DECEMBER 2019: We’ve added Le Café Alain Ducasse, an exclusive industrial-chic venue run in tandem with Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse boutique in Coal Drops Yard. Since we last went a-sipping, several of our fave hot choc spots have opened new branches: check out Ruby Violet in King’s Cross and Farm Girl on the fourth floor of Harvey Nicks.
From marshmallow-topped and cream-covered concoctions to seriously challenging brews (80 percent dark, anyone?), London has a selection of hot chocolates stupendous enough to warm anyone’s cockles in these winter months. We’ve tasted our way around the city’s finest chocolatiers and bijou cafés to find you the best.
The best hot chocolates in London
We’re sold on this gorgeous-looking Clerkenwell joint, with its low-key backstreet vibe, pretty plants and clever gluten-free cooking. Its hot chocolate is a good ‘un too: made with single-origin Peruvian cocoa and blossom. If you’re peckish, also order one of the excellent victoria sponges made with a secret gluten-free flour blend. Note that Aprés Food Co is now open in the evenings (Monday to Friday).
Billed as ‘adventurers in fine cocoa’ Gerard Coleman’s high-end boutiques take hot chocolate very seriously. There are gingerbread, mint, cinnamon and coffee-laced variations on offer, but plump for the artisan original: made with 70 percent Colombian chocolate cooked up with milk and cream, it’s smooth, rich and tastes a bit like Maltesers. Artisan du Chocolat also cuts it as a top-drawer purveyor of salted caramels, boozy truffles, honeycomb bites, filled thins, pistachio pearls and other delights – all made from ground beans rather than bought-in couverture (high-quality processed chocolate). There’s a branch in Chelsea, a concession in Selfridges and a stall at Borough Market.
Hot chocolate + marshmallows = nothing new. But the bona fide Willy Wonka boffins at Chin Chin have upped the ante in typically zany fashion. A paper cup of the good stuff is topped with a giant orb of handmade marshmallow, which is then blowtorched to Bonfire Night levels of charred, sticky decadence. It now does a vegan hot choc too, with hints of raspberry and apricot. Of course, Chin Chin’s experimentalists are also wizards with nitro-fuelled ice cream and this Soho shop is an ostentatious showcase for their wares – not only their signature ices (anyone for halva black tahini?), but also full-on desserts.
Residential Southfields is lucky to have this smart but friendly chocolate shop and café selling elegant handmade treats, tennis-themed morsels and hot chocolate bevvies – made with pieces of single-origin chocolate scooped straight from the tub and steamed with plenty of milk. The rich brews bubble away in bain maries along the counter, and you can take your pick – perhaps a mild Venezuelan milk version or a punchy 80 percent Ugandan dark (for hardcore chocoholics only). There are a few seats inside, so take a pew and enjoy your hot choc with a cake, brownie or sandwich. There are branches in Earlsfield and Wimbledon Park.
This cute café from Aussie-born ‘farm girl’ Rose Mann is a little ripper. Colourful interiors and non-stop sunny service come as standard, and its hot chocolate is a fair dinkum brew. The standard version involves cacao and date syrup, while the Happy Hot Choc also includes peppermint, matcha, hazelnut milk and CBD (cannabidiol, the latest wellness craze). Tucked away behind St Peter’s Church on Portobello Road, the café has a versatile terrace: sun-drenched on warm days, toasty in winter (thanks to heaters and sheep’s wool seat covers). There are branches in Chelsea and Soho, plus an outlet on the fourth floor of Harvey Nicks in Knightsbridge.
Festooned with bunting and furnished with mismatched tea sets, hand-labelled cocktails in jam jars and a tuck-shop-style sweet selection, The Haberdashery may well be London’s cutest make-do-and-mend café, and all visits should factor in a hot chocolate. It’s made from Italian white or regular dark stuff, topped with a marshmallow and served in a handspan-sized bowl… with a spoon. There’s even a smaller, milkier version for kids. The Haberdashery also sells tea sets, groceries, prints and books (lovely, locally published novellas), as well as hosting sales, launches and monthly themed supper clubs. There’s an offshoot on Stoke Newington High Street.
