“ The ultimate chocoholic fantasy. Fondues and thick rich pure chocolate drinks, served with great sandwiches and rich savouries. „
The other day, while I was walking through miserable and grey London, I was suddenly overcome by an unexplicable chocolate craving. I also wanted somewhere to sit down and read a book - so when I put these two desires together, it suddenly came to me. There was a Chocolate Café in Harrods, a treat that I had promised myself for a while. I hopped on the next Piccadilly Line and exited at Knightsbridge.
I have always been intimidated by Harrods - its size is simply overwhelming. Instead of walking through this massive empire of junk and luxury, I immediately went up to the information desk and ask where I might find the Max Brenner Chocolate Café. I was told it was on the second floor and given a map. It turned out that I really needed it. Once on the second floor, I initially followed the signs to the Harrods Café, but on eyeing the menu, I immediately knew that I had found the wrong place. Turning to my map, I realised that this place was better known as "The Harrods Chocolate Bar" and located on the other end of the floor, between the cookshop and mahor household appliances - in the middle of home electricals.
When I finally arrived in front of the café, I was rather disappointed. I do not know what I was expecting, as I had been forewarned that this place was not exactly luxury in style - but I suppose I had been under the illusion that everything in Harrods would be luxurious. In front of the entrance I could see two massive metal pots with melted chocolate being churned, twisted and mixed. Behind the entrance I could see only a handful of tables. There were also some turquois bar stools located in front of the food preparation area. They seemed to have room for me - so I decided to give it a try.
I was greeted by a smiling, friendly older gentleman. He surveyed his surroundings and then offered me either a tiny table in the corner, squeezed inbetween two couples on either side, or a seat at the bar. I felt slightly uncomfortable taking the table, as I was on my own, so I opted for the bar and was immediately placed in front of the chocolate chef.
Opting to sit in front of the bar turned out to be a mistake. From here I could see exactly what was going on in the kitchen, and I simply did not like what I saw. The place seemed to be a mess, with puddles and bits of chocolate all over the place. There were massive porcellain jugs with melted chocolate and plastic tubs with melted chocolate. From my corner I could watch the chocolate chefs spoon chocolate into smaller dishes, melt it in the microwave and serve it up to customers. What I really did not like to see, however, is that on more than one occasion did a chocolate chef have his fingers a little to close to the actual chocolate itself.
Watching the scene unfold before me, I surveyed the menu. It looked quite good. In terms of chocolate drinks you could either choose from hot chocolate prepared with a powder mix or you could choose Italian hot chocolate. The Italian hot chocolate is called "Suckao" and is essentially melted chocolate mixed with cream. Non-chocolate drinks were also available - tea, coffee, juices, water and even champagne could be seen on this menu. In terms of food, the café offered a selection of baked goods. By the time I was there it was about 5 p.m., so I suppose they had sold out of a lot of their goodies, but I saw croissants, pain au chocolat, loaf cake and brownies. They all looked rather regular to me - the only thing that tempted me visually was the chocolate brownie, a massive piece of baked heaven, visibly packed with nuts of all sorts. All of these culinary delights were available with ice cream - and I briefly flirted with the idea of trying a brownie with vanilla ice cream, before I returned my nose to the menu and selected a white chocolate suckao. I briefly noticed that the menu also offered sandwiches - but that was a selection I instantly dismissed - after all, I was here to have some chocolate.
While I was waiting for my white chocolate suckao, I surveyed my surroundings a little uncomfortably. I felt very much "on display" sitting at the bar alone and made a mental note to select the table the next time. Either way, I immediately noticed that this was not the type of place to sit down with a book and spend substantial amounts of time in. The artificial lights on the ceiling clearly ensured that the atmosphere was far from relaxing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the place has been designed for busy shoppers to quickly have a little treat to gain strength before returning to their shopping spree.
My suckao arrived in front of me about 5 minutes after ordering it. It came in a cup that looked very much like a candleholder. It was oval in shape, did not have any handles - and in the middle was a small metal dish containing my treat for the day. I was handed a spoon along with my cup, which, incidentally, was not the cleanest item of cutlery I had ever seen.
