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An Insight into: Cocoa Bijoux

Cocoa Bijoux is an, erm, bijou, little chocolate shop down on Broadhurst Gardens. Except it isn’t just a chocolate shop. Stuart Daniel, the owner, wanted it be more interesting than a pure chocolate shop. It’s a good source if you are looking for a special present to take friends who’ve invited you for dinner. Or want to satisfy your own chocolate craving.

Stuart outside his bijou chocolate shop.

Stuart outside his bijou chocolate shop.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

Pizza. I was having a pizza at Sarracino, where we had been coming for years, then one day I saw this beautiful little shop, right next door to this great cigar shop (another of West Hampstead’s hidden gems) and said to my wife “I’m going to open up a shop” she replied, “you are crazy”.

I’d been in the confectionary distribution business for over 25 years and the bit I liked best about it was visiting the shops as well as the sourcing and discovering. So I thought the time had come to try something different and open my own shop.

I never wanted to open a pure chocolate shop though, I find them a bit boring. I’m a foodie and like other indulgent products too; biscuits, olive oil, jams, cakes (Ed – and even biltong, Stuart hails from South Africa). I wanted the shop to allow customer to “explore and discover a world of indulgence”.

First or fondest memory of West Hampstead?

Those pizzas at Sarracino!

Aow, wouldn't it be loverly? Lots of choco'lates for me to eat.

Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly? Lots of choco’lates for me to eat.

What’s surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?

I haven’t been here that long, opening the shop in 2011, so it is difficult to know. Even in that short space of time though I’ve notice that the young couples that came in when I first opened have moved away and been replaced more and more by wealthy ex-pats. But West Hampstead is still perceived as a young person’s area, it has a young vibe.

Talking of change, I’d like to move into one of the new units when Mario’s further up Broadhurst Gardens gets redeveloped. It would be good to have more space, with somewhere for the customers to properly sit down and have one of our hot chocolate drinks.

When I look back at pictures of the shop, which at the time I thought was great, I now think it was terrible! The shop has matured, you have to respond to people’s wants and everything evolves.

What’s for lunch?

Mostly a beigel from Roni’s to go with soup I bring with me.

West Hampstead in three words?

Young, well-located and eclectic

Cocoa Bijoux opens

It’s a hive of activity on Broadhurst Gardens at the moment. New Italian restaurant Spiga opens tonight (I know we’re all waiting for the verdict from Tom’s Diner), and Cocoa Bijoux opened with a soft launch at the end of last week. Senses of course closed a while ago (no great surprise), so there is another vacant unit up for grabs.

Cocoa Bijoux’s owner Stuart Daniel has been in the chocolate business for 20 years, and it’s clear that this is his passion. Having operated as a wholesaler he finally decided it was time to open his own place. Cocoa Bijoux occupies one of the small units in Broadwell Parade and sits between the cigar shop and Luli’s barbers.

Stuart has two chocolatiers who create artisan chocolates – he’s less interested in the endless matching rows of classic Belgian creams that you might find at Fortnum & Mason’s, and more in offering something a little more unusual. Generously he let me sample a few. I had a lovely caramelised walnut coated in dark chocolate and dusted with cocoa powder. He uses very specific French walnuts that are less bitter than many on the market. Then I had a delicious Grand Marnier truffle, but unlike any I’ve had before (mostly because it was twice the size). And finally, I tried a salted caramel ball. Very fashionable right now of course and I have to say this was the best I’ve had. Not too salty, not too sweet and with a perfect liquid centre.

Stuart also sells English chocolates from Prestat, which come in gorgeously designed boxes, and all manner of other treats. He focuses otherwise on French and German chocolates rather than Belgian. Cocoa Bijoux also has a table inside and will have some chairs outside for coffee or hot chocolate (made from couverture chocolate of course).

It’s a slightly odd site, and a very small shop, but I could see this working. There’s not much competition, especially since Wilton & Noble up by Waitrose closed, and being next to another destination shop (the cigar shop, not Luli’s) can only help. There is a new chocolate shop – Coco Exchange – opening on Belsize Road, but that’s apparently going to have a Belgian focus.

Stuart also seems like he knows what he’s doing and is open to trying things out. I wish him the best of luck. He’s also generously donated a nice (large!) box of chocolates for the Whampgather raffle, which I thought was very kind given that he’d only just met me!

Those of you who bang on about supporting independent shops – here’s another one to add to the list. I know it’s not going to please everyone because it’s high-end luxury items rather than day-to-day goods, but we have to face economic facts – these are the sorts of shops that are more likely to survive.

I will add a few photos to this post soon – didn’t have my phone with me this morning.