Deliciously old-fashioned, famous for its rose and violet creams, Audreys, the East Sussex chocolatier, is ready for Easter. Edan Ambrose investigates
Audreys, the product of a partnership between the famous chocolatier William Pain, Mr Floris, a Hungarian refugee and Fortnum and Mason, the august grocers on Piccadilly, has its roots firmly set in the 1920s. William Pain trained at Fortnums, opening a chocolate factory on the 6th floor there in 1928, where he imported beans from Trinidad, Java and Maracasbo in Venezuela and made daily batches of truffles. In 1939 the factory moved to Soho and was run by Mr Floris but by 1948, Floris and Pain had set up their own company, still making chocolates for Fortnums. When Floris died, the operation ceased and Pain moved to Sussex, where he married Mrs Pain and set up Audreys chocolate shop in a cottage opposite Hove town hall. They moved the shop to No 28 Holland Road, Hove, in 1968 and there they might have remained in relative obscurity had not Kate Hobhouse, chocolate buyer at Fortnums, paid them a visit a decade or so later in 1983, to ask whether they’d start supplying chocolates to Fortnums again.
The answer was yes, which meant turning the whole of the existing house into a shop plus onsite chocolate-making production line and doing, literally, everything by hand. And 30 years later, the shop, like an extra in a Jane Austen movie – bow-windowed, paneled in oak and carpeted in red, with glass cabinets full of chocolates – remains on the ground floor at No 28, while upstairs lurks a world that Roald Dahl might have invented. Narrow, winding staircases and half-landings stacked with teetering boxes of violet and rose creams reveal through doors bearing instructions to ‘wear a hairnet’, small hives of industry: 26 people engaged in tempering chocolate, enrobing fondants, cracking open egg moulds and dotting each violet and rose cream with miniature pink and purple crystallized petals.
Today Audreys is owned and run by David and Keeley Burns. Astonishingly, they still make all of Fortnums renowned selection boxes and their violet and rose creams (95,000 boxes a year, many of which would once have been consumed by the Queen mother who had a particular penchant for rose creams), using the old method of alabaster moulds (made by a local dentist) pressed into trays of cornstarch and then removed, leaving the resulting indentation to be filled with fondant cream piped in through a funnel designed by Keeley’s grandfather. That takes place alongside the creation of moulded chocolate animals, – pigs, chickens, bunnies – chocolate buttons (made from moulds based on vintage buttons that belonged to Keeley’s grandmother), chocolate gingers, a variety of other chocolate creams including strawberry, coffee, orange and pineapple, their own bars of chocolate, and raisin squares. And, at this time of year, Easter eggs. It’s worth shopping at Audreys just for the joy of being in a thoroughly old-fashioned chocolate emporium, but at Easter, a visit is particularly rewarding – a whole house devoted to flocks of dark and milk spring chickens, chocolate bunnies, hand-decorated eggs, eggs stuffed with rose and violet creams and bags of Easter shapes… chocolate heaven.
Audreys Chocolates, 28 Holland Road Hove, East Sussex, tel 01273 735561 or visit audreyschocolates.co.uk