A look down at my Suckao made me feel a little disappointed. At £3.75, this seemed to be a rather small amount. And it did not look that inviting either. In fact, it looked a lot like melted butter, the type you would dip your crab legs or lobster into in a seafood restaurant. You could see the dots of grease swimming on top of the little metal container. It was not particulary thick in consistency - thicker than ordinary hot chocolate, a little like creamy soup.
A first spoon of the mixture in front of me tasted exactly how it looked - melted butter with lots of sugar stirred into it. I stirred the concoction a little longer, to make sure all the particles were mixed properly. This was a success - the next spoon I tried had a little more flavour to it. I could clearly taste double cream and vanilla, though the buttery flavour was still very present. It was insanely sweet, so sweet that the sugar made my throat scratch and I nearly had to cough a couple of times. While spooning my mixture bit by bit, I was seriously considering ordering a cup of tea or a glass of water to help it "go down better".
When I reached the bottom of my cup, I was kind of satisfied, but not overwhelmed. The suckao had been alright, but it had not been spectacular. I did not feel like it tasted any better than Cadbury's white chocolate buttons - and I probably would have been better served by eating half a bar of Lindt's Swiss white chocolate. Contrary to my expectations, the suckao did not leave an aftertaste in my mouth, it simply disappeared and left me thirsty for a bottle of water.
I briefly considered ordering something else, when I spotted one of the chocolate chefs preparing slices of cake and dishing out vanilla ice cream on top of it. The thick yellow cake slices looked inviting, but what turned me off immediately was the consistency of the ice cream - it was so runny and melted that one could have thought it had sat out in scorching summer temperatures for too long. That seriously put me off trying anything else. A brief glance at the menu to make sure I had not missed anything major - and I asked for the bill. The bill arrived promptly, I paid and was on my way.
♦ My verdict ♦
On my way home I had to seriously think about my experience. On the one hand, I did like the place. It had been friendly. And for about £8, I could have had a lovely hot chocolate and a slice of cake in one of the most luxurious shops in the world. I instantly knew that I had not made the right choice with the white chocolate suckao - I should have gone for milk or dark chocolate instead. I also should have tried some of their solid and baked chocolate delicacies. As I am writing, I do feel tempted to go back for another visit - but the mess that I saw while I was there is slightly putting me off giving it another shot. I doubt I would ever deliberately go back there, but if I happened to be in Harrods and was not looking for a relaxing place to read a book and enjoy my hot chocolate, I might just pop in again.
*Further information *
Max Brenner Chocolate Bar
87-135 Brompton Road
Tel: 020 7730 1234
As you know, I'm known here as "The Chocolate Lady". But I've had this name long before joining DooYoo. The reason for this is that many years ago, on a newsgroup, I proved my vast knowledge and passion for this godly food item. But there was a time when I felt that I had been letting my public down by never having experienced a visit to the Max Brenner Chocolate Bar at Harrods in London. However, I am pleased to inform you that I have corrected this oversight (several times, as you will note below) and have decided to review this restaurant for your reading (and drooling) pleasure.
As a forward, you should know who this Max Brenner person is. Actually, rumor has it that this isn't actually one person, but two persons. Double personality or not, the persona known as Max Brenner is of Israeli origin. Having learned the art of making chocolates in the great cocoa Mecca of Belgium, the return to his homeland to open a chain of hand-made chocolate shops was inevitable. Word spread quickly of the amazing gastronomic tidbits in that simple store in the town of Ra'anana, Israel and soon there was a chain of stores. And as is the way of the world, expansion was on their minds. After a very successful showing in a food show in San Francisco, CA, the decision was made to go international. (This caused some problems here at home, but nothing that was perminant.) Sydney, Australia was one place, and the other ended up being in Harrods. I may never get the opportunity to visit the former, but here's my review of the latter. (WARNING: Just reading this op may cause you to go into a diabetic coma or at the very least, gain half a stone.)
