Audrey’s Chocolates is a delightful nostalgic sweet shop with an original 1960s interior, 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.
When I last visited, I was on a ission to taste the violet and rose creams I’d heard so much about.
While I was here, I got chatting to the current owner, Keeley, who told me they supply London food emporium, Fortum and Mason with all their chocolate. Not only this, but that they make all of the chocolates in the floors above the shop! Who knew? Looking at it from the outside, you’d never guess that it’s the setting for what I’m calling, Brighton and Hove’s secret chocolate factory.
Lucky for me, Keeley surprised me with a private backstage tour – I mean, I would have been happy just being allowed to stand behind the counter!
Also, won’t you look at the interior. This is how it looked when the founders, 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. You can read more about that here.
I follow Keeley behind the counter, through a door into her office, through another door which takes us up a narrow winding carpeted staircase and past half-landings stacked with boxes of chocolates bound for Fortnums.
We walk 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 and I can’t believe my eyes!
I feel so special getting to watch the Audrey’s chocolate wizards hard at work. Each person I see looks meditatively engrossed in their individual chocolate-making-related jobs, 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 still can’t believe my eyes! Most of this bound for Fortnum and Mason in London!
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!
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 separate 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!”
So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed your backstage tour of Brighton’s secret chocolate factory. Until you visit the delightful shop, fill your boots with their chocolates on their website, here.
Side point: Audrey’s don’t offer behind-the-scenes tours to the public, I was lucky enough to get a backstage tour as a journalist.