In October, chocolate chainstore Thornton’s announced that it was closing its last branch on the Isle of Wight. When we heard the news our minds once again turned to what the Island has rather than has not. As one by one the national stores withdraw their branches, local independent retailers might be the best bet to keep our high streets unique and thriving – unlike many of the clone towns we have visited this year.
To be honest, we weren’t regular shoppers in Thornton’s. Why would we be when our home town Ryde has its own artisan chocolatier?
Ryde’s Chocolate Apothecary has been part of the Esplanade’s street scene for years. Last year the outfit moved a few doors down into larger premises, with a window into the chocolate kitchen where all the magic happens. The chocolates, cakes and drinks are created on the premises and these chocolate alchemists really know their stuff.
Reliably, Chocolate Apothecary is one of those venues that stays open all year round (apart from Christmas Day). This is important; how many times have you turned up at a favourite cafe to find that its opening hours are unpredictable? Consistency is crucial, whether it is in the product, availability or pricing.
Having got up stupidly late, we forwent lunch and headed off to Chocolate Apothecary for a cuppa to tide us over until dinner time. The cafe’s boutique interior is all parquet flooring and mahogany cabinets, and if you are lucky enough to get a seat by the spectacular windows you’ll get a view towards Ryde’s Western Gardens and the Solent.
We ordered our drinks at the counter, but you’ll need to go and salivate over the vast display of chocolate and cakes. Really, it’s worth it. Although we only popped in for a drink, we found ourselves buying cakes and a couple of chocolates to go with them, and then a little box for later. Maybe some as a present for a friend? No chance – they’d never make it out of the house before we ate them.
Chocolate indulgence £3
Chocolate and ginger cookie £2
White chocolate £3
Chocolates to eat in £1.80 for two
Six chocolates to take away £6
Matt prepared his pancreas for a pounding – his favourite Chocolate Apothecary cake is the aptly-named chocolate indulgence. This super-sweet luxury is a huge soft slab of marbled white and milk chocolate balanced on a slender pastry base that gives it the dignity of calling itself a cake rather than a pudding. A tour de force in chocolate cake-making. He paired this audacious cake with a discreet and understated simple white chocolate and hot milk drink without extra sugar; a civilised antidote to the horrific, overblown messy choc drinks of the coffee chains.
Cat’s classic Americano with milk was hot and fresh, served in a cute Denby-style coffee cup and with the Apothecary’s trademark apostle spoon. To be honest she could’ve had a mug twice the size, allowing for proper dunkage of her dark chocolate and ginger cookie, but that wouldn’t have been so dainty. The delicious flat biscuit wasn’t one of those greasy, bendy cookies; but drier, with a peppery ginger taste and big chunks of bitter chocolate.
After pleasantly whiling away an hour or so, we had to go, as the Apothecary doesn’t open late (although we wish it would). But we had already stocked up on those delicious handmade chocolates to take home, so we were not going to do without for long. Another enjoyable afternoon with a small independent Island business and we were entirely sanguine about the demise of Thornton’s. Should the decline of these national firms bother us? What have we got to lose but our chains?
This is the full-length version of the review that first appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Lovely chocolates and cakes made on the premises
- Great spot for people-watching
- Open seven days a week
- Coffee cups could be bigger!