Day 4 of 80 — Balthazar

Around London in 80 days

In these uncertain times, I need a lifeline and a horizon so I have — somewhat arbitrarily I’ll admit — set a date. April 1st will be my horizon ; my lifeline will be the 80 days separating me from it.

And as I cannot go around the world right now, I give you A Mad Belgian’s “Around London in 80 Days” : eighty impressions of London, eighty stories, places, thoughts from my experience of this wonderfully mad and maddening city.

Day 4 : Balthazar

Clichés exist for a reason : Italians move houses with a collection of pasta and tanks of olive oil, Germans like pretzels, and the French love cheese. I am Belgian, and so I like chocolate — hot chocolate, in particular.

Of course, one could argue that most people like pasta, pretzels, olive oil AND chocolate, regardless of where they are from. Perhaps. But having grown up with the smell of melting chocolate bars and hot milk, I daresay I have some authority on the matter.

Which is why I was so thrilled when I discovered Balthazar. “Who is Balthazar?” I hear you ask

Well I’m sorry to disappoint : this isn’t the start of a great love story issued from a shared love of hot chocolate. Balthazar is in fact the name of a French restaurant and café in Covent Garden, right in the middle of London. When I first discovered it, it had a small shop attached to it (now sadly gone), like a mini bakery selling patisseries and hot drinks to go. I once stopped there for a snack and a coffee, and as both turned out to be quite nice, I went back there whenever I was in the vicinity.

One day, feeling adventurous perhaps, I risked ordering a hot chocolate. I wasn’t expecting much, I confess — an other of these instant, chocolate powder-based drinks that don’t live up to their promises. But this was something else : dark, thick, velvety. This was it, the real thing !

I was immediately overwhelmed by happy childhood memories of Cramiques & Craquelins*, family breakfasts, winter walks, friends reunions… Because that is the magic of a proper hot chocolate : it fills you with real, comforting, beyond-just-warming-you-up-physically warmth.

So next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by the Big Smoke, next time you need a bit of cheering up, go down to Covent Garden and look Balthazar up. If it’s still standing it’ll give you the fix that you need.

*both are types of (delicious) Belgian brioche

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