Brooklyn Chocolate in Shoreditch, and Other UK Detours
And it was here that I read, in item 41 of the "3rd Annual OFM [Observer Food Monthly] 50," that "Iowan brothers Rick and Michael Mast just opened an impressive new premises on Redchurch Street in East London, their first outside Brooklyn." Wait a minute. Something was familiar here. Redchurch Street? That's the little laneway off Shoreditch High Street, domicile of the no-corporiate-attire-dress-code Soho House-outpost known rather logically as the Shoreditch House, where Nick and I had stayed during our somewhat more characteristically eccentric trip to London this past January. We were then less than 30 days and 100 yards from the Mast's Valentine's Day opening and I'd had no idea. After discovering this item in the Observer, I did some more research. A January article in the London Evening Standard, mentioning the Mast's initial foray into the neighborhood with a pop-up shop at the Ace Hotel last year was only one of many to hoist the signal for a seasoned new crop of London chocolate shops, already a generation ahead of the living-room tasting clubs that eschewed rose and violet cremes in favor of novel high-cacao-percentage chocolates. So, had they been popping up during the first months of the Ace's Shoreditch operation in the winter of 2014, when Nick and I had been wandering around there, too, our first trip to London after we'd met a few months before, together taking an accidental tour through the hotel's unlocked back office in search of the basement sauna, returning to the front desk to ask if we might change to a room with its own turntable?
This was not my first or even second missed connection with the brothers Mast. New entrepreneurs, they'd contacted me in 2007 to sample their Williamsburg-based artisan chocolate. But I was in graduate school in Pittsburgh then and my life felt much blunter than it has at other times before and after, not hip ironically or otherwise. The holiday package we'd booked through British airways this time just briefly set off to a turbulent start. Our flight out of Newark was cancelled, we went to JFK instead, to find that we'd been bumped off a second flight. But four of us were the first to step up to be rescheduled, and that move landed me and Nick, along with Londoners Kai and Louise, in the British Airways Galleries Lounge, a few hours out from the late-night all-business-class flight to London City Airport. Polishing off a bottle of champagne with our friends, we remembered that indulgent winter holiday in east London. Shoreditch is just too much, the Londoners told us, so self-conscious, so branded. Sounds like Williamsburg, I said. I hate Williamsburg. But it's fun for a holiday, our friends confessed. We laughed. Our preferences home and away have something in common, but they're not the same.
I made it to the latest judging session of the UK-based International Chocolate Awards in a nondescript office building behind King's Cross Station on this trip, but not to the Mast Brothers' newly composed Shoreditch outpost. This itinerary had more to do with timing and the geography of London than it did with a discriminating palate. I've said this before: increased interest in and production of small batch-chocolate means that quite good chocolate is so much more easily accessible than it used to be even if the exceptional talents are still as few as they once were. I'm newly curious about the Mast Brothers' florentine-paper-wrapped bean-to-bar bars and about what they do and don't do with the the historic fruit-juice flavors of Central American cacao beans which are increasingly in circulation. I'll pick one up today, but I'm already home so my supplier is likely to be the Brooklyn Larder, a nice walk from my apartment at the south end of Prospect Park, even in the snow.