In the smart environs of the 1st Arrondissement, nestled alongside the most elegant of Parisian boutiques, is the chic rue Saint-Honoré flagship of Jean-Paul Hévin. It is a shrine to fine French chocolate, and there is a constant stream of the soigné and the in-the-know popping in for their cacao fix. Jean-Paul Hévin has just been listed as one of the top eight chocolatiers in the world by chocolate expert Georg Bernardini in his recently published magnum opus Der Schokoladentester.
The modern design of the ground-floor boutique is a serene blend of deep brown and dark blue with gold accents. Sleek display cases show off bonbons, ganaches and pralines to satisfy all tastes; pâtisserie to rival any in Paris; and a comprehensive selection of origin-specific bars for the more analytical chocophile. There is something of the opulence of a jewelry store, enhanced by displays of the precious and somewhat whimsical gift items M. Hévin creates. His solid chocolate stiletto is stunning, and I would consider myself a very lucky valentine to receive one of his elegant and quirky chocolate hearts.
Unlike some other celebrated French chocolatiers, M. Hévin still thinks like an artisan. He prefers to be in his atelier. He visits cacao-growing countries every year to gain a greater understanding of the origins he is going to work with. So by the time he starts designing recipes for them, he already has an understanding of their flavors. Once a recipe is nearing finalization, he insists on tasting it at four different points during the day. Chocolate for him is part of life, part of different moods and moments, and he wants to be sure it stands up to scrutiny at all times.
For his chocolates, M. Hévin is dedicated to working with less fat and sugar than much traditional French chocolate contains. The result is something with a lighter touch, easier to eat, as the purity of tastes is center stage, without the same level of richness.
None of the chocolates I have tasted have been anything other than excellent. I was particularly delighted by Pomelo, a milk-chocolate ganache married with exceptionally fresh grapefruit. The sweetness of a full-flavored milk chocolate was a perfect foil for the sharpness of the fruit.
At the time of my most recent visit, it was freezing outside, and the very newest chocolate, Le X, a darkly enrobed center of crisp texture and spices, was redolent of toast and Christmas biscuits, nutty and delicate. It hit the spot perfectly.
The shop at 231, rue Saint-Honoré, also boasts an upstairs café, which would be the perfect site for a romantic Valentine’s Day tryst. M. Hévin is nothing if not serious about hot chocolate, having written a whole book on the subject, and the selection here is stunning. The different flavors offer something to suit any time of day or mood. There is even one with oysters, apparently a wonderful boost for the start of the day.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day research, I tasted the “chocolat chaud aphrodisiaque au gingembre et aux épices.” With the aroma of fresh ginger and the deep roasted taste of the unsweetened cocoa powder used exclusively by M. Hévin, it was truly delicious. It was warming and stimulating, the perfect fuel for a romantic encounter. It differed from much gourmet hot chocolate in that it was noticeably less rich and sweet, and therefore more effectively a pick-me-up. Like all you will find in this elegant corner of the rue Saint-Honoré, from the decor to the menus, it was very well balanced, thought out, and executed, making the boutique a top destination for French chocolate.
Note: There are also Jean-Paul Hévin boutiques in the 6th and 7th Arrondissements, and a space inside Lafayette Gourmet in the 9th Arrondissement.
Masters of French chocolate
Cat Black is a food writer specializing in chocolate, a sometime chocolate judge and an all-around chocoholic. Visit her at Chocolate Couverture and at her Twitter account, @CatBlackChoc.
Editor’s note: Speaking of chocolates, have you tried the chocolates and caramels at Fouquet? The chocolatier makes its goods at a shop in the 9th Arrondissement, and, established in 1852, it’s one of the oldest purveyors in France. Fouquet is also a GG2P Travel Club partner, which means you’ll receive a special deal when shopping at any of its locations.