It is Valentine’s Day, the day is grey, wet and windy, the journey has been fraught with weather warnings, flooding and closed roads but I have made it to Hampton Court Palace with my Valentine. It is a special day today, not only Valentine’s Day but also the opening of the Royal Chocolate Kitchen. What could be better than to be surrounded by history, chocolate and romantic thoughts. Unfortunately I am also surrounded by all three of my children, but since they also love chocolate and Hampton Court it would be churlish of me to exclude them.
Knowing how quickly young children tire, I herd my brood straight to Fountain Court, a green space in the heart of the Palace. Our over excited footsteps echo along the cloistered walkway as we hunt out our chocolate destination. The ‘Oooohing’ and ‘Aaaaahing’ of Hampton Court staff are an early indication we are in the right spot. They have obviously popped down to see for themselves how this recreation has been rendered and the story interpreted.
The rooms themselves are simply dressed evoking the 18th century world when the Royal Chocolatier Thomas Tosier worked roasting cocoa beans, melting in the sugar and serving up a rich, spicy hot chocolate drink fit for a king. From the time of William III there is evidence of a chocolate kitchen in Fountain Court where Mr Nice made the royal drink of choice. George I and George II set a trend, a fashion, for enjoying this rich, dark, opulent drink. It is hard to imagine now, with chocolate treats thrust at us at every till point, a time when chocolate was purely the reserve of the very rich.
I love the rooms, they are intimate in contrast to the cavernous kitchens of Henry VIII, with their huge roaring fires and tables laden with food. Thomas Tosier would have worked his delicate magic, the glint of bespoke glassware, delicate china and the burnished warmth of copper, a visual feast to balance with the dark, rich, velvet of the King’s favourite drink. I wonder how many servants would have lingered outside these rooms in Fountain Court, smelling the roasting cocoa beans, their mouths watering in jealous contemplation of treats fit only for their royal masters.
What makes this story even more magical is the discovery of these rooms. Once store rooms packed with paraphernalia, with some research, snooping and emptying, pieces of a puzzle fall into place. Original features still remained in the rooms, tables and brasier the hints and clues that link us to a former time. This is of course what Hampton Court Palace does so well, a patchwork of 500 years of history. Like a many layered chocolate box, you can pick and choose your favourites and indulge in the 16th century grandeur of Henry VIII or the opulence of William and Mary. The Chocolate Kitchen is an engaging piece of the rich and indulgent Georgian period. A perfect taster that precedes the opening of the ‘Glorious Georgians’ at Hampton Court in April this year.
All this chocolate inspection has set my own mouth watering and the kids are demanding treats of their own. We head along to the Fountain Court Cafe for bacon baps (it is cold after all) and I can’t resist trying a quartet of hot chocolate shorts. It is history in a cup after all…
My beloved family dive straight in, I have to say my daughter’s face is a picture when she tries the first shot. Made using the earliest surviving chocolate recipe it has a spicy hit and warmth of chilli perhaps an acquired taste for young taste buds. It certainly makes her reluctant to try numbers 2,3 and 4. Next we jump forward in time, a Georgian version, it has more spices but more familiar, they smell Christmassy, tastes of cinnamon and cardamom. The third and most popular with my offspring a Victorian recipe incorporating milk making for a smoother, sweeter and more familiar taste. Finally a hint of white chocolate and orange, a much sweeter and lighter concoction. I love my youngest daughter’s review of our historical journey in chocolate. “Yuck, Yuck, Yuck and Yum”. She is only 6 so you may prefer to make your own judgements.
As always a great day was had by all. The Royal Chocolate Kitchen is a great addition to the retelling of this amazing royal palace. Perhaps what I love most of all its that Hampton Court is still giving up its secrets. The stories are not all told, there is always more to discover. So with every trip and visit when you see a doorway, a small courtyard or hidden window you can imagine a King or Queen, royal courtier or servant. A whispered word or secret assignation and on a gloomy Valentine’s Day you need no prompting to enjoy the story of the Royal Chocolate Kitchen.
Hampton Court Palace
A visit to The Royal Chocolate Kitchen is included in the entrance price.
The Quartet of Hot Chocolate shots or ‘flights’ cost £3.95 from Fountain Court Cafe.
There is live chocolate demonstrations throughout the year please check the website for more details.
- Monday – Sunday
- 10:00 – 16:30