One day, quite, by chance, when I first lived in Paris, I came across a magical chocolate shop nestled among the strip bars of Pigalle. Tempted by the story-book vitrine, I pushed open the door. A bell tinkled and I was greeted by a grown-up Alice in her own chocolate wonderland. This was Denise Acabo, proprietress, famous for her girlish pigtails and her enthusiasm for the very best chocolate and candies which she sourced from specialist makers all over France.
“What would you like, Madame?” she asked. My eyes roved the glass showcases filled with jars of chocolate covered coffee beans and candied orange slices, silver and gold almond dragées, pink and gold foiled bonbons and the row upon row of neatly aligned chocolate tablets in every flavour and variation, coffee, nougatine, praline.
I was not a natural chocoholic. “I don’t know,” I said weakly, “what would you suggest?” Denise pointed to a table laid with slabs encased in clear plastic wrappings.
She gave me a “Kalouga” bar. “These are from a very good company in Lyon called Bernachon,” she told me. Sticky, softly, thickly, sweetly salty caramel enrobed in dark bitterly chocolate. It was richly, heavenly wonderful. It was the best chocolate bar in the world.
Denise’s shop, A L’Etoile D’Or, was a favoured destination for Japanese tourists and American food bloggers and was the only place outside Lyon where you could buy Bernachon. I soon learned that if I wanted to buy my Kalouga bar, I had to get there on a Thursday, because that was delivery day. By Friday, they were all gone.
In 2010, I left Paris for four years. On the first Thursday after my return, I headed straight for A L’Etoile D’Or. I walked past the place, couldn’t see it, walked back more slowly. Was I mistaken? It was gone! Boarded up and covered in billboards.
A friend of mine who lived next door, told me that the shop had blown up in a gas explosion. “This is a catastrophe!” I wailed. “I know,” said my friend, “it damaged all the pipes in our basement…”
Over the next few months I tried to find a substitute. After all, Paris is full of fancy chocolatiers. I tried Richart, with…