a French phrase and a description of the chocolate. I purchased an almond praline tablet - apparently this was a flavour chocolatier Annette produced as an Easter egg this year, and customers enjoyed it so much she has made it one of her regular flavours - and received a salted chocolate bar free.
The chocolate is dark, but not too dark for my easily-overwhelmed tastebuds - a nice 58% - and clearly of high quality - this is great treat chocolate. The almond flavour is lovely, not as nutty as I had imagined but this wasn't a negative - it was subtle and lovely, a wee bit of sweet, nutty crunch when the chocolate has melted away. The salt flavour really won me over, though - I do adore salt, and have long been a fan of salted caramel anything, but just salt and chocolate - I'm not sure that I've encountered that before. It works fabulously, though - adds an extra layer of flavour for your tastebuds to play with. The chocolate was perfectly smooth, so though I knew the flavour when I tried it the salt surprised my mouth - I definitely recommend giving this a try!
I did also want to pick up some Schoc chocolates - the Schoc kitchen is in Greytown, which is a little too far even for me to go just for chocolate, but Ciocco, which is visible from our apartment building, and used to be my go-to Schoc stop, has done something strange with its operating hours - they were closed before 4pm the day we tried to visit, despite the cited closing time of 5pm on the website. Schoc do make great chocolates, though definitely at the pricier end of the scale, so if you know where to get them they're worth a whirl - and if you're passing through Greytown the kitchen smells divine so stop in, even just to breathe the chocolatey air. ;-)
Wellington may be a relatively small city, but I reckon we give Melbourne a run for its money - perhaps there aren't as many chocolate shops but the local chocolatiers have high standards and there are some excellent options for the hardcore chocolate fan.
Wellingtonians, have I missed any favourite chocoholic haunts? What's your favourite chocolate shop? And can you bear to share them or do you hide them away to have all to yourself?
L'affaire au Chocolat, Bohemien, Butlers, Esque and Schoc are in various locations around Wellington - see the websites for locations and stockists.