Since the humble cocoa bean arrived on our shores in the seventeenth century, Britain has been a nation of chocolate lovers. Whether you were rich or poor, young or old, almost everyone likes to indulge in this velvety smooth creation and the royal family over the years have been no strangers to it either. In fact so much so, that a kitchen dedicated to chocolate making was installed at Hampton Court Palace and went on to serve three kings: William III, George I and George II. And as the doors to this small room is flung open to the public for the time in almost 300 years, I went along to take a sneak preview during a weekend trip to the palace and the surrounding areas in leafy Surrey.
Hampton Court Palace can be accessed by train but with the River Thames on its doorstep why take a conventional form of transport? Thus it was decided that a cruise along the river aboard Turk Cruises from Kingston was more apt for the occasion. The 20 minute journey is also a great way to look at the grand houses that line the way.
According to recent research this eighteenth century chocolate kitchen was once the domain of Thomas Tosier, personal chocolatier to King George I. Tosier and his staff prepared special drinking chocolate for the royal family’s most intimate dinners and entertainments. Today the kitchen, believed to be the only surviving royal chocolate kitchen in the country, can be seen with many of the original fittings including the stove. It can be seen dressed with ceramic, copper cooking equipment, bespoke chocolate serving silverware, glassware and linen. Throughout the year the chocolate kitchen will host live Georgian chocolate making sessions, Unfortunately, the kitchens were closed during my visit which in hindsight was just as well. I was booked for two dinners and an afternoon tea in Kingston for the weekend.
The picturesque riverside town of Kingston is home to an array of festivals & events throughout the year including the Kingston Regatta, which has been running for over 150 years. Food and sports related events hold equal importance in this area I soon realise and I was in for a real treat for afternoon tea, dinner in the area and two nights stay at Warren House.
Warren House is a magnificent Victorian private house set within landscaped gardens and has truly unique facilities for business or pleasure hosting conferences and weddings alike. For those wanting to stretch out their stay at this remarkable place can do so by taking lodge in one of their uniquely decorated 46 bedrooms. Not there for either a conference or a wedding, it made sense to sample their champagne afternoon tea in their Orchid Café.
As a gluten free diner, I’m not much impressed with gluten free offerings but I have to sincerely say that the afternoon tea here at the Warren completely blew me away. The delicate cakes and pastries were just as fluffy and light indulgent as the normal variety. I’d challenge anyone to give them a go and not be able to tell the difference. My personal favourite was the traditional scone with homemade strawberry jam. Totally divine and a real credit to in-house pastry chef Amber Parish.
A short trip into Kingston town and you’re in minefield of places to eat offering mouth watering cuisine from around the world to suit every taste and budget. The first night had us following the aromas of Monty’s restaurant. From the gentle burning of incense sticks to the rich smells of curries, this place has your senses aroused from the moment you walk in. A chic little place with clean black and white décor, this Indian curry house was a delight to dine at. The food was not at all greasy like many Indian restaurants and had a great twist on traditional meals such as the salmon and prawn tandoori starter.
Our second night in the town took us to Jamie’s Italian. Although a chain, this lived very much up to the high standards of a good hearty Italian meal. Even their thick hand cut chips were not out of the ordinary. I would highly recommend the posh chips made with truffle oil and sprinkled with Parmesan.
For more information on Kingston Upon Thames, go to www.kingstonfirst.co.uk Rooms at Warren House start from £129 per room for two, per night including breakfast.