After having a bit of a difficult time finding my way through the maze that is know as Harrods in London, I finally found myself on the 2nd floor in a small area snuggling quietly between the kitchen appliances, house wares and special Christmas decorations display. There I found the famous Max Brenner's Chocolate Bar - known by many as "Chocolate by the Bald Man".
This seems like a very quiet place that is almost unimpressive. But at closer look, you'll find a simple elegance has gone into the decoration of this restaurant. Slabs of white and gray marble line the walls, and the same marble shows up again as a massive serving counter between the kitchen and the seating area. This thick, kidney shaped counter is not only for passing food from kitchen to customer and returning empties for washing up. Its also a display area. On the right you'll find six wooden bowls filled with different types of chocolate shavings. There's Venezuelan, Ecuador Orange, Trinidad White, Cinnamon and Java & Spice. Also on this you'll find the classic clear pastry holders which display such delights such as a miniature chocolate gateau, various chocolate chip cookies, chocolate croissants, and brownies.
Beneath this multi-purpose counter, you'll find another piece of this marble in the shape of an overstuffed ottoman. On this you'll see huge slabs of chocolate - dark, milk and white - which are each easily 2 inches thick and the size of a page of A4 paper! Along with that is a display of canisters of cocoa mixes and other products available to purchase at the shop.
On either side of this is a bar-like seating area, the counter-top of which is made of a thick deep mahogany wood (yes, dark chocolate coloured, of course!). The high, backless stools, covered in an inappropriately colored turquoise leather, are surprisingly comfortable. In front of this you'll find several tables able to seat from 4 to 6 persons. The table-tops are of the same dark mahogany wood, and the chairs are a combination of that same wood and brushed metal. More of the white and gray marble appears set into the walls and along a waist high divider, topped by more mahogany, which keeps passers-by from disturbing those partaking of the menu's delights. On the other side of the divider there is a display wall of cubicles showing all of the Max Brenner products for sale.
Apparently, at one time they also sold their fresh, hand-made Max Brenner truffles (what you might call a praline), since there is a small inlet on this back wall where there are still fixtures for these morsels to be displayed. I'm assuming that this practice was discontinued for one of two reasons. One could be that the need to keep someone at the separate till near the truffles was not cost-effective, and the other more likely reason, is that if there was no one at that till, people probably thought that these were free samples, rather than wares for sale. That might have been great advertising, but I'm sure it hacked greatly into their profits. Too bad, that.
The other design aspect of this unusual restaurant is the two huge vats that sit churning dark and white chocolate on the far side of the entrance, where the Maitre 'd and main till are stationed. These are not for show only, as large boiler-room like pipes emerge from these vats that run directly into the preparation area. These pipes are painted chocolate brown coloured, and in one place white lettering states that they contain "pure hot chocolate". At the Maitre 'd station you will find more displays of Max Brenner chocolates for sale, including 100gr tablets, boxes of truffles and cocoa mixes.
The food preparation area is designed to be open enough for the public to see just what is being done within. Filled with the usual gadgets such as a large microwave oven, ice cream freezer, and steamers, this area is also backed by more cubicles which display all of the different and exotic serving pieces used. There are oddly shaped cups and things that look like old-fashioned medicine jars with glass stoppers, metal framed tea-cups and more. This seems to finish off the total design, giving the whole area a slightly old-time ice-cream parlour feel to it. All in all, a very restful niche with a bit of fun in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a busy department store. And this, in an area that is probably no larger from end to end than about 100 square meters.
So on the outside, it certainly looks like a place that is inviting enough. But what, you ask, about the contents of the menu? Ah there is something so very special going on here, that it just must be told, so here goes.
