This weekend, just gone, was the launch party of the new Chocolate Lounge on Clarendon Road, Southsea. Owned by Chocablock Limited, they have moved to a swanky new store from their old shop in Copnor. I visited twice over the weekend to try them out but, although I love supporting new and independent businesses, I was quite disappointed.
The inside has a relaxing, atmospheric vibe with a mix match of decor from United Kingdom flags, navy uniforms, Chesterfield sofas to Southern American styled coasters and candle holders. Swing and jazz music welcomes you and on the left-hand side of the shop is a large bar filled with gins and chocolates.
On my first visit, I sat down on the left-hand side sofas which had a sign reading ‘bullshit corner’. It seemed very appropriate. On my second visit, on the Friday of the main launch, it was very busy but a member of staff found me some room at the back. I sat down and read the menu.
They were quite dirty with coffee stains and chocolate smears all over. The food options were fairly limited and bog standard with sandwiches and jacket potatoes. The fillings included were what you would expect such as cheese or coronation chicken. There wasn’t anything too exciting so I ignored them and went for what really mattered – the chocolate.
Advertised was something they called a ‘chocolate bomb’ so I asked a member of staff what it was. She didn’t know. She asked someone else and came back, telling me it was a hot chocolate with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on top. Yes, please! I ordered one but was wary of the price. Their normal hot chocolate cost £3.40. My chocolate bomb was £4.30. An extra 90p for a bit of ice cream? I don’t think so. These were the most expensive hot chocolates I have ever had and saying ‘they are made with real chocolate’ isn’t an excuse. I recently visited Pie and Vinyl and their hot chocolate is made same way but was £2.90. That was even with marshmallows.
I also ordered a slab of their chocolate cake, a Viennese whirl and two of their handmade chocolates. In one of their cabinets were countless of little chocolate cups with various flavours from Coconut to Hazelnut to even Chilli. They were very pretty so I ordered two to try – Milk Chocolate and Strawberry Champagne.
I also noticed on the menu that there were a range of milkshakes, cream teas and a ‘hot chocolate devil’. This was a hot chocolate with a shot in, such as Tia Maria, which although tempted, I didn’t think was appropriate to drink at 1 pm.
I didn’t see as much chocolate as I expected. From a place called ‘The Chocolate Lounge,’ I expected far more than just hot chocolates, a chocolate cake and some decorative chocolates. Maybe some interesting shaped chocolate pops or a chocolate fountain. When I suggested the latter to who I believed was the manager she bluntly replied, ‘no.’ I then asked her what the plans were for the lounge.
‘We don’t want to just be about chocolate. We want to also be a bistro, restaurant, gin bar and a music venue.’
I thought that was quite counter productive. I knew many people who were interested in The Chocolate Lounge, myself included, as it promised something unique to Southsea. To draw away from your unique selling point, which attracts people, is just silly. Many places sell gin and have live music but home made chocolate? None. And, with the idea of a restaurant and bistro, they have a long way to go with their current menu.
On the launch weekend, they had an action packed programme with live music and visits from our council members. On the Friday, Donna Jones cut the ribbon of The Chocolate Lounge and interviewed the owner, Michael Collins, which you can watch on their Facebook page. I really liked this as a marketing touch as it added a sense of grandeur and professionalism. On Saturday, they had a visit from Penny Mordaunt, the Conservative MP for Portsmouth North. This kept the hype going over the weekend but I couldn’t help but find it odd that they invited the MP of a different area. Surely you would have invited Stephen Morgan, Labour MP for Portsmouth South, as that is where you are based? Especially if you wish to encourage all demographics and customers. I messaged The Chocolate Lounge about this but I am still awaiting their answer.
Anyway, my cakes, chocolate and drink arrived. The cakes were a bit pricey again at £4.30 and so were the chocolates at 90p each. But, if the chocolates were handmade they would be worth the cost, surely? I first ate the Strawberry Champagne one and really didn’t like it. I found that the champagne taste over powered any other flavours such as the strawberry and chocolate. The milk chocolate one was creamy on the inside but I personally didn’t think it was anything special.
My hot chocolate was gorgeous, I will not lie, and the addition of the ice cream worked splendidly. Near the end, it was a bit sickly but I drank it all anyway to get my money’s worth. The Viennese swirl was also just as nice with a rich and sweet crumbly shortbread. The cream and jam were fresh and gooey. The chocolate cake was okay. It had sprinkles and chocolate bites on top but I found the inside was a bit dry. When I think of chocolate cake, I think of a gooey mess like the one in Matilda.
When I paid up, the waitress was exceptionally friendly and gave me the chocolates for free as it was their launch. I was very grateful for this and thanked her kindly before heading out into the pouring rain. But, before I went home, I wanted to check out one last thing.
Online, The Chocolate Lounge advertised themselves as ‘Portsmouth’s only handmade chocolate shop’. I wasn’t too sure about this as I had seen another chocolate shop, Confiserie Verdonk, on Marmion Road. Inside there, they have both loose chocolates and packaged chocolates and novelty shapes too. I asked the lady behind the counter if their chocolates were handmade.
‘They are Belgian,’ she started, ‘and handcrafted is a better description. Some are made by hand but some aren’t. The ones here,’ she pointed to the individual chocolates, ‘are handmade but not in the premises. We source our chocolates from all over.’
I then explained to her about The Chocolate Lounge’s advertising.
‘Well, you could say they are the only shop in Portsmouth who makes them by hand in store. But we do also supply handcrafted chocolate. I know the man who makes the chocolates and he buys the shells separately and fills them himself.’
I am not too sure if this is still the case but if it is, it does bring into question what constitutes ‘hand made’. But technically yes, The Chocolate Lounge is Portsmouth’s only handmade chocolate shop. If that means made in store.
Either way, at the moment I am a little disappointed with the new Chocolate Lounge, which is a shame because I really wanted to like it and enjoy myself. I feel bad slating an independent company but personally, I feel that they have a long way to go. Of course, they are new and will change over the next few months anyway.
I look forward to seeing how they improve over time and what they bring to the table in the near future. But, until then, I will continue my Southsea Food Tour to find the best places to eat.