William Curley's chocolate heaven in Richmond
PUBLISHED: 09:12 14 February 2011 | UPDATED: 13:05 13 October 2014
With Easter only just around the corner, there's never been a better time to visit Richmond's world-famous chocolate shop - especially as the owner, William Curley, has just been named Britain's Best Chocolatier for the third time
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2009
Words by Janet Harmer
If you are seeking the ultimate chocolate gift this Easter, then look no further than William Curley's establishment in Richmond.
Hidden down the quirky little side street that is Paved Court, this tiny shop is truly a chocolate heaven. As soon as you open the door, the rich aroma of chocolate draws you inside, where before you are displayed an enticing selection of patisseries - many of them chocolate-inspired - as well as an enormous variety of individual chocolates, truffles and pralines.
Given an opportunity to taste one of the chocolates, you quickly realise that you are a world away from the mass-market confectionery that so many of us grew up with.
Silky smooth in appearance, each one has its own unique fragrance and complexity of flavours. Every item on sale here has been lovingly prepared by hand, using only the finest ingredients, in the kitchen upstairs or in William's satellite kitchen, ten minutes away in Twickenham. It is no surprise then to learn that William has just been named Best British Chocolatier for the third year in succession in the Academy of Chocolate's annual awards!
"Winning the awards has been fantastically important to the success of the business," says the 37-year-old, who opened the shop with his Japanese wife Suzue in 2004. "It keeps us on our toes. Achieving a gold standard once is one thing, but to do it on a consistent basis, day in day out, is another matter. It also means that the expectations of everyone who comes here is very high."
A choco-block shop
Visitors to the shop are unlikely to be disappointed. Not only will they find an exemplary display of some of the finest chocolates anywhere in the UK, but they will also be welcomed by a friendly and highly knowledgeable team of young staff.
William trains them to the very highest standards so that they all take on board some of the skills and experience that he himself has gleaned over the years from working alongside Michelin-starred chefs in top hotels and restaurants, both here and abroad.
Stints with Pierre Romeyer in Belgium and in France with Marc Meneau provided him with a classical base, which he built upon back in the UK working for, among others, Pierre Koffman and Marco Pierre White.
"During my 25 years in the business, only one or two like William have ever come along," says Pierre Koffman. "He is a fantastic pastry chef and chocolatier - perfect!"
Before opening in Richmond, William headed a team of 21 pastry chefs at The Savoy in London, where he met Suzue, who was in charge of the hotel's famous afternoon teas.
In setting up his own business, Richmond has proved to be the ideal location. Originally from Fife in Scotland, William had no previous ties to the area, but quickly fell in love with the town on his first visit.
"I had been in London for 17 years and we started to look for premises in Mayfair, Hampstead, Chelsea and Fulham, but when we came out to Richmond I discovered that it was a real jewel," says William. "Within a few weeks we found this shop and I'm now very happy to be working and living here. The business quickly became a part of the community and we have tremendous local support. I joke that Richmond must now be one of the most knowledgeable homes of chocolate in the UK. Everyone is so eager to find out where the chocolate comes from and how it is made."
While customers pick up information about the provenance of the chocolate by simply chatting to staff, many have also gleaned a fascinating insight into the making of the chocolates by attending one of their regular courses.
"As well as talking about the origins and history of chocolate, we also get the customers to have some hands-on experience by showing them how to make sea salt caramels and chocolate bars," says William.
He makes his chocolates using what he believes to be the best couverture in the world, produced by Amedei, a small family-run company in Italy. Of the 150 tons of chocolate produced annually by Amedei, using cocoa beans carefully sourced from Venezuela, Madagascar and Ecuador, William uses about five tons.
Like a fine wine that relies on good grapes, fine chocolate is also dependent on quality cocoa beans, and William believes that Amedei selects the very finest before carefully turning the beans - through roasting, refining, conching and tempering - into the most superlative bars, without the addition of any artificial flavours or colourings.
In the early days of the business, William made what he now describes as "seven or eight very simple chocolates". Today, he offers a choice of around 40 to 50 flavours including passion fruit and mango, thyme and Scottish heather honey, rosemary and peach, Earl Grey, Szechuan pepper and, my own personal favourite, sea salt caramel. There is also a selection - including Japanese toasted sesame and Japanese black vinegar - inspired by Suzue's origins.
In every case, the added flavour, which is generally infused in the cream used to make the ganache filling, is subtle. "The flavours must never destroy or overpower the chocolate," says William. "We are using the best chocolate in the world and we must ensure that it is always the hero."
I should cocoa!
There are also at least 12 different patisseries available - selected from a range of around 40 varieties. Bestsellers include the Toscano chocolate cadeaux (dark chocolate mousse, layered with vanilla crme brulée, rum-soaked sultanas and chocolate sponge) and the Madagascan chocolate and orange dome (dark chocolate mousse layered with caramelised orange segments, Grand Marnier cream and chocolate sponge).
With Easter just around the corner, the shop is now full of Easter eggs, packed with William's award-winning chocolates. You can choose between an Amedei egg filled with a choice of fresh dark truffles, milk truffles, champagne truffles or sea salt caramels (from £25), or an Amedei egg with Gianduja almond eggs and orangettes (from £15).
"Now is a wonderful time for fine chocolate, as over the last few years, people have really began to appreciate what a truly quality product it is," concludes William, whose booming business appears to be defying the recession and looks set to expand to a second location some time soon.
William Curley, 10 Paved Court, Richmond upon Thames, Surrey TW9 1LZ
Tel: 0208 332 3002