Christmas announced its arrival in London several weeks ago when the department stores assembled their window display extravaganzas and numerous shopping streets had grand switch-on ceremonies for their array of twinkly lights (the annual chance for forgotten celebrities to shine).
But the recent chill in the air and brief snow flurry, which I sadly missed (typical), confirmed that winter has indeed begun. This weather gets us all reaching for a few necessities, fluffy blankets, bobble hats and sugary hot drinks.
Move over pumpkin spiced latte, it’s time for the festive winter warmers to reign supreme. This has given me the perfect excuse to run all over London trying different hot chocolates. Such a chore, but hey, someone had to do it. I’ve picked three to tell you all about – one traditional, one hipster, and one that’s somehow both, a hybrid if you will.
Le Pain Quotidien – The Traditional One
I nipped down Exhibition Road between lectures to try the traditional Belgian hot chocolate served at Le Pain Quotidien. A bowl of steamed milk with a thin layer of foam on top was brought to my table with a separate small jug of thick liquid hot chocolate. Pouring the chocolate into the bowl and mixing it into the milk certainly adds a fun element to hot chocolate drinking. The downside is that it’s impossible to get all the contents of the jug out by pouring it. I ended up scraping every last bit out using a spoon and eating it neat in a desperate attempt to not waste any. Food wastage in any form is never good. The drink is milkier than the average hot chocolate. Think of it as the latte equivalent of the hot chocolate family. As someone who is not a huge fan of the taste of milk, I prefer a more indulgent hot chocolate, but each to their own.
Chin Chin – The Hipster One
This small chain started in Camden, where it’s called Chin Chin Labs, and is famous for its nitro ice-cream; hipster or what. It has now spread to a couple of other locations in London, including the Chin Chin Dessert Club in Soho, where I dragged a friend earlier in the week. The hot chocolate itself was too bitter for my taste, and so I had to drink it slowly with small sips. But it was balanced really well by the sweetness of the massive (imagine ice cream scoop size) toasted marshmallow placed on top, which would arguably be too sickly sweet if the liquid was less bitter. So perhaps it works? This one’s definitely down to personal taste. It’s perfect for people who feel that a hot chocolate isn’t a hot chocolate unless garnished with marshmallows. They also embellish it with a small chocolate square bearing the name ‘Chin Chin’ on it, which is a nice touch, but let’s face it, more for the aesthetic on Instagram than for anything else.
Said Dal 1923 – The Hybrid
The hot chocolates served at this rustic Soho cafe are traditional in the sense that they originate from Roman recipes. The delicious drink is like molten chocolate, basically a chocolate sauce – yum. The hipster element comes from the fact that the mugs are dipped in the holy trinity of chocolates: dark, milk and white. You heard me right. This is as close as you are ever going to get to drinking hot chocolate in a chocolate cup, which of course would be incredibly impractical. They offer three types of hot chocolate drink: dark, milk, and gianduia (with hazelnut). I opted for the milk chocolate but they all looked and smelled amazing. I’ll probably return over the Christmas period to try the other two.
If you’re keen to go, I’d recommend visiting during the week. Last time I tried to go on a Saturday they were queuing out the door. So I eventually gave up and went elsewhere. On this occasion, the person at the back of the queue called up Said Dal 1923 to book and managed to skip the queue. Who knew desperation for a good hot chocolate would lead to such sneaky tactics. I will totally use this strategy next time.