The British Banker Giving French Bonbons an African Makeover
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sweet things can come from swapping investment banking for chocolate.
By Nick Dall
In the Instagram age, says chocolatier Alan Clegg, “anyone can decorate a chocolate.” It’s what’s on the inside that really counts. The Kirstenbosch, a combo of pine nut praline and confetti bush, is bitter and herbal in all the right ways. And the Wellington — fever tea and naartjie, a soft-skinned South African citrus most commonly thrown at opposition rugby players — is what all orange creams should aspire to be.
Alexander Avery Fine Chocolates (the “suitably posh” name is a combo of the middle names of Clegg’s sons) is all about giving French-style bonbons an African twist. The 30-plus creations on display any given day in Clegg’s shop in an affluent suburb of Cape Town entice with their high-gloss finishes and Jackson Pollock–like swirls before wowing with their intense fillings.
After Clegg’s decision to shift his investment banking career from England to South Africa backfired, he tried to find a way of staying in the country he’d grown to appreciate. Noticing a lack of top-notch Easter eggs in South Africa (as you do), Clegg returned to London to learn how to make his own (as you do). Once he’d filled his own kids’ tummies, he sold the remaining 180 at an Easter fair. That was in 2014. Now Clegg and his team of chocolatiers produce close to 3,000 bite-size chocolates per week.
Clegg’s house blend is a fruity, bitter, smoky mix of three different African chocolates.
Clegg started off selling only to wholesale clients (high-end hotels, lodges and restaurants) and held off opening a retail store (“My wife’s in retail, so I hear all the horror stories,” he says) until 18 months ago. Getting the store off the ground has, he admits, “been a faff,” but there’s no sign of this when you walk in. Glossy couverture bonbons, avant-garde pastel-splattered bars and dark truffles are housed in refrigerated cabinets, and the shop’s ceiling is decorated with a massive psychedelic rendering of the Sahara desert.
Water, Clegg tells me, is “a chocolatier’s greatest enemy” — it allows bacteria to thrive. Big retailers combat this by adding loads of sugar or alcohol, but freshness and authenticity require a lighter touch. “I aim for a shelf life of three to four weeks,” he says. “If no one’s bought them by then, I must be doing something wrong.”
Behind a thick glass wall, three black-coated chocolatiers ladle, smear and scoop their way through gallons of molten cacao. (Clegg’s house blend is a fruity, bitter, smoky mix of three different African chocolates.) In the corner of the shop and on the outside terrace, guests can sip a selection of loose-leaf teas, single-origin African coffees or house-blend drinking chocolate for around $2 a cup — all come with a complimentary chocolate.
The store is located in a converted cottage on Constantia Uitsig, a handsome old wine farm in the suburb of Constantia, which just happens to be a 10-minute drive from desolate, crime-ridden Lavender Hill and Vrygrond. Uitsig has plenty of other Gatsbyesque attractions, but, for the sake of your stomach, you’ll have to think carefully about the order in which you sample them — great sushi, Kristen’s Kick-Ass Ice Cream, wine tastings (Constantia Uitsig’s semillon is routinely exquisite) and an ambitious mountain bike park.
Still, it’s the choccies that keep me coming back again and again. And I don’t even have a sweet tooth.
Go There: Alexander Avery Fine Chocolates
- Location: Constantia Uitsig is about 12 miles from the city center, en route to the tourist attractions of Kalk Bay, Simonstown and Cape Point. Map.
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday.
- Cost: Prepacked boxes containing six (Local Botanicals is a winner) or 12 bonbons cost around 75 rand ($6) and 145 rand ($11), respectively. Or you can buy an empty box and fill it at $1 a sweet.
- Hot tip: The store is a five-minute drive from Trueman’s Fish & Chips, where you can experience slaptjips — another, albeit much more blue collar, South African delicacy.
- Nick Dall, OZY Author Contact Nick Dall