Valentine's Day seems fraught with seemingly unknowable dangers. What happens if he doesn't like the cologne? What happens if she doesn't like the chocolates? What happens if I get bad chocolates for him/her unknowingly? Does she really want a deep fat fryer for Valentine's Day or was that just sarcasm? Valentine's Day is a minefield of expectations and unknowable dangers.
As a chocolate reviewer and judge of both the International Chocolate Awards and Academy of Chocolate Awards, I've tried a lot of chocolate, and I know that everyone has different tastes. Knowing what I do about all the different chocolates and chocolate experiences around the UK (and the world), I've put together this handy guide to my top 10 Valentine's gift picks.
1. William Curley Dessert Bar - While the dessert bar for the big night has already sold out (understandably), you can but gift certificates for the weekend dessert bar which happens from 1pm every Saturday and Sunday. The dessert bar is a magnificent experience lasting at least an hour as each of four courses of desserts is prepared for you (in front of you if you sit at the dessert bar itself). The fresh ingredients, expert chefs and total experience make it worth more than the price of the dessert bar. The gift certificates cover 2 people and 2 drinks so it guarantees a romantic sweet treat for two. TOP TIP: Buy a chocolate bar, box of truffles or tin of hot chocolate at the same time and give something you can both enjoy now and later.
2. York Cocoa House Chocolate Truffle Making Experience - why not treat the man or woman in your life to a chocolate truffle making course in the beautiful city of York as a gift with a difference? Their two hour long courses include teaching you how to make your own truffles, tips for tempering chocolate, and a whole box of truffles to take home that you made yourself. A sweet treat that keeps on giving, the York Cocoa House truffle making experience is well worth it! TOP TIP: Give the gift certificate for the course inside a giant hollow cupcake made of chocolate or over a romantic hot chocolate for two in the shop
3. The York Chocolate Weekend Break package - This is possibly the most expensive, most decadent, most amazing gift you could ever get anyone. This top tier break includes accommodation at the Drake Hotel next to the cathedral in an absolutely stunning recently refurbished room. When I went at the invitation of the hotel, my room looked directly on to the cathedral. The hotel is magnificent and included in the break is a top notch dinner, the likes of which I fear I may never have again. If memory serves me right, I had the only venison I have ever had in my life that was cooked properly to be eaten as a cut of meat (and not in a stew). Also included are an organised tour of the Terry's family house, chocolate making (truffles *and* bars), a visit to the York Chocolate Story and a chocolate high tea. Not inexpensive but well worth it. TOP TIP: Travel up on East Coast Trains in first class for an absolutely indulgent experience and without the worry of traffic jams, long journeys or bathroom breaks ;-) They will feed you on the way up at your seat, where there is a full menu, making it an indulgent start to a decadent weekend.
4. Maison du Chocolat Valentine's Chocolate Collection - for the traditionalists among you, a box of these special chocolates for Valentine's Day might be just the trick. Developed by Nicolas Cloiseau, these feature delightful flavours and known aphrodisiacs. Since chocolate is an aphrodisiac what other convincing do you need? These are all ganache, no nut fillings, and the flavours are delightfully mild, meaning they have mass appeal. You won't go wrong with a box of these and they come in a number of sizes. TOP TIP: don't refrigerate your chocolate as it doesn't like that much damp and cold. Keep it cool on and after the day and let it melt in your mouth for the ultimate indulgence. Buy them in shop and you'll get the perfect bag for gifting them in too ;-)
5. Askinosie Chocolate Tasting Box - If you have a partner who is a bit of a chocolate snob, or even just someone who cares about the welfare of the people who farm cocoa, treat them to something better than fair trade. Askinosie chocolate is made with beans purchased directly from the farmer at a higher than market rate *plus* profits are shared with the farmers. That is more than ethical chocolate - that is chocolate you can feel good about giving, receiving and eating. There are several gift packs but the new flavour bars come in a gift box and will have the longest "shelf life" (up to 6 months) so they are my pick. TOP TIP: If your chocolate won't arrive in time for the big day, create a giant card with pictures of the children and farmers that you helped by buying the chocolate and tell the story of the chocolate in the card with a promise that in the mail soon the treat will be arriving. Shows it wasn't last minute!
6. Lauden Hearts Selection - Available at a variety of shops, including York Chocolate Story, Lauden are known for their amazing flavours and relentless pursuit of perfection. The chocolates are intense fruit with little actual chocolate so they are more purees than ganache. The shell is a thin chocolate coating and the shapes have a transfer to decorate them. These are a safe bet is your other half likes delightful fruit flavours and hearts and the heather honey is more floral without tasting like perfume. TOP TIP: Sun Trigg makes the most amazing chocolates, so if you don't want hearts order any of her chocolates including the sea salt caramels. They are divine!
7. Laurent Perrier Rose Magnum & Roja Scented Candle - If you'd like to indulge your valentine with something from Harrod's, then why not get them something with a whole lot of impact. This large box of an extremely large bottle of champagne is just magnificent. It is probably the best way to say "I love you" or "I'm so sorry I wrapped your car around a tree" or "I swear that wasn't me in that video" or "I love you but I'm actually an alien and I've been recalled to my home planet" or really any occasion. TOP TIP: Leave it in the Harrod's bag with tissue to hide the gift to show where you got it from (but remember to remove the price tag and receipt first!) and remember to include a special stopper so you don't let that champagne go flat!
8. Charbonnel et Walker Pink Champagne Truffles - there's something about getting chocolates from the chocolatiers to the queen that just makes that gist just a bit extra special. Charbonnel et Walker have been the Queen's favourite chocolatiers for a number of years and while she may prefer rose creams, the rest of the world prefers their pink champagne truffles. With sales of these truffles making up around a third of their total sales, you can rest assured that this gift is going to have wide appeal. Slightly sweet, slightly strawberry to me but all fun, I love eating these truffles. TOP TIP: Nothing says "I want to shower you with gems but you love chocolate more" like getting one of their Swarovski-encrusted pink champagne chocolate boxes. If there are any left (they were limited edition) grab one as it'll be a dressing table favourite for years to come.
9. House of Dorchester Raspberry Caramel Hearts - These are quite sweet and quite a bit of fun! Each milk chocolate heart has drizzles of white chocolate and a sprinkling of freeze-dried raspberries on top. The caramel isn't too runny and the overall effect is generally sweet with a bit of tart. They are available more widely than most of the things on this list and are quite fun. TOP TIP: Include a bottle of prosecco or cava with the chocolates for a choccies and champers treat without the champagne price tag.
10. Paul A Young Valentine's Chocolates Selection - last but most certainly not least is this amazingly diverse selection of chocolates from one of the top chocolatiers in London. Paul A Young is known for his innovation in chocolate flavours and by using only the top quality chocolate and making some of the most well-balanced flavours he has created a collection that is perfect for anyone. If you aren't sure which of the chocolates your other half would like, just describe them to the staff in store and they can help you choose. If you want a safe choice, get the champagne hearts made with local Rodda's Clotted Cream and his signature salted caramel dome for something that will ensure all past transgressions are forgiven. TOP TIP: You can't formally order the chocolates online but ring the shop and they can usually mail a box of chocolates anywhere you need them to be.
These are just my top 10 suggestions from this year's Valentine's Day chocolate collection. What are your tried and true Valentine's chocolates or what would you like to get this year?