Real bikers don’t drink hot chocolate, right? Wrong! At this reborn greasy spoon, East End hipsters channel their inner ‘Easy Rider’, ogle the leather jackets for sale (courtesy of co-owners the Black Skulls motorcycle collective) and drink mugs of the cocoa-based warmer. Marshmallows come as standard, and you can choose Minor Figures oat milk or Bonsoy soy milk if required. Custom-built for Clapton, Jim’s Café also doles out trendy small plates of diner food for breakfast, brunch and supper, with freaky shots, cocktails, indie beers and cider for those who want something stronger than a mug of choc.
Gerhard Jenne made quite a stir when he opened this offbeat bakery and café on a South Bank side street back in 1993, but Konditor has flourished and now boasts several branches around the capital. Don’t be fooled by the plastic bottles used to store its drinking chocolate – it’s made fresh every day to a recipe that would make the Sugar Plum Fairy swoon. Complex, not too thick yet discernibly luxurious, the concoction contains double cream, full-fat milk, vanilla pods and two types of Callebaut chocolate. Savouries are no longer part of Konditor’s offer, but its cakes and pastries are too tempting to ignore.
Uber-chef Alain Ducasse’s pristine industrial-chic café in King’s Cross’s Coal Drops Yard may be renowned for its exclusive single-origin coffees, but we also adore its intense hot chocolate, served in beautiful bespoke glassware. Made with a selection of dark varieties and milk from Somerset, it will give you a taste for the overall standard of chocolate on offer here. If you’re craving an extended cocoa fix, you can head next door to Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse, a boutique selling a range of desirable confections, all crafted at his workshop in a cobbled Parisian courtyard.
The name means ‘daily bread’ – a phrase that conjures up eating together around communal tables. It’s a theme that sits at the heart of Alain Coumont’s bakery/patisserie chain, an outfit also known for its organic breakfasts, toasted tartines, quinoa scones and vegan apple pie. It also makes its hot chocolate the old-fashioned, European way: you’ll be presented with a big bowl of frothed milk plus a tiny jug of luscious, creamy concentrated chocolate (produced by melting pieces of the dark stuff rather than using cocoa powder). Simply pour the chocolate on the milk and mix together. Gorgeous! Branches across London.
A longstanding fave, Peckham’s Melange (run by chocolatier Isabelle Alaya) is an adorably cosy little shop-cum-café, with ramshackle furniture, botanical wallpaper and dinky sample bowls along the counter. As well as supplying sweet-toothed local residents with their regular fix of French groceries, artisan ice creams and intriguingly flavoured chocolate slabs, it also sells some of London’s best hot chocolate: the outrageously delicious salted caramel number is their biggest hit, but for a more exotic fix, try the white chocolate version tweaked with matcha tea. Sugar-free, dairy-free and gluten-free variations are also readily available. Isabelle’s chocolate-making workshops are worth a punt too.
Escape the frenetic anarchy of Soho by pushing open Nordic Bakery’s heavy wooden door and cocooning yourself in its warm wood-lined interior, where everything from the Alvar Aalto furniture to the Helvetica signage is clean-lined, muted and reassuring. This fantastic under-the-radar pitstop is also a diamond for pretty-looking Scandi-style open sandwiches on rye bread and all manner of sticky sweet treats – what could be more deliciously tempting than one of its famously addictive cinnamon buns (or perhaps a squishy, sugary butter bun) with a mug of richly flavoured hot chocolate (made with 32 percent cocoa).