Max Brenner has taken the artistry of making chocolates to an all time high with his Chocolate Bar. On the menu you'll find some things that seem terribly ordinary, such as hot chocolate. But the name should not deceive you, for this is actually something quite special and different from any hot chocolate you've ever had in your life. Of course, at the princely price of £3.25 per cup, you must admit that you'll be expecting to get your pence worth. But there's also exotic names like "Suckao" on the menu. And again, you'd feel pretty silly to find out that it simply means "suck cocoa" - which is practically the only way one can drink this. We also find some interesting things like a chocolate gateau with lime sauce listed with other, seemingly more conventional pastries along side something called chocolate liqueurs. And if you're just looking for coffee or tea, you can get these too, but you won't find just your usual fare. Likewise, the lone special daily sandwich served seems to have a cocoa twist to it.
Now, let me take the opportunity to clear something up. There has been some confusion regarding what the restaurant calls a Hot Chocolate and what it calls a Suckao.
According to the menu, when they say "Hot Chocolate", what I found was simply chocolate that's been melted and served HOT. The melted chocolate is put into a special egg-shaped container, which holds a tea-candle inside it to keep the metal pot of chocolate warm and liquid. With this is served a small pitcher of steamed milk which is supposed to be poured into the metal well with the chocolate. You are given a special metal straw-spoon to assist you in drinking this. I have seen this special egg-shaped contraption - which was specially designed by Max Brenner for this purpose - called a Suckao.
However, when I ordered the dark chocolate Suckao, what I got was something else altogether. I got a low, handle-less cup that has a part on the lip that seems to have been pinched to a soft spout-like point. In this cup I was served a very warm, thick pudding, almost fondue-like consistency drink that required a spoon for total enjoyment. I know I could have lifted this cup up and drank from the spout, but it was quite warm and came close to burning my mouth with the first spoonful, so I decided to take this slowly and by spoon, instead. What was so amazing about this "drink" was that it wasn't half as sweet as you might think it would be. I'm not totally sure how this is made, but I'd be willing to take a guess that it is simply steamed up chocolate - made much like you would when you steam milk for a cappuccino, but instead they steam the cocoa instead. However its made, this was a true experience that defies words.
Along with this, I decided to splurge and also order one of the amazing looking brownies with some coffee ice cream on the side. This, they gave me with chocolate sauce as well. You should know that the brownie was chock filled with both walnuts and pecans, and came with a dark fudge frosting that was very smooth, making a lovely contrast of textures.
The coffee ice cream was only ordinary, but I was right in getting it to help clear my palette between spoons of the Suckao and bites of the brownie. I'm sure if I had been smarter and not had lunch only an hour before, this still would have filled me for the full day. As it was, the combination of these three items was far beyond what even I could eat at one setting and I was forced to take a full ¾ of the brownie back to the kind people who were letting me stay in their home in Oxford that evening. (I believe it was a bigger hit than the Lush Bath Bombs I got that day - even if that may sound sacrilegious to some of my readers here.)
I spent a good while sitting at the bar and watching what was going on in the preparation area. This, in order to give you all a better overall idea of what is available here among the things I didn't indulge in (and because they didn't let me copy out what was on the menu). One of the specialties they have is their Chocolate Liqueurs. These are served in those old-fashioned medicine jars I mentioned before, that have the glass stoppers on them. It looks as if these are more the consistency of the hot chocolate that you'd normally expect. The difference here is that these are "spiced" with boozy liqueurs such as the orange flavored Grand Marnier. I wasn't able to write all of these down, but I think there were about 6 different flavours and I believe one could get quite tipsy from some of these.
Another distinct item on the menu was the truffle plate. Max Brenner's truffles have all always been 1.5cm squares which are about 0.5cm high bits of delight. From the top, they all look the same, but they each have a special printed design "code" on the bottom which indicates what flavor it is. If you order the truffle plate, you'll not only be presented with these truffles, bottom-side up, but you'll also be witness to one of the most uniquely designed serving dishes I've ever seen. This is a flat, square shaped plate that looks somewhat reminiscent of something you'd find at a fine Japanese restaurant. There are two lines of three square shaped wells in this plate where six truffles are placed, as mentioned, bottom-side up. Down the center of these two rows is a long thin well which is filled with a rich chocolate sauce. Presumably, this sauce is for dipping the truffles into before consuming! Talk about decadence at its utmost, this must certainly take the cake. But since I didn't take the cake or the gateau (this time) and in the time I was there, I didn't see anyone take it either, I'm sorry to say I'm unable to report on those items in this op. (Perhaps, when I go back in December, I'll give one a try and write an update to this.)
