Having done chocolate tours of Melbourne and Wellington it seemed only right that I explore the chocolates available in my hometown. We're back in Christchurch pretty regularly and it's fair to say that I am reasonably familiar with the local options but I'll take any excuse to purchase the stuff. It is interesting trying different chocolates at the same time (I certainly wouldn't normally have all these different ones at once!) and if you're in Wellington next weekend it's been made easy for you - the inaugural New Zealand Chocolate Festival is on so they'll all be in the same place at once!
First on the Christchurch list was Theobroma, which is upstairs in Westfield Riccarton. Theobroma is a chain of stores, appearing in quite a few malls around the country (and in Australia and Malaysia), and I understand they have great hot chocolates. I was only after the boxed chocolates, though - it does always seem to be super busy, which is a great endorsement of the product but puts me off a wee bit, especially choosing a box of individual chocolates.
The chocolates at Theobroma (at their New Zealand stores at least) are made by Van H, which you may be familiar with under their own brand as well as under the Theobroma label. Van H made the chocolates which you could (and presumably will be able to again when it reopens) get from Ballantynes and I was a bit disappointed they were going to be precluded from my tour so was pleased that Theobroma could provide.
The chocolates are very nice - good quality chocolate and nice fillings - and err on the sweet side, which is fine by me but some dark chocolate fans might not be so happy. My top picks are the Baileys one (the white cone) and the hazelnut praline heart. All the chocolates are good, though none are exceptional and as the pricing is at the top end of the scale ($29.95 for 12) they wouldn't be my first choice. Not to be sniffed at but not top of the class - and they lose points for not securing the box closed, so that the lid fell off in transit and the chocolates got a bit beaten up.
The following day we headed off to Dunedin (we had planned to visit the other Christchurch chocolate shops before setting out, but the snow thwarted us), and though Ashburton isn't quite Christchurch it's not big enough to have its own chocolate tour and I figure it's close enough, so we stopped in at Bullrush Chocolates.
The store is really interesting - quite small but crammed full of all sorts of things, including 100% pure chocolate from Willie's Cacao (we were very tempted to get some but managed to refrain) and lots of fun memorabilia as well. We were focused on the chocolate cabinet, though, and selected an assortment to take home.
At $20 for a box of 12 this was the cheapest chocolate box, though most of the chocolates were solid with the flavour infused into the chocolate rather than the fussier filled variety, which probably explains the price difference. The flavours were all very good, though quite subtle and in some cases (such as with the raspberry wasabi) utterly delicious yet nearly impossible to identify the flavour. These are more serious, I guess - good dark chocolate with grown-up (yet playful) flavours, so if you're more a fan of the dark side these will suit you well.
The only negative was that despite being solid some of the chocolates were as thick as soft-centred chocolates, which made them hard to bite through. Plenty of people I know would solve that problem by popping the whole thing in their mouth at once, but if you aim to share perhaps arm yourself with a sharp knife and a chopping board! Overall very good, though, with different and interesting flavours to tantalise the tastebuds.
The third stop, after returning to Christchurch, was She Chocolat in Governors Bay. You might recall I went on their Chocolate Tour late last year, so I'm definitely familiar with their chocolates.
The location is stunning and the restaurant serves brunch and lunch so if you want to venture to Governors Bay you can make a day of it - if that's a bit far (or, like me, you don't enjoy driving over the hills!), they tend to have a stall at the Christchurch Farmers Market at Riccarton House on Saturday mornings, and pop up in various other places fairly frequently too.
I bought a pre-packaged box from She, because the selection was pretty close to what I would have chosen anyway, and I reckon these are the best chocolates in Christchurch. Every flavour seems well balanced and you can taste the thought and care that's gone into honing the fillings. "She" is white chocolate with a filling of raspberry and dark chocolate with rosewater, and I have to say though rosewater often seems a bit strange to me that this combination is great. "He" is a buttery caramel in dark chocolate and is swoon-worthy. Other notables are the salty Velvetine and the lime and black pepper chocolate - but they're all very good. The box of 12 is $30 and I think well worth it - I would possibly fall in love with anyone bestowing a box of these on me (don't tell Mr Cake) (maybe I overstated that a little, but now you know how to get in my good books!).
Last but definitely not least is De Spa, based in Ferrymead. De Spa is the longest-established fancy chocolate purveyor in Christchurch - they've been there since 1992 and I remember as a kid eyeing up a box Dad had bought Mum for some occasion and wishing they were all mine. ;-)
Ferrymead is an area that was hit pretty badly by the February 22 earthquake, and damage is very evident driving out there - the road is full of potholes, there's a bit of a detour down Ferry Road, and many of the buildings are red- or orange-stickered. De Spa fortunately is still operational, though they lost a ton and a half of chocolate on that dreadful day, but due to other buildings nearby needing demolition and complicated regulations to do with flood plains and the like there is a rebuild on the horizon. I'm sure the flow of chocolate will not cease, though - Philippe De Spa and his team will see to that!
The range of chocolates De Spa offer is huge, and it took me a while to choose my twelve. Quite a few of the chocolates have boozy fillings, which I'm not such a fan of, so that helped whittle down the choice and I got there in the end (sometimes I'm not very good at making these sorts of important decisions!). The box was $24, which is pretty good for these kind of chocolates, especially all prettied up.
The chocolates were good - the Amaretto one (my token liqueur choice) was quite strong, and though I like Amaretto was still a bit much for me. The gianduja and orange cream were both good - in both cases I chose a similar-but-different version of the same flavour (hazelnut truffle and orange heaven) and found the aforementioned ones to be my preferred option. My top picks were the honey truffle and the vanilla cream - both very sweet and very enjoyable, the honey with a strong, true honey flavour, and the vanilla cream with layers of white, milk and dark chocolate encasing the soft vanilla centre.
De Spa is good value, and there are so many chocolates in the range there's something for everyone. Their chocolate is also available in quite a few places around the country, so you don't have to be in Christchurch to get a fix - see their website for details.
I understand Bullrush, She and De Spa will be represented at the Chocolate Festival, along with lots of others, so if you haven't scoped that out yet and you're a Wellington-based chocoholic I recommend you investigate - tickets are $20 and it sounds like a good chocolatey day out. Are you thinking of going?
Have I missed any great Christchurch/Canterbury chocolatiers?
Theobroma, Bullrush, She Chocolat, and De Spa are in various locations around Canterbury - see the websites for locations and stockists.