I had intended to review some of the chocolates from the British chocolatier Artisan du Chocolat, as I was in London recently and had previously enjoyed (and written about) them after a visit in 2007. Some businesses in high-end food succeed in respecting customers, others choose to be rigid and deliberately unhelpful. Artisan du Chocolat seems on the face of it to fall into a more positive category, but on this visit I was disappointed.
Unable to make it to their Chelsea shop, I visited the outlet in Selfridges department store. Artisan du Chocolat staff are refreshingly generous with samples when a customer is exploring what to purchase (the range is large and the flavours are at times very interesting). My first sample was, I believe, a jasmine tea chocolate. Alas I found the flavour to be on the barely-present side of fleeting and I mentioned that the flavour was too mild for me. I was disappointed to receive in reply a vacuous "We only use natural ingredients, so the flavours are often very subtle." I really loathe this sort of rubbish. Don't take customers for idiots. I work with natural ingredients too and my palate is pretty good. While some aromas can be difficult to capture and preserve, a customer has good reason to expect a flavour label to correspond to an olfactory experience upon tasting a product.
I was polite in my disagreement and the assistant was helpful enough to tip me off (without prompting) about which flavours I should best avoid for their "subtlety". Good.
And so it became time to make a selection for purchase. The chocolates are sold by weight, but can be packaged in fixed-weight boxes or in cellophane bags. I wanted a 200gm box to house my chosen chocolates (especially as I was travelling) and suddenly there was a problem. One product group in the company's range is dusted in cocoa. I wasn't allowed to have the cocoa-coated chocolates in the same box as the other products. Wasn't allowed. They all cost the same by weight. They all fit in the box.
I asked why this wasn't allowed. "The cocoa would get on the other items." I explained that this didn't concern me, but no, they couldn't be combined. I suggested putting in a paper divider. No. My irritation began to show and the manager was consulted for a second opinion about whether I could have my box of chocolates. No. The other chocolates might get dirty. Gotta love this sort of ignore-the-customer's-desire approach. Why couldn't they just insert a piece of paper or wrap the cocoa coated chocolates in some way? "It's company policy." So the company doesn't want me to risk dirtying the chocolates I wish to consume? "It's company policy." You're afraid I'll complain to someone about the cocoa on the non-dusted chocolates if they happen to rub together? Afraid I'll come back and complain? "Sorry, sir."
I don't actually know why I proceeded to spend my money there. I guess the desire to try some new product briefly blinded me to just how bloody idiotic "company policy" and half-truths are. Unsurprisingly, the chocolates, in separate cellophane packages, didn't survive travel well. Money ill spent. Thank you so much, Artisan du Chocolat. I now look forward to two weeks with Paris chocolatiers before flying home. At least in Paris I know which shops are relaxed and helpful and which are rigid or haughty, rather than having to navigate this British middle-road of spin answers and "company policy".