This little refuge of indulgence is not only an occasion for your taste buds. Its also an experience on your wallet. Yes, it should come as no surprise that a visit here will not be on the price scale of MacDonald's by a long shot. My Suckao, brownie and ice cream (two small scoops) came to the wildly high price of £8 (not including tip)! Other items such as a 100gr tablet of chocolate will run you a full £2.40 and a small can of cocoa powder will run you £3.50. I noticed as well that their special sandwich was close to £8 on its own, and I didn't notice that it came with anything else. But we should remember that we're visiting a restaurant at Harrods and not the coffee shop at your local Safeway. And to tell the truth, to be able to walk out of any Harrods restaurant with a bill of under £10 per head, while feeling totally stuffed to the gills, should be considered quite a deal.
I have to admit, however, that the service is a bit slow (which I didn't totally mind. One needs time to enjoy one's chocolate properly). It seems that there was only one waiter, and the Maitre 'd also - and both take orders and clear away. But once you've made your selection, it comes quite quickly, and then they leave you alone to revel in their delights. But this place was impeccably clean - and I could see everything that went on in the food preparation area from my spot at the bar.
In conclusion, I'd have to say that there are way too few words in the English language that could properly describe a visit to the Max Brenner Chocolate Bar at Harrods. There is nothing more for me to add besides that I would highly, extremely, tremendously, terrifically and immensely recommend that if you're ever in the South Kensington area and are in need something to spoil and pamper yourself with without taking your clothes off (and you don't mind raising your blood sugar levels to the hilt), this is THE place to go. It is no doubt that when they thought of the phrase "Chocolate is better than Sex" that this is the type of culinary orgasm that they had in mind.
Thanks for reading.
My husband and I spent a very happy hour sitting in this Chocolate Bar on December 13th, 2002. Friday the 13th or not, we seemed to be very lucky because we only waited a few minutes for seats, and afterwards the lines got longer and longer. So, if you want to visit during the Xmas holiday shopping times, beware!
I'm also happy to inform you that the experience is still amazing. Read on for my original review, since NOTHING has changed!
However, after a long hiatus, one can once again purchase Max Brenner products on-line!!! The URL for this is too long for this site so just go to http://www.chocoshpere.com and look for Max Brenner "Chocolate by the Bald Man" and click away. Remember, this stuff isn't cheap, its sent from the US and you'll have shipping to pay, but that's the only place outside of the shops and Israel where you can buy Max Brenner Chocolates. Enjoy!
On our November 2003 visit to London, after the fire trucks left and we could get into Harrod's again, we headed straight for the Max Brenner Chocolate Bar. This time I got the Suckao in dark chocolate and my husband got a hot chocolate and a cake.
The Suckao is the melted chocolate in the egg shaped dish that has a tea candle underneath to keep it hot. I have to admit that this was smooth, creamy, and not in the least clawlingly sweet as the dark chocolate had a mellow woody undertone that wasn't at all acidic or sharp.
Again, the bill came to a whopping £8.50 for these three small items, but I can see that they haven't raised their prices since my first visit - so that's one small thing to be thankful for, no?
Max Brenner's Chocolate Bar is still worth every penny, and we all deserve a bit of high caloric, decadance of pampering every once in a while, don't we?
YET ANOTHER UPDATE
I've just found out that there's a Max Brenner Chocolate Bar in Tel Aviv. Haven't had a chance to visit it yet, but now I won't have to take an international flight to enjoy this indulgence. As soon as I've tried it, I'll ask DooYoo to add the category and I'll review it here for you. HURRAH!!!
This web page doesn't do it justice.
Other links to Max Brenner information, products, etc.:
This link refers to the Sydney Australia branch: