OK, I went down and got at least a representative item from several of the important London Chocolatiers (representing, IMHO, the best of the shops) and did a comparison. It’s apples-to-oranges, but still, I think it worthwhile to compare different peoples’ Easter concepts.
William Curley: The Easter display was surprisingly low-key. The focus was on eggs for the most part, with several different options. I got a dark chocolate egg with dark truffles. Nicely finished, although to be honest the egg had been sealed with a ribbon of chocolate. The way this was done marred the appearance slightly and I think 2 interlocked halves that you could take apart yourself without simply breaking would have been more elegant. Truffles inside came in a bag. Again, I would have not had the bag – it seems incongruous to the presentation. However, one can’t fault the excellence of the truffles, and this was BY FAR the darkest, most intense chocolate offering of all the chocolatiers. More on that below. Curley also had a fun display piece of chocolate – to give away in a draw to the closest weight estimate. It’s all pretty much random chance of course: without knowledge of the shell thicknesses or quantities of contents you can only make a very vague guess based on statistical probabilities, but it’s fun, and I did it in any case more to admire the work (which was great as usual) than in any expectation (or even particularly desire) of winning.
Paul. A. Young: A nice display, eggs, bunnies very “traditional”. It must be said the aroma in the PAY shop (I usually go to the one in the Royal Exchange) is by far the most alluring of all the London chocolatiers. Others take note! A tempting aroma is a great sales tool. I already knew what I was after: truffle eggs. Disappointingly, you could only get the full range in a large 500g box (a bit overkill, I think), and only in pre-mixed assortment. I would have MUCH preferred to have each individually binned, so you could select how many you wanted of each. It adds insult to injury that BY FAR the greatest proportion of the mix turned out to be the one milk chocolate variety (which was the least interesting). There were several varietals, but unfortunately the wrapper colour wasn’t listed on the box, so that it’s impossible to identify specifically which was which, once you got home. Actual quality was also disappointing for PAY. Finish seemed a bit industrial, and all were much too sweet. The milk in particular was truly sickly sweet. Of the assortment, the ones in red foil were the best, although still not outstanding, not up to the level of PAY’s ordinary truffles, which they should have been, at least. Definitely a disappointment, because conceptually, I think these are the quintessential Easter chocolate.
Demarquette: Eclectic as usual, with eggs mixing with other odder creations. I got the Funky Caramel Eggs, clearly the “must”. These are a great conceptual idea: British fruits mixed with caramel, inside bright coloured eggs. However the flavours turned out to be pretty muted. In fact, the one plain one (just a salt caramel) was the best. Bizarre choices of shell chocolate (milk for blackcurrant?) (dark for pear?) didn’t help. Again, the overriding problem, though, was excessive sweetness everywhere. Nice idea, and the execution wasn’t necessarily awful, just not what it could have been.
L’Artisan Du Chocolat: You get the impression in their shop that they embraced the Easter spirit most fully – with a full gamut of Easter-themed things from eggs to moulded fancies. Lots of spring-like decorations, too. It really made for an attractive presentation. In the end, what seemed right to me was the quail eggs. Pretty simple, it would seem, but for me one of the Canonical Easter Chocolates. As praline eggs go, these were very good, with nice praline flavour if it was a bit too liquid in the middle. But again, they were really too sweet and it seems that was a theme of all their Easter offerings.
Thus Curley excepted, it seems that everyone associated Easter with cloyingly-sweet sugary confections rather than good-quality chocolate. That’s a shame – a conceptual error in my view that gives only minimal incentive to visit the shops in preference to standard chains like Thornton’s or (shudder) supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s or Waitrose. Curley at least doesn’t compromise on the chocolate, but on the other hand what he’d done for Easter superficially at least was so low-key in presentation that it looked almost like an afterthought – which I’m sure wasn’t what was intended and can’t have been representative of the effort actually put into it.
What these chocolatiers, however, need, is something really distinctive for Easter that set them apart. I find 2 obvious ideas that I can’t believe nobody thought of.
1: Easter-flavoured truffle eggs: Make a set of flavours that particularly associate with Easter and spring: e.g. strawberries, flowers, perhaps (for the really exotic) something like the flavour of hot cross bun. Encase them not like regular truffles in a couture chocolate or a hand-dipped shape but in egg-shaped moulds. You could wrap them in shiny foil like Paul A Young for a really nice presentation. Demarquette was closest here, except that the flavours didn’t necessary have a clear spring connotation as such.
2: Decorated eggs: Make chocolate eggs decorated like Ukranian Easter Eggs (for a sample, see http://eggs-files.tripod.com/ , although they wouldn’t need to be nearly as beautiful as those, which are WORLD CLASS). Because of the particular way these are made, it would be fairly easy to “mass produce” them using repeated dippings. The effect would be dazzling, and you could sell these for a LOT. Not a trivial amount of labour, but I think it could really bring in the customers.
I wonder if we’ll see anything like this next year?