I’ve wittered on at length here before about the sad fact that Cambridge is something of a food desert. Restaurant-wise, we could still improve a lot, but if you’re a food shopper, things seem to be looking up considerably. Besides long-standing old favourites like the excellent Cambridge Cheese Shop in All Saint’s Passage, the increasingly impressive offerings at the daily market, Origin8 (a deli where you can find some obscenely good pies and organic hogroast) and local village offerings like the River Farm Smokery in Bottisham (look out for Dan on The Great British Menu on the BBC) and the farm shop at Burwash Manor Barns, the city has just found itself home to one of the loveliest chocolate shops I’ve ever set foot in. This is a very splendid thing, and I hereby upgrade Gastronomy Domine’s assessment of Cambridge’s food situation from desert to leafy wetland.
Chocolat Chocolat (which is so new that it doesn’t have a website yet, and so good that they named it twice) is on St Andrew’s St, just by the entrance to the Grand Arcade. Isabelle and Robin Chappell have imported a sugary morsel of France to the city – Isabelle prepares Bayonnaise slabs of chocolate at her tempering machine by the window, Robin serves up what I am certain is Cambridge’s best icecream (the Alfonso mango sorbet is rich, curiously creamy and made me consider driving the car over and stealing the freezer), and the whole shop ripples with gorgeously selected frou frou.
The main event is, of course, chocolate, and here you’ll find tiny tongs and little wooden punnets which you can fill with hand-made chocolates from several chocolatiers, hand-picked by Isabelle and Robin. There are also chocolaty offerings from Dolfin, Bovetti and Willie Harcourt-Cooze – the Bovetti black mustard seeds enrobed in dark chocolate (there’s also coriander seeds in milk chocolate and anis in white) and the Dolfin bar flavoured with masala spices are must-tries. Robin says that Bovetti’s paté a tartiner (imagine Nutella, but approximately a thousand times nicer) sold out pretty much as soon as they opened, but more is on the way. There’s so much on offer here that it’ll take even the most dedicated chocoholic weeks to work their way through the whole selection – which is precisely as it should be.
Isabelle is originally from France, and alongside the chocolates, she and Robin have imported some sugary nibbles I’ve never seen on this side of the Channel before. Fight through the inevitable crowd of French students to get to the Carambars (a stick of caramel which should be familiar to anyone who’s ever been on a French exchange), the chocolate-coated marshmallow bears and the utterly divine callisons. There are Cote Garrigue jams in flavours like lavender and Cavaillon melon; nougat straight from Montelimar, scented with rose, violet and pistacho; Anis de Flavigny cachous; Palets Bretons (the world’s butteriest, most friable biscuit) and Madeleines from Commercy. Robin doesn’t know it, but in promising Pain d’Epice (gingerbread – but so much better than what you’re used to) direct from Dijon soon he made my heart flutter like a schoolgirl’s.
I plan to head back as soon as possible to apply a further good, hard sugar shock to my pancreas. Chocolat Chocolat is one of the most exciting additions to the town centre I’ve seen in years – head over there as a matter of urgency if you’re in town, and tell them I sent you.