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Hill St chocolates – Something wicked this way comes

I like a fancy chocolate. In fact, I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a bit of a choccy snob. Like a spoilt brat, while everyone else in my friend/family group has a feeding frenzy if there’s a pile of You Know What Brand around, I’ll be sulking in a corner somewhere dreaming of Paul A Young’s salted caramels. Of a fruity little number from Chococo. Some pearls from L’Artisan Du Chocolat.

It’s a real bugger for my husband, who finds it nigh on impossible to surprise me with confectionary. Pretty much anything from the supermarket is the odd box of Guylian those I do like!

If, like me, you’ve got a penchant for what I’m going to call ‘proper chocolate’ I urge you to hop online, get your credit/debit card out and head straight over to the Hill St website. Better still, get out to one of their two boutiques in either Saffron Walden or Cambridge.

Why? Oh, there are so many reasons. Amongst them, I genuinely (and after extensive ‘research’ believe them to be one of the very very best chocolatiers in the UK today – if not one of the best in Europe.

You may have heard of the Hill St via a campaign run by Cadburys this year in which, as some form of corporate responsibility (I’m reading that cynically as self-PR) the food giant promoted six indy chocolate producers – including the Essex-based brand.

What a coup for brothers Chris and Greg, whose entire collection is utterly irresistible. Think toasted nuts tumbled in gianduja. Pencil-thick, quiveringly jelly-like candied fruits. Squares of freshly blended truffles.

A little more on the duo. Chris trained in Paris as a chocolatier, working in the likes of the Savoy and the Mayfair, L’Escarbille and Ledoyen before a spell with Patrick Roger – French chocolate sculptor extraordinaire.

Greg, on the other hand, trained in graphic design. Together they’re a tour de force, combining their skills so that design/art meets chocolate. You only have to look at the effortlessly stylish packaging and the form of the chocolates themselves to see how their respective skills have merged.

Deciding what to order was, well, a very tall order. Everything, from the nougat and fruit pastilles, to cubes of truffle caught my eye, but I went with one of their luxury chocolate boxes – a little bit of everything to share.

There are four sizes. I chose box two, digging deep for restraint.

Squeals of delight echoed in the kitchen as I tore away the tissue paper, slid off the slip cover and opened the box (this is seriously good gifting here people) to be whacked with the scent of pure cocoa. And a vision of Willy Wonka marvellousness.

Hearts, bon bons, cubes, squares, rectangles, nubs, clusters. A feast.

Before I go on can I just say wow. OMG. No...make that OMFG. I describe the chocolates below, but I cannot explain the skill that has gone into these. Shell coatings are impossibly thin. The flavours well judged. And, importantly, nothing is overly sweet. Sugar is, I think, an enemy of good chocolate. There should be just enough to temper the cocoa. To season it, if you will, just like you’d furnish a savoury dish with salt. Every bite from Hill St is bang on the money.

So, let’s get cracking. What was in the box?

What a Nutter – a dark bon bon casing filled with what initially looks like caramel, but is in actual fact a liquid gianduja. A pure expression of hazelnut in one seductive bite. The kind of thing that’s increasingly rare to find outside of Turin.

Candied orange peel in dark chocolate – forget that fusty leather your nan puts in the Christmas pudding. This hardly eats like peel at all. It’s soft, luscious, gelatinous and melting. Think Jaffa cake filling...but better.

Posh Seeds – caramelised almonds coated in gianduja and dusted with cocoa. Addictive. The caramelisation of the nuts ensures they remain the starring role here, rather than being simply a crunchy vehicle for the hazelnut paste.

Maldon Salt ganache squares – dark chocolate thins with a smooth and balanced ganache that slinks from cocoa to sweet to satisfyingly salty.

Nougat Praline – a soft almond praline with a pleasantly gritty, earthy crushed nougatine.

Raspberry – I became allergic to my favourite berry when I was pregnant with my daughter – now 15, she sampled this one and declared it ‘so refreshing’.

Loco about Coco – a coconut and Malibu ganache. Coconut is hard to judge. Often chocolatiers will reach for an extract (cheaper than the real thing) to boost the flavour but, more often than not, the end result is soapy and tastes wholly artificial. Not here. A soft, warm blush of Caribbean sunshine.

Pear Necessity – milk chocolate with a hint of pear and a sprinkle of gingerbread spice. Subtle.

Rochers – clusters of toasted almonds and sultanas tossed in dark or milk chocolate. Oh yes.

Summer Bites Back – a lime caramel ganache. This one smacks you about the chops with zing. Mouth-puckeringly good.

Afternoon Tea – one of our favourites. This is just incredible. It brings together two flavours that are made to be together. At the base is a seriously soft orange marzipan, and that’s crowned with an Earl Grey tea ganache. It’s altogether floral and tannic, with a beautiful, delicate kiss of bergamot lingering long after it’s dissolved in your mouth. Genius.

Wake Up And Smell the Coffee – another stand-out. I’d go so far as to say this is hands down the single best coffee chocolate I have ever eaten. You know that evocative smell of fresh coffee? When you prise the lid from the jar? When you rip into a new bag of just-ground beans? There. That’s it. That’s the flavour of this Blue Mountain ganache. Toasty and rich without ever being bitter.

Pistachio Marzipan – vibrant green inside and rounded with the sweet taste of fresh pistachios.

Salt of the Earth – the only chocolate I was mildly disappointed with. The liquid Maldon salt caramel was a little on the safe side for me and didn’t have the salinity of the ganache square which was on point. This one is more buttery and sweet. But that’s just personal preference.

Cherry Bomb – the kind of chocolate my mother lives for. An almost black dusting around dark chocolate with a melting cherry ganache centre.

Ginger Spice – milky truffle with a very subtle, lurking, mysterious note of ginger.

I don’t think I can throw any more superlatives at this. All I can say is, try them. Buy them to eat greedily by yourself with a chick flick. Give them to someone you really really like. Or buy a box to dish out after a dinner part in lieu of a dessert. Trust me, no one is going to complain.

The size 2 box I bought was £33.50 including post and packaging with FedEx. And let me tell you, it was worth every single penny.

Hill St Chocolates, 7 Hill Street, Saffron Walden, Essex, CB10 1EH

Hill St Chocolates, 5 All Saints Passage, Cambridge CB2 3LS

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