It’s the home of Rowntree and Terry’s; George Cadbury and Lewis Fry studied their trade there – no wonder York has a reputation as the spiritual capital of chocolate.
So where better to go for a staycation with the sis? We’re the daughters of a cornershop owner, so we were reared on York’s finest: the likes of Aero, Kit Kat, Quality Streets and Yorkies. Bring it on, say we.
That’s fighting talk, as we soon found out.
Make no mistake, the place is a chocolate lover’s paradise. We began our stay with the obligatory reccie around York, a city so evidently rich in history. Even on the mild day, the banks of the River Ouse were overflowing, so it was with sadness rather than surprise that December’s floods did its best to destroy York’s beauty. But it’s made of sturdy stuff. The city walls are proof, as they’re the longest stretch of medieval walls in the UK dating back 700 years, allowing a pleasant walk, almost as if circling the York Minster, the jewel in its crown.
The Minster, an olde worlde term for teaching churches, is actually a cathedral, and Europe’s largest gothic cathedral at that. It’s as impressive inside as it is on the outside, and well worth a visit. Even our accommodation was steeped in history: the Bar Convent, on the fringes of the centre, is the UK’s longest-running convent, now with comfortable refurbished B&B.
But that’s not the primary reason we’re here. To start off the chocolatey proceedings, we amble through The Shambles, small cobblestone lanes with thatched houses either side – just imagine Diagon Alley with bakeries, tea shops and chocolate shops. After a little nibble of some of the creamiest, sweetest fudge we’ve tasted – that’s the lemon meringue fudge from Roly’s Fudge Pantry – we head to the York’s Chocolate Story, both a tour and a shop selling such a wide range of chocolate there’s even a curry and chips flavour.
The tour tells a potted history of chocolate, from its Aztec origins to York’s part in turning it from an imported ingredient to the treat it is today – namely via the Rowntree and Terry’s family. There’s plenty of tastings too, but we made sure to save some room for dinner at York’s Cocoa House: a special chocolate supper with the ingredient in every dish.
For hardened chocoholics only, starters include white chocolate hummous and mushroom and white chocolate pate; both contain a level of sweetness you wouldn’t appreciate under normal circumstances, but we hadn’t forgotten why we were there. Mains included a chocolate chicken mole, but I opted for the three bean chocolate chilli. This came with melty chocolate buttons on top, which I stirred into the chilli to make it extra creamy. As flavourful as it was, I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t finish it.
But that didn’t mean I didn’t have room for dessert. More of a chocolate café than a restaurant, the sweets are its specialty. I opted for a carrot cake – complete with giant chocolate chips mixed in – which came with the most delicious orange flavoured hot chocolate I’ve tasted. Unfortunately, it was more than my blood sugar levels could handle, I was forced to get a doggy bag of most of the dessert. For shame.
After a good rest at our second hotel, the recently-opened boutique Hotel Indigo, and a delicious breakfast involving absolutely no sugar at all, it was time for more chocolating. The hotel is metres away from Fossgate, a street of independent shops, restaurants and cafes, which makes a very welcome change to the homogeneous centres elsewhere. I had a particular fondness for Give A Dog A Bone, officially my favourite gift and card shop in the UK so far thanks to its myraid of novel yet useful products.
So after a spot of retail therapy, we amble over to York’s Cocoa House for a spot of truffle making. The centre of York is compact enough that taxis or buses aren’t necessary unless you’re staying on the outskirts, which means there’s one less aspect to worry about – all you need is Google Maps and non-stiletto shoes.
A nice continuation of the Chocolate Story tour which explains the process of bean to bar, this truffle making class takes us from bar to complex creations. It’s an hour long so not as hands-on as we first expected – for example the truffle filling was already mixed and prepared for us – but it gave us enough to continue in our own kitchen should we want to deal with the washing up.
After a leisurely non-chocolate lunch at The Lime House – which serves unpretentious modern European fayre, though its service is more consistent than its dishes – it was back to chocolate duties as we picked up the last gifts of bagged chocolate.
Then it’s off from whence we came, having done the unimaginable: our appetite for the brown stuff was satiated. Who’d have thunk it?
See: Most of the main attractions – from York Minster to Goddard’s House & Café (home of the Terry family) – are included in the York Pass
For more information see visityork.org.