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What would Willy Wonka do?

As a new film about the character hits cinemas, food writer Ben McCormack imagines what a day in Chelsea would entail for the eccentric chocolatier

5 December 2023

Image: Alamy
Waffles at The LaLee
'I’m Blue' cocktail from The Berkeley's Blue Bar
Läderach on the King's Road
Eggs and Soldiers at The Fuji Grill

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the classic 1964 children’s novel by Roald Dahl, five lucky kids win a Golden Ticket to spend the day in Willy Wonka’s factory, where one will win a lifetime’s supply of chocolate. 

In what is sure to prove a masterful casting choice, Timothée Chalamet will soon be appearing in cinemas starring as the iconic confectioner in Wonka, the highly anticipated origin story of the eccentric character. To mark the release of the film, I have imagined how Mr Wonka would spend his time if he won a Golden Ticket to spend a day in Chelsea, where even the sweetest tooth will find something magical to eat and drink all along the way – from breakfast through to a nightcap before bed. 

As someone who places a high value on his privacy, Willy appreciates the discretion of the staff at The Cadogan, A Belmond Hotel. At breakfast, he is given a newspaper and a corner table in The LaLee, where the plaster mouldings of the dining room are as snowy white as peaks of freshly whipped cream (which must be whipped with whips, of course).

There are three sweet options (each £15) to choose from – brioche French toast with banana and strawberry, homemade waffles with Chantilly cream and berries, and pancakes with maple syrup and berries – though mindful of his forthcoming eminently edible itinerary, Willy wisely, if somewhat wistfully, opts for a single plate of waffles, his perfectionist streak noting with satisfaction the attention to detail exhibited by making the waffles in-house.

Willy takes a brisk circuit around Cadogan Place to help his breakfast settle before darting into The Carlton Tower for a luxury hot chocolate (£18) to ward off the winter chill. The liquid is as thick as the chocolate river in his factory (Willy wonders if it, too, is mixed by a chocolate waterfall), with extra dollops of indulgence courtesy of blobs of Chantilly cream and dulce de leche to swirl into the cup, and strawberries and cookies for dunking. Willy observes with an approving glance from under the brim of his top hat the hotel’s vegan chocolate mousse with fresh raspberries (£10): chocolate should be for everyone, after all. 

For lunch, Willy heads round the corner to the Anya Hindmarch Village on Pont Street which, with its collection of ever-evolving boutiques, reminds him a little of the ceaseless inventions of his factory and offers plenty of food for thought: not least lunch at the Anya Café which, like all of Hindmarch’s designs, takes classic British ingredients and gives them a signature twist. 

There are plenty of savoury options for lunch – Welsh rarebit (£11.50) and smoked salmon tartine (£15) both catch Willy’s eye –  but given that the café’s cakes are almost as famous as Hindmarch’s food-themed handbags, Willy plumps for a Chubby Heart (£9). The heart-shaped chocolate mousse cake with a centre of raspberry compote is a love letter to the joy of cocoa and, because it’s gluten free, it won’t leave Willy feeling too full. Willy wonders on the way out whether he could get away with a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk sequined tote bag (£1,195), but decides that he’s probably wearing enough purple.  

Willy could have rounded out his repast with a hot chocolate but, always keen to try something new, saunters through the back streets of Belgravia to the Blue Bar at The Berkeley hotel, perhaps the most beautiful of the creations of the late designer David Collins (and said to be the favourite haunt of Madonna when she lived in London). It is, however, another high achiever that Willy thinks of here: Violet Beauregarde, who Willy last saw transformed into a giant blueberry, an incident he can’t resist smiling about as he takes a sip of ‘I’m Blue’ (£24), a vodka cocktail served in a cobalt-coloured glass sprinkled with violet-hued passionfruit powder. It is also available as a non-alcoholic version (£17) for any kids who insist on acting like grown-ups, though Willy can’t understand why anyone would want to leave childhood behind.   

Still, Willy must admit there are some consolations to being an adult, not least indulging in a spot of retail therapy – of the edible kind, of course. His first stop is Ice Cream Union for a cone of blood-orange sorbet topped with matcha (from £5.50). A bright, citrussy palate cleanser before his next cocoa-centric course.

Ice cream in hand, Willy saunters down Pavilion Road and skirts around Peter Jones with a swish of his purple velvet coat to the King’s Road, where Swiss chocolate maker Läderach opened in October, offering the most delicious kind of try-before-you-buy from its signature ‘FrischSchoggi’ fresh chocolate counter. All customers are offered samples to nibble on before the chocolate is broken up and sold by weight (from £10 per 100g); Willy leaves with a hazelnut slab to give as a reward for the squirrels who staff his nut-sorting room.

Back on Sloane Street, Willy takes the lift (no glass elevator, alas) to the Fifth Floor Foodmarket at Harvey Nichols, where he picks up the Chocolate Euphoria Centrepiece box (£95) to share out at the Chocolate Factory Christmas party, a collection of 96 milk, dark and white chocolate truffles, pralines and ganaches: one for almost every member of his team. The luxury selection was created by Aneesh Popat, an award-winning London cocoa maestro who has been described as “the Heston Blumenthal of the chocolate world”.  Willy, however, can’t help but think that Blumenthal is the Willy Wonka of the restaurant world while eyeing the gastronomic wizardry on the menu of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park over the road.

But having eaten so well during the day, Willy is in the mood for something light for dinner: boiled eggs and soldiers, perhaps, though prepared in a version that appeals to his sense of the eccentric. At the Beaverbrook Town House, Willy sits down to an ‘Eggs and Soldiers’ pudding (£15) in the hotel’s Fuji Grill, where what looks like an egg, right down to the pale brown shell, is made from chocolate. Willy cracks open the top to reveal a velvety chocolate mousse and, as any child knows, the best part of a boiled egg is dipping the soldiers. So he removes his pearl-grey gloves to dunk a stubby slice of caramelised brioche into lime mousse and mango coulis. Willy thoroughly approves of the idea that chocolate eggs are too good to only eat at Easter.

And for a nightcap… what could improve upon an Espresso Martini except one made with chocolate? At Chucs on Lower Sloane Street, Willy sips on a Tiramisu Martini (£15) mixed with Mozart dark chocolate liqueur, Zacapa 23 rum and Exprè coffee liqueur. As he licks the last speckles of chocolate powder from his lips, Willy Wonka feels that life in Chelsea is very sweet indeed — and for those who know where to look, there is a lifetime’s supply of chocolate and sweet treats to find. 

Wonka opens on December 8 2023. Book your tickets to see it at the Everyman Cinema in Chelsea here.
Ben McCormack is a London-based features writer who has been the restaurant expert for Telegraph Luxury since 2013. He is also a regular contributor to the Evening Standard, Food and Travel and Decanter.

Food and drink in Chelsea

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