Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates of London -- some of the best chocolate in the world

A couple years back, my friends Paul and James opened a pair of chocolate shops in London, Paul A Young Fine Chocolates, with one branch in the City and the other in Islington, in Camden Passage. Paul is a self-taught chocolatier whose truffles I'd been lucky enough to sample over the years, and James is a very sharp entrepreneur, technologist and activist, so I knew that whatever they made, it would be tasty.

But I didn't count on it being this good.

In a few short years, Paul A Young chocolates have won more awards than I can count, including the Academy of Chocolate's "Best New Chocolate Shop," "Best Dark Chocolate Truffle" and "Best Filled Chocolate," and so on -- and when I dropped in this week to buy the last of my Christmas presents, I discovered that the Observer and the Financial Times had both put Paul A Young on their list of the 10 best chocolates in the world. I'm pretty well travelled, and I've enjoyed some magnificent chocolate here and there, but I'm hard pressed to find a chocolate I find myself thinking about, dreaming of, tasting the phantom of, more than Paul's.

Here are a few of my favourites from the shop. First, the drinking chocolate -- a gently heated pot of molten Valrhona chocolate guarded by several jars of fine ground spice, ranging from chilis to ginger to cardamom, cinnamon, and many others. Get a cup and season to taste, stir, drink, fall unconscious. I'm also a great fan of Paul's chewy, rich brownies, which have the texture and color of good, loamy soil and the flavour of high-cacao artisanal chocolate adulterated with such additives as stem ginger.

But my favourites have to be the truffles -- they were special treats for my wife during her pregnancy and after her delivery, they're the gifts I give to friends come from out of town, they're the treats I go for on days when nothing seems to be going right. There are the "normal" truffles (for example, the gold-medal-winning Sea Salted Caramels have a hard, glossy dark shell that shatters in your mouth, revealing a slow, decadent slurp of salty caramel, or the Kalamansi truffles, with a centre of tangy tropical citrus), and the exotics -- truffles stuffed with Marmite, stilton, and other savouries that turn out to be extremely witty and improbable taste-combinations that are inevitably delicious in a way you never expected.

What's the catch? Well, they're kind of expensive -- especially if you're used to buying an assortment of milk chocolates at the grocery store. And they're also only available in person at the shops in London -- no mail order. Paul's chocolates are made fresh daily on the premises, without any preservatives of any kind, and they just don't travel (I've successfully brought abroad them in my hand luggage, but I wouldn't try to ship them as cargo or by mail). So this is a pleasure strictly reserved for Londoners and those who visit London.

It's this last part that's kept me from mentioning them here for so long -- it seems like a cheat to tell you how goddamned fantastic this stuff is and then announce that you can't have any. But it's the end of the holiday shopping season and plenty of you live in London. If you're looking for an extraordinary gift that comes from a local small business, won't clutter up the house after it's opened, and will certainly be warmly appreciated and fondly remembered, this is my top choice.

Oh, and Paul's hiring staff -- his business is doing very well, despite the crummy economy, and I can't think of a better place to work (except for the risk to your waistline!).

Paul A Young Fine Chocolates

Update: in the comments, James Cronin - Managing Director, Paul A Young Fine Chocolates, sez: "I'll brief the team in the morning that if anyone mentions that they read about us on Boing Boing they can have a free chocolate on me."