In anticipation of my next trip to Melbourne ...

Adventures on a Chocolate Planet

Ever since the conquistadors brought back the Central American chocolate bean to the courts of Europe chocolate has retained both an exotic and an elitist flavour. (The new Spanish wife of Louis XIII decreed in 1615 that it could only be consumed by members of the French aristocracy.)

This is only reinforced in the opening this month of a new Mecca for chocoholics in Melbourne, Monsieur Truffe.

A French chocolatier of high distinction, Mr Truffe has expanded from the cramped quarters of Prahan Market into an artfully grungy shopfront on Collingwood's Smith Street. Recycled tables and chairs and an old-fashioned revolving atlas team with distressed designer wallpaper, while exquisite hot chocolate and tissanes are consumed from grandmotherly tea sets. The place has an intimate, homey feel, reinforced when softly-spoken proprietor, Thibault Fregoni, comes over to explain, in passionate detail, the provenance of the cocao beans (Papua New Guinea), and the fine gradations of caramel, honey and almond in his eponymous chocolate bars.

Monsieur Truffe takes it place in a select but burgeoning firmament of boutique chocolate shops in Melbourne. St Kilda favourite Cacao is still going strong – try their punchy Mocha – while the City's Cocoa-le-art is thriving in its second year – great chocolate mice – but current kings of the chocolate castle (and in danger of losing boutique status) are Koko Black – now in Carlton, the CBD, Camberwell, Chadstone and Canberra. For the city's most expensive chocolate (around $500 for four), go to the Chocolateria San Churro on Fitzroy's Brunswick Street and fork out for the Truffla del Oro, a dizzying mix of Venezuelan single origin chocolate, Moet & Chandon vintage champagne and 23-carat edible gold.

Of course, there's barely a self-respecting city anywhere in the world that wouldn't think to offer its own version of the cultured chocolate shop. For many years, Cafe Angelina, on Paris's Rue de Rivoli, was a personal place of genteel, if touristy, pilgrimage, for its super-creamy and world-famous hot chocolate. More recently, frequent work trips to San Francisco often involve a guilty pre-commute visit to Michael Recchiuti's artisan store in the iconic Ferry Building Marketplace. But my all time favourite is chocolate salon, Le Chocolat de H, in Tokyo's Ropongi Hills. It's hard to beat a truffle plate and a glass of red wine after an afternoon buying discounted shirts at Issey Miyake.

For those whose love of chocolate borders on the obsessive, the chocolate planet offers even more extended opportunities for the worship and enjoyment of the food of the gods. Try New York's 'sweet walks', visit Vienna's first Chocolate Museum and spend whole weekends at a time pursuing your passion in Chocolate Festivals from Virginia to New Brunswick to Dublin. As if gluttons for punishment, local Melbourne company, Chocoholic Tours, are even offering extra events by appointment during these school holidays. Get on the phone! I'll avoid the kids, and try and make it to Monsieur Truffe's tasting in late October...

Have you got a favourite chocolate shop at home or abroad?

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Simon Westcott, a former Lonely Planet publisher, is also a contributing editor to Travel + Leisure Australia magazine.
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