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.