Plants, plants everywhere… tumbling from the ceiling, sprouting from pots, lurking in corners. If that’s not enough, Hackney’s most colourful café is overloaded with tropical chintz detailing and enough skewed pastels to give Wes Anderson palpitations. It might look like seem like Instagrammable fluff, but appearances can be deceptive. Consider its kooky photo-op drinks list, which not only includes cashew-milk mochas and jazzed-up vegan coffees, but also five different hot chocolates – ‘warm’, ‘smooth, ‘dark’, ‘palm’ (white chocolate, beetroot, steamed oat milk) and a variant with freshly juiced turmeric added to the mix. Its vegan-friendly food is pretty decent too. No bookings.
It’s all about ice-cream cornets and coupes, sundaes and scoops at this fun (but pricey) spot on the first floor of Fortnum & Mason – although the famous location means that you’ll usually be surrounded by tourists and families with kids on a spree. However, don’t forget to pay a visit to the bespoke hot chocolate bar. F&M’s ‘ultimate’ brew is served in a bespoke mug with freshly whipped cream and a magical sprinkling of their renowned ruby chocolate, and you can have even more fun by adding your own bits and bobs – perhaps salted caramel marshmallows, honeycomb or popcorn.
Known for his exquisite sense of taste, former pastry chef Paul A Young is a chocolate magician who shuffles ingredients like a croupier with a deck of cards. Black pudding truffle with ginger biscuit and beer? No problem. Hot chocolate? Of course. A bubbling pot of purple-brown liquid hums in the window, and its Aztec-style brew is made without milk, using Valrhona 100 percent cocoa powder, 70 percent chocolate, light muscovado sugar and a pinch of Cornish sea salt. You can also have it luxed-up with a spoonful of thick double cream and some chocolate pearls. Young has another shop in Camden Passage.
Buoyed by its location overlooking Borough Market, Hotel Chocolat has acquired some additional street cred with Rabot 1745 – a slick café-restaurant named after a cocoa estate founded in 1745 on the Caribbean island of St Lucia. As you might guess, this venue is famed for its hot chocolate: their premier-league brew is a well-balanced, savoury-edged elixir guaranteed to warm the cockles, and you can even add a shot of St Lucian rum if you’re feeling chilly. There’s also a chilli-spiced version, a hazelnut riff, a salted caramel mix and a white chocolate with nutmeg, while its iced brew does the trick in summer.
Founder Chantal Coady is revered as a pioneer of fine chocolate in the UK and she is still ahead of the game – look for the top-drawer organic bars made by the Grenada Chocolate Company as well as Rococo’s own artisan versions. You can drink a mug of hot chocolate in her chic Belgravia shop while gawping at the magical array of chocolate lobsters, alligators and Roald Dahl bars dotted all around. We also like to grab a takeaway cup sprinkled with fragrant spices from its lovely little Seven Dials store. Other branches in Notting Hill, Chelsea and Marylebone.
A twinkling gem on Tufnell Park’s main thoroughfare, Ruby Violet is magical mix of Las Vegas glitz, sultry Moroccan style and 1950s kitchenette design that suits all ages and all occasions – from dates to family outings. Superb ice creams and sorbets are RV’s stock in trade, but this charming parlour also takes its hot drinks seriously. Intense shots of delectable hot chocolate are made from catering favourite Callebaut (the menu outlines its ethical trade credentials) and served on dinky vintage trays. The longer version (with hot, foamy steamed milk on the side) also has plenty of oomph. There’s an offshoot in King’s Cross.
Bustling Said in Soho is related to the oldest chocolate factory in Rome and mamma mia, do they make a mean hot chocolate: super-thick and rich in cocoa solids, with molten choc ladled all over the cup – you can see the sweet stuff bubbling away in little cauldrons behind the glass counter. For pure indulgence, sit down with a cup of this thick, cocoa-rich stuff plus a Nutella pizza or a salted caramel tart on the side. The fascinating interior is also worth more than a cursory glance – check out the wall decorated with shiny metal chocolate moulds. Said also has an outlet in Soho.