Speaking of local gems in Brighton: today, I’d like to share my best discovery yet, the most treasured shop with heart you’re likely to come across in the city, if not the world, called Audrey’s. The scene is set for this marvelous time-capsule chocolate shop with its roots in the 1920s in a charming, yet ordinary Georgian townhouse tucked down a Hove side street.
Outside, the façade is humble and inside it looks exactly as it did when the shop opened in 1961 by Mr William Pain – all paneled in oak, carpeted in red, with old 1960s glass cabinets full of handmade chocolates. It’s also home to a mind-blowing surprise; the stuff childhood dreams are made of which I soon discover – more on this later.
The story behind the shop is heartwarming. Mr Pain trained in chocolate making at Fortnum and Mason in London, opening a chocolate factory on its 6th floor in 1928. The operation later moved to another factory run by a Mr Floris, who together with Pain, ended up launching their own company in 1948 making chocolates for Fortnums. When Pain retired, he and his wife, Clarice, opened Audrey’s in Hove to sell their unique chocolates at the seaside. They also carried on supplying Fortnums.
Today, Audrey’s Chocolates has new owners – David and the lovely Keeley who greets me with a warm smile and firm handshake. The sweets are still made using Mr Pain’s original moulds and recipes from the 1920s, give or take a little tweaking to accommodate today’s better quality ingredients. Oh, and did I mention that as well as all these sweets you see in the shop, they still supply Fortnums with FIVE THOUSAND boxes of chocolates a week? Not to mention Easter eggs, Valentine’s gifts, Christmas treats…
Inside the big shiny cabinets, there are caramels, nuts, marzipan, fondants, nougats, dried fruit, ginger, orange, you name it – all hand dipped in milk or dark chocolate.
Then there are all the jars of sweets, candied fruits, bars of chocolate, chocolate with raisins, colourful candies, and there isn’t an artificial colour or flavouring in sight, naturally.
You can curate a box of your favourites, buy an Audrey’s selection, or simply choose one chocolate for your walk home! Whatever you like.
The bestsellers? Their rose and violet creams handmade in small batches and decorated with tiny little delicate crystallised petals all the way from Toulouse. The griottes are a favourite too – indulgent alcoholic cherry liqueurs made with fruits from Kent, soaked in brandy for five years, five years, 24 hours after being picked and stoned, then hand-dipped in dark chocolate. They’re only available at Christmas but voila! Keeley magics one out of a box for me to try – it really is heaven in one alcoholic drizzly bite. I’m not surprised there’s a waiting list.
As if this wasn’t impressive, you know those 5000 boxes of chocolates, not to mention the 2000-odd Easter Eggs and Valentine Gift boxes, bound for Fortnums? Well, they’re all handmade, boxed and shipped out from this little unassuming townhouse in Hove. I know! Keeley surprises me with a behind-the-scenes tour, so I follow her up and down the house’s narrow winding staircases, past landings stacked with boxes of violet and rose creams bound for Fortnums, and through doorways where I get a peek into the thickly scented chocolatey rooms buzzing with activity – people tempering chocolate, enrobing fondants, cracking open moulds, decorating Easter eggs, arranging crystallised petals on the rose and violet creams and packing everything up for delivery. It’s a full-on operation.
I’m speechless as I watch the focused chocolatiers at work and ponder the sheer size of this hive of industry, all hidden inside this modest little Hove townhouse.
I was lucky to get a behind-the-scenes look as the production rooms aren’t open to the public, but I’ve managed to dig up a great little video showing you how the chocolate is made:
My visit to Audrey’s was such a treat and this lovely shop has made it to the top of my list of favourite Brighton gems.
Pssst: The Miniature Plant Emporium in Brighton Hiding in a Vintage Clothes Shop and A Little Cabinet of Curiosities to visit in Brighton.