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.
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Gerard Coleman’s Notting Hill boutique might not be the warmest space – it’s more glitzy choc shop than cosy café – but who gives a hoot when the hot chocolate’s this good? There are gingerbread, mint, cinnamon and coffee-laced variations on the menu, but plump for the ‘artisan original’ (£3.50). Made with 70 percent Colombian chocolate cooked up with milk and cream, it’s smooth, rich and, frankly, tastes a bit like Maltesers. Which – duh! – is a very good thing.
Hot chocolate + marshmallows = nothing new. But the pudding boffins at Chin Chin – the closest thing London’s got to a collective of bona fide Willy Wonkas – have upped the ante in typically zany fashion. A paper cup of the good stuff (£4.25) is topped with a giant orb of marshmallow cream which is then blowtorched to Bonfire Night levels of charred, sticky decadence.
Part burlesque boutique, part gothic boudoir, the flummoxingly named Choccywoccydoodah is about as gaudy as chocolate shops get. Once you’re done eyeballing the elaborate edibles, head upstairs to find the ‘bar du chocolate’. The hot chocolate here (from £3.99) is tip-top: dark, milk or white is stirred into hot milk and topped with pillowy marshmallows, lashings of cream and an oh-so-classy chocolate straw. It’s relentlessly popular, so be prepared to queue on weekends.
Located close to Wimbledon Park – so perfect for a post-stroll cup of the brown stuff – Southfields’ De Rosier is a friendly chocolatier with a smattering of smart seating. A bevy of hot-chocolate bevvies are kept in bain-maries along the counter, from white and mild Venezuelan milk varieties for those who like things deliciously unchallenging to punchy 80 percent Ugandan dark for hardcore chocoholics (all from £2.70). There’s also another branch just a Bugaboo’s push up the road in Earlsfield.
Festooned with bunting and furnished with mismatched tea sets and a tuckshop-style sweet selection, Crouch End’s The Haberdashery may well be London’s cutest café, and all visits should factor in a hot chocolate. It’s made from white or milk chocolate from the Dolomites. And it’s served in a bowl (£2.75). With a spoon. There’s a smaller, milkier one for kids too – but in this case more is more.
Don’t be fooled by the plastic milk bottles used to store Konditor & Cook’s drinking chocolate – it’s made fresh on site every day to a recipe that would make the Sugar Plum Fairy swoon. Complex in flavour, not too thick yet discernibly luxurious, the concoction contains double cream, full-fat milk, vanilla pods and two types of Callebaut chocolate – 70 percent and 53 percent. A £2.85 price tag seals the deal; the City branch bonus includes airy Gherkin architecture and K&C’s fabulous range of cakes to accompany.
A longstanding south London fave, Peckham’s Melange – just off the foodie strip of Bellenden Road and run by French chocolatier Isabelle Alaya – is an adorably cosy little shop-cum-café, with ramshackle furniture, botanical wallpaper and rows of dinky sample bowls along the counter. It also sells some of London’s best hot chocolate (all from £3). The outrageously delicious salted caramel number is the biggest hit. On the more exotic side, cardamom and nutmeg or matcha green tea add zing to mugs of white chocolate.
A bubbling pot of purple-brown liquid hums in the window of this esteemed chocolate boutique. Expert staff explain fully: the Aztec-style drink is made without milk, using the same mixture of Valrhona 100 percent cocoa powder, 70 percent chocolate and light muscovado sugar that is contained in the take-home bags. The absence of dairy lets you mainline on the deep, characterful, floral flavour. Alternatively, add a spice or two from the selection provided – sumac, maybe, or black cardamom. Takeaway cups are £3.95.
International chain Hotel Chocolat makes a play for street cred at this slick café-restaurant in Borough Market. And fair dos, the hot chocolate is very good indeed; £3.50 gets you a cup of well-balanced, savoury-edged elixir that on an icy morning could persuade anyone of its health benefits (add a shot of St Lucian rum if you’re feeling extra chilly). The broad menu of contemporary global dishes – across breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner – makes it an ideal spot for a more drawn-out drop-in.
You can drink in at chic chocolatier Rococo’s Belgravia shop (check out those natty mugs), but we prefer to grab a takeaway cup (£2.70), sprinkled with spices – cinnamon for the purists, star anise for the more precocious – at its lovely little Seven Dials store. Either way, set aside a minute or five to gawp at all the chocolate lobsters, alligators and Roald Dahl bars dotted around. Magic for young ’uns and a great nostalgia kick for adults.
At this charming parlour with a slim communal table, hot drinks are taken as seriously as the superb ices. Thick, intense shots of delectable hot chocolate (from £3) are made from catering favourite Callebaut (the menu outlines its ethical trade credentials) and served on dinky vintage trays. The longer version, made with the addition of hot, foamy, organic milk, still has plenty of oomph. Both are excellent excuses to order something without chocolate from the ice-cream cabinet.
Bless this Broadwick Street branch of a long-established Rome chocolatier. Rather than packaging its wares in the clinical boxing you find in some upmarket chocolate shops, Said displays its chocs in opulent heaps, in jars or – in the case of the hot chocolate – bubbling from little cauldrons behind the glass counter. Customers are welcome to sit in with a cup of hot choc – high-quality, thick and rich in cocoa solids – and admire the interior, which features an entire wall decorated with shiny metal chocolate moulds. A lovely place to take a breather from the hubbub of Soho.
Order hot chocolate at this bijou deli and the first thing you’ll be treated to is a Q&A session. ‘Do you know about our hot chocolate?’ was delivered with a degree of resignation. It seems staff are well used to the north-of-£5 price tag raising hackles, even in this corner of the City. A generous quantity of single-estate chocolate from prestigious Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini is steamed directly with the milk and served in capacious cups, with extra hot milk on the side for anyone who finds the experience too dark.
After more than just the hot stuff?
Located in the heart of London’s China Town with an imposing exterior and an expansive inside decorated with water features, Er Mei is a Szechuan restaurant that gives its customers a real taste of the Orient. Known for its use of spices, Sichuan cuisine is flavour-packed, with lots of pepper, chilli, garlic and ginger. The menu here is extensive and not just for beginners. Specialising in food from the region, most items have more than a touch of spice. Try hot and sour soup to start followed by kong pao king prawn with dry red chilli and cashew nuts. There’s also more adventurous dishes on the menu such as pigs’ kidney with black fungus and pickled chilli. You can also opt for a Sichuan hot pot full of soup that you can add your own array of ingredients to and watch it bubble away (for a minim of two people).
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