Last Thursday I managed to drop by William Curley. Now that the initial crush of the opening has settled down, things are more relaxed. William was in and we managed to chat for some time.
The first bit of good news is that the hot chocolate, which I felt had been disappointing, is much improved. It’s now much more chocolatey, much less sweet, and about as good as I think one can get and still appeal to a general audience. At some point it might be worth creating an “intense” hot chocolate for those looking for something more serious, but rest assured that the current version should satisfy even discriminating palates.
I don’t remember seeing the various chocolate spreads the last time – I picked up a chocolate praline version (to test against Amedei’s Crema Toscana). There are others, though, with chocolate and fruit – chocolate/raspberry is obvious, but there is also a chocolate/blackcurrant which looks most interesting.
The dessert bar is not too far off, which should be interesting, particularly now that Curley will have competition from Pierre Herme.
(Notwithstanding my appreciation for Herme, let us hope that the hype surrounding that opening doesn’t depress Curley’s business too much). Hopefully at the right time I can do the side-by-side comparison. The dessert bar idea seemed like a good idea at the Mayfair shop – which I think never really took off because of the obscure location. But this should give Curley the ability to experiment with creations that really need to be served immediately – custards and puddings and whatnot. (We’re all waiting for the moelleux).
Curley is now also experimenting with breakfast (or brunch, if you prefer). So far there’s a fairly limited selection but you have to work with what you can do with the equipment and facilities you’ve got. It occurs to me that crepes might be another addition easy to do and that would go down well – and which would be an ideal place to showplace the aforementioned chocolate spreads (it never harms to give yourself the opportunity for more business)
We discussed a bit the problem of seasonal buying. This is one area where the dessert bar should really help – because you can offer hot things in winter, cold ones in summer. Curley now has an ice cream chiller installed which should make for good business in the summer. I wait to see if he can equal the chocolate ice cream from L’Arcobaleno in Sardinia. Summer tends to be the doldrums months for chocolatiers, for self-evidently obvious reasons. I think this might be a nice time to showcase seasonal fruits – particularly strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries as they come in.
Finally I also got one of the brownies for testing. It must be said that the term “brownie” is, I think, a bit of a misnomer. This is more like what a French conception of what a brownie might be like would be. To make somewhat gross stereotypes of national character, the brownie is quintessentially American – over-the-top, dense, perhaps a little unsophisticated but indulgent. French patisserie is usually more refined, subtle, delicate. So it goes here. I might call what Curley has a “Gateau Douce au Chocolat”; it’s what one might imagine a moelleux might be like if baked slightly longer and allowed to cool. The cake is buttery but light, with a very crisp outer crust.
I’m not sure that the nuts added (walnuts) really do much but they’re certainly not a distraction. It’s clearly a lot sweeter than what most French pastries would be but it doesn’t have the dense sugariness of a true brownie. None of this should be taken as negative – what Curley has got is excellent, and in fact an original creation in its own right – but it could do with renaming. A suggestion: These could be made unbelievably irresistible by filling the centre with chocolate ganache. If Curley did this I think he’d have the basis for a sensation, with that lovely crisp outside, light cake, and creamy middle.
On a side note, I also picked up a different brownie at Harvey Nicks from a company called Sobo Chocolate, who seem to be working out of the very same premises as the old location of SeventyPercent. Anyway, these brownies are far and away the best “classic” brownies I’ve ever had commercially. (which should come as little surprise, given that the recipe is virtually identical, with minor tweaks, to my own brownie recipe) I have to give them credit for having the confidence to give their exact recipe on the back: this shows someone who’s sure in their skills. Highly recommended.
In short, Curley seems to be settling in and trying to establish visibility in the area, and I see clear evidence of a determination to improve as well as expand – all good signs for the future.