I’m sure this has been said before, but it deserves saying again; Paul A Young is as close as you will ever get to the real life Willy Wonka. His chocolate may not be mixed by waterfall, or crafted by tiny orange forest folk, but there’s definitely a special kind of genius at work.
I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to the greatly anticipated opening of Paul A Young’s flagship store in Soho. With the original store in Islington and the second store in the City, this marks the third and potentially final London store, although undoubtedly it will not be the last store worldwide. Paul is determined to avoid the pitfalls of rapid expansion, where innovation can be washed out to be replaced by a bland, watered down version of the original as everything is spread too thin. Each of the stores produces fresh, hand made chocolates on site, using painstaking traditional techniques and fresh, natural ingredients, and Paul is there to ensure that the very first chocolate produced in Soho uses the exact same techniques and tastes just as spectacular as the very first chocolate to be sold at Camden Passage five years ago.
Impressively this passion and commitment to craftsmanship extends beyond the products and into the stores themselves. At the new Soho store everything, from the central display table down to the refrigeration units has been reclaimed, recycled, up-cycled, locally sourced or handmade. This includes a wonderfully unique glass chandelier at the centre of the store, and a beautiful reclaimed wooden alter that now serves as the main counter. I can’t think of a better use.
Downstairs we were given a tour of the fantastic kitchen space the new store provides, which stretches out underneath the shop above as well as the two adjacent stores. Unused when they found it, the basement once housed an old Soho nightclub and given Paul’s description of crumbling arches, nicotine soaked walls and seriously dodgy electrics, it’s a wonder how the team managed, in only six weeks, to transform it into the gleaming white kitchen there now.
As Paul spoke you could see and hear his excitement at the opportunities this space would provide. In recent years Soho has seen a resurgence as a food hot spot, with top restaurants, cafés, and boutique delicatessens springing up, but this is the first artisan chocolaterie in the area. It is this younger, more adventurous food scene that Paul and his team are hoping to tap into with the new flagship store; putting the huge kitchen space to use on innovation, creating and launching new seasonal product lines with a shorter time span.
It is this creativity, innovation and fearless use of unusual flavours that really makes Paul A Young chocolates stand out. We were given a chance to try the new summer range, that includes such unexpected flavours as tomato, basil and olive oil, orange and tarragon, St Germain liqueur with elderflower, and wild strawberry, balsamic and black pepper, alongside his known classics like the Marmite truffle. Through some quirk or foolishness on my part I’d previously only tried Paul’s chocolate once at an Easter Egg tasting, where his sea salted caramel egg outstripped everything else we tasted. So when faced with a chance to try the entire current range, well, I went a bit mad. Despite an initial show of reserve I ended up losing all restraint trying one of near to all the chocolates there, that’s somewhere in the region of 20 chocolates or more. That my friends is too much chocolate, and trust me there can be such a thing.
Amidst my gluttonous binge though, and before the eventual sugar shakes set in, there were several flavours that really shone. From the summer range the sea salted black sesame tahini just worked perfectly, as did the passion fruit curd and coffee, the fruitiness of which was so well balanced I was amazed I’d never seen the two paired before. A returning chocolate but new to me, the goats cheese, rosemary and lemon was divine but my absolute favourite was the Kernel Brewery stout and dark muscovado. Honestly, it may make me a failure as a writer, but words simply could not express how incredible that chocolate was; a deeply contented moan might just about capture it.
In the hands of any other chocolatier ‘whacky’ flavour combinations like those above might end up tasting gimmicky or odd, but not here. This is the reason Paul is held in such high regard as a craftsman as well as an innovator, for every chocolate I tried the individual flavours were distinct and vibrant, yet married seamlessly, each giving way to another as you ate.
On top of the single chocolate, the store also produces rotating collections of artisan chocolate bars, flavoured bars, and brownies. We were given a brownie to try at home, all I can say is this is what every brownie wishes it could taste like but never knew how; deep, dark, rich and incredibly squidgy.
Paul A Young
143 Wardour Street
London W1F 8WA
+44 (0)20 7437 0011
Monday – Saturday: 10am – 8pm
Sunday: 12pm – 7pm
There’s no online ordering, however if you can’t make it into the store mail order is available the old fashioned way by directly calling the store. This too though does depend on the weather (if it’s too hot the chocolates would melt in the post!)