Cold, cosy evenings. Oversized jumpers and soft socks. A good book (or a gripping T.V. show). And hot chocolate…
Oh yes, it’s that time of year again when there’s nothing more cathartic than a steaming cup of cocoa! Of course, London’s eclectic mix of cafés offer all manners of other equally-pleasurable winter-warmers too – from Turkish Salep to Chai, Matcha-Chai Lattes and more…
The ultimate fix for a chilly day, hot chocolate is a drink which can trace its origins back to the Aztecs some 2,000 years ago.
For a contemporary Mexican spin, pop into Ella Canta – Martha Ortiz’ magical restaurant at InterContinental Park Lane, where the bittersweet hot chocolate hums with a spicy note of chilli. There’s a worthy vegan option on offer too, enlivened with mint and toasted pumpkin seeds… And since you’re here, you might as well plump for a plate of churros – you won’t encounter a more exquisite rendition anywhere else!
The festive ice rink is back at Somerset House, but if you (like me) are all about the après-skate, head indoors to Fortnum’s cosy lodge for fondue, racelette and a tipsy-take on hot chocolate complete with fluffy marshmallows and florentines!
First SKATE of the season with @Fortnums @SomersetHouse… and what a wonderfully-wintry evening for it! I’m leaving my pals @Megan3889 & @KlaraNorri on the ice and heading indoors for Fortnum’s legendary hot chocolate (given my lack of balance, it’s probably safer for all parties involved!) #FestiveFeels #Fortnum #SomersetHouse #TisTheSeason #SundayFunday #TheFoodieDiariesLondon
Other hot favourites for hot chocolate include Rococo’s charming store in Seven Dials where high-grade cocoa beans blend into an intensely rich (dairy-free) drink, with a sprinkling of cinnamon or star anise adding a festive punch!
At Maitre Choux’ new outpost in Soho, picture perfect éclairs are braced with Basque-style hot chocolate, based on a family recipe handed down by chef Joakim Prat’s grandmother. Or if you’re really looking to dial up the decadence, try the Italian-style ‘cioccolata densa’ at Said dal 1923 – a cosy café on Soho’s Broadwick Street associated with one of the oldest chocolate factories in Rome. The triple melted chocolate is served spilling out over the rims of the cup and is so indulgently thick, that it can – quite literally – be sipped by the spoonful!
Speaking of chocolate shops, Kahve Dünyasi is a dreamy haven offering anything and everything from chocolate covered chestnuts to chocolate fondue and soufflés. The Piccadilly outpost of the Turkish chain is one of the few places in London where you can find Salep – a quintessential winter-time drink from Istanbul. Made with milk and the ground tubers of wild orchid flowers, it has an enticing velvety texture, liberally dusted with cinnamon for an added pinch of warmth!
Chai, matcha chai lattes and the like
Matcha lattes are now a ubiquitous feature across London cafés, whether independent or part of a high-street chain. Upping the ante is the Matcha Chai Latte at Amanzi’s tea bar in Marylebone (one of my favourite weekend hangouts in Marylebone), featuring a matcha latte steamed with spices.
But while you can take the girl out of Bombay, you can never take Bombay out of the girl, nor replace her gratifying rush of comfort from sipping a piping hot half-glass of cutting chai.
I usually get my fix over endless refills at breakfast at Dishoom on Upper St Martin’s Lane (complete with bun maskas dunked in), or at Talli Joe in nearby Seven Dials, where masala chai is served with the nostalgia-evoking Parle G biscuits of my childhood. Talli Joe’s black gajar halwa (a milky carrot pudding made with purple heritage carrots) is also a wintry affair to savour.
The turmeric-tinged Golden Lattes found across most wellness cafés are another Indian import, albeit elevated by a few luscious notches when compared to the haldi doodh (turmeric mixed into a full-fat buffalo milk) that Indian children are made to guzzle as a remedial fix for any and every ailment.
My favourite version here in London is the Liquid Gold at Farm Girl (Notting Hill / Carnaby), for its soothing sweetness laced with astralagus (a herb), cinnamon and honey!
Of course, caffeine fiends can always find comfort in flat whites spiked with a squeeze of fresh ginger juice (Joe and the Juice serves up a fine cup) and/ or honey (as at L’eto Caffe).
Finally. For something a touch stronger, seek out seasonally-inspired cocktails at London’s snug hotel bars.
My top pick this year, is the whisky-based Winter Wonderland at Four Seasons Park Lane. Laced with dark chocolate liquor and served with candied chestnuts, the debonair drink is the epitome of festive decadence – matched by the scintillating warmth of the hotel’s sumptuous setting!
And of course, the real Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park remains my go-to for mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and mini Dutch pancakes smothered with Nutella!
What are your favourite winter-time warmers?