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