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Hotel Chocolat sells, you guessed it: chocolate! Today I'm reviewing the branch in York; will you find a sweet treat, or leave with a bitter taste in your mouth?
The shop itself is quite classy. It is much bigger than it looks from the outside; something that i like to call the 'TARDIS effect'. The colour scheme is mainly black and everything is well spaced out so it is easy to find what you are looking for. This sort of layout is also a triggers flashing warning lights and I don't need to look at the price tags to get the idea that my wallet will be crying after my visit.
There are also the occasional free samples but don't count on them; it's quite rare. I've only been able to get one, and ironically it was during a visit when I didn't actually buy anything.
The shop is kept comfortably cool to the benefit of both the customer and the products on the shelves; even though my visit was during a hot summer day, it was still comfortably cool and I didn't feel stifled at all.
Chocolat, like Marks & Spencers, sells nothing but its own products, and a lot of them are undeniably good. I thought that nothing could be better than Thorntons, and a quickly ate my words after taking the first bite.
They sell a huge range of products from alcohol soaked chocolate dipped fruits, truffles, and chocolate slabs, to drinking chocolate, chocolate fondue, and chocolate syrups.
Out of the products that I sampled, I was thoroughly impressed with most of them...except two. Their drinking chocolate which they (rather arrogantly) describe as "The World's Best Hot Chocolate" is absolutely dreadful. It's nothing more than a selection of tiny chocolate shavings - probably collected off the floor as waste from other products - which you can melt down and mix with milk. The chocolate is very waxy and greasy, and therefore wholly unsuitable for the purpose. I have tried making the stuff in about 10 different ways, following their instructions to the letter, and every time it has been foul to the point of being undrinkable. Considering that they charge 1.50 for one of these packets, that is simply outrageous.
Also, my mother purchased a box of chocolate covered rum soaked sultanas. There were about 20 in a pack for 6 pounds. She was shocked to find that several of the sultanas still had small hard pieces of stalk in them. I also discovered that the box had a disclaimer notifying that there may be stalk pieces left. For 30p each that is not good enough!
The staff that I spoke to seemed very friendly and knowledgeable. They are specialists and they seemed to know a great deal about the products they sell. I was asked if I needed help but not harassed. There was only one staff member in the store during most of my visits so I would imagine that it can be difficult to get help when the shop is busy; but to be honest I have never seen it busy.
'So, if the shop is so good, why did you only give it three stars.' I can hear you asking. Well, I shall explain:
I am nothing short of a chocoholic and I probably eat ten times my own body weight of the stuff each month, so surely a chocolate shop would be like a magical paradise for me? Wrong.
Their prices are high to the point of being scandalous. Personally I see chocolate as being something that should be enjoyed, and I really can't enjoy it under the knowledge that my poor credit card is whimpering.
Their products ARE better than other brands of chocolate, but if I was given the choice between one champagne truffle (about 70p each from Hotel Chocolat) or a 200 gram bar of Lindt Chocolate, I would be going for the Lindt. Although I do appreciate quality over quantity, I do not believe that the standard of Hotel Chocolat's products are sufficiently better than cheaper brands to warrant the price tag.
If you are rich, then by all means spend away and enjoy, but for the normal person who doesn't have money to burn, I would steer clear.
Some great products, nice shop, friendly staff; it's a shame that they charge such scandalous prices.