Olivier is a man with an envious job – Head Chocolatier at Hotel Chocolat. He’s a lively, curly haired Frenchman who finds it hard to sit still and is very, very passionate about what he does. He heads up a team that has created 1,000 or more different chocolates.
Locals may well remember Plaisir du Chocolat in Edinburgh. One of the unsung heroes was Olivier Nicod who was chocolatier for the company. When that company disappeared, I lost touch with Olivier, so it was with special pleasure that I met up with him at the opening of Edinburgh’s newest chocolate shop, based on Frederick Street.
Hotel Chocolat was set up 15 years ago by Angus Thirwell and Peter Harris.
Angus explained to me that it has taken 5 years to find the right place for a shop in Edinburgh. It’s that attention to detail that’s evident throughout the business.
Olivier gives me a tour of the shop explaining how many of the chocolates they create started life as a Tasting Club selection. Each month, chocolate lovers receive a mailing of chocolates (from either the purists, elements or dark selections) which they then rate. Those that are rated highly find their way onto the shop shelves, others will be rejected. All feedback good or bad is reported back. Olivier creates many of the flavours together with other European chocolatiers, but also the special moulds that they are sold in to avoid damaging the chocolates.
There really is something for everyone, from chocolate buttons for kids to sophisticated chocolates for the true connoisseur. I was particularly taken by a dried fruit and chocolate wreath created by Olivier and the gift bags full of a really diverse selection of chocolates.
One of the rather nice surprises about the shop is that it has a cafe where you are encouraged to consider chocolate not just as an unctuous thick drink but also to be drunk more in the way you would a coffee. I tasted a double shot chocolate macchiato. Here your brain needs to do a little adjusting. As you think you’re tasting coffee you’re waiting for a deep rich taste, instead it is lighter, less rich, in fact much more like coffee. The more I taste, the more I am hooked. I then taste chilli chocolate. This is more of a traditional thickness and taste, at least to start with, the chilli hit sneaks up on you rather nicely.
The jaw-droppingly beautiful Rabot Estate in St Lucia has been owned by the company 2006. Chocolate making on the island was on the decline, which Hotel Chocolat has started to change with its Engaged Ethics Cocoa Programme – offering high quality seedlings, technical help, advice and know-how, and, crucially, guaranteeing to buy farmers’ entire crops at prices above the world market. And, if you’re wanting a trip of a lifetime, you can actually stay at the real Hotel Chocolat on the island.
Visit Hotel Chocolat
So much more than just a chocolate shop, it’s a business with an ethical base, a real passion to experiment and create exceptionally high quality. Most important of all, it is great fun!
Olivier lives in the Scottish borders, so we’re sure to see him visiting the shop regularly.
7a Frederick Street
Tel: 0131 2267537