It might look like just an ordinary Victorian townhouse from the outside, but little do most people realise just what’s behind its facade…
Audrey’s is a delightful nostalgic 1960s chocolate shop, tucked up a side street in Hove. It’s one of those unique local gem shops which remains true to its traditional roots, and flourishes despite rising city rents, and its off-the-beaten-track location – you have to make an effort to get here from the centre of Brighton. I visited a while ago on a mission to taste the violet and rose creams I’d heard so much about.
If you haven’t read my post on Audrey’s, here’s the backstory: the shop opened in the 1960s by Mr Pain who learned the art of chocolate making at London’s luxury department store, Fortnum and Mason, and opened a chocolate factory on its 6th floor in 1928. Pain later opened another chocolate making operation nearby with a friend, eventually retiring with his wife, to Hove, and opening Audrey’s; a few years later supplying Fortnums again.
It’s special for two reasons: The first is that the shop interior looks pretty much the same as it did when Mr Pain and his wife opened it in 1961 with the oak-panelled walls, rich red carpet, all the chocolates displayed on sheets in original dark-wood glass cabinets.
The second – and you might want to make sure you’re sitting down for this one – Audrey’s still supplies Fortnums with no less than 5,000 boxes of chocolate a week, each and every chocolatey treat handmade by 26 chocolate wizards in a secret luxury chocolate factory above the shop! So just to clarify: Brighton is home to one of the world’s most clandestine high-end chocolate making emporiums. That is something.
When I visited the shop to write about it, the current owner, Keeley, surprised me with a private backstage tour – I mean, I would have been happy just being allowed to stand behind the counter!
This means I wasn’t prepared with my proper camera, so any snaps I took were with my iPhone. I used most of them in my original post on the shop itself. Honestly though, I can’t believe it took me so long to realise that they really should have been made into a post in itself on the factory. So here we go!
I follow Keeley behind the counter to her office and through a door which takes us up narrow winding staircases and past half-landings stacked with boxes of chocolates, through doors bearing instructions to wear a hairnet where I discover the Audrey’s chocolate wizards hard at work.
Each person I see looks meditatively engrossed in their individual chocolate related jobs, which I’ve never heard of, like tempering which has something to do with making chocolate look glossy and not flat. Someone else is ‘enrobing’ fondants, which is a fancy and lovely way of talking about covering them in chocolate.
One lady I meet is seriously cracking open easter bunny moulds of various sizes ready for decorating with hand-made bows and flowers.
I watch another person carefully decorating easter eggs with pretty handmade flowers. I can’t really believe my eyes!
I’m intrigued by these interesting tools on the wall which Keeley tells me, are traditional chocolate moulds. They’re made out of alabaster, which are pressed into trays of cornflour and removed leaving an indentation to be filled with fondant cream piped in through a funnel designed by Keeley’s grandfather. Magic!
Right at the end of my tour, I realise I haven’t seen any Fortnum and Mason packaging. I find out that this is because the packing is done in a factory unit, where there are another 16 people! Which makes me wonder if they plan to leave the townhouse. “No,” Keeley quikly reassures me. “This place and its history is so much part of the chocolate making process as the chocolate itself!”
I hope you enjoyed your backstage tour of Audrey’s. Until you visit, fill your boots with their chocolates on their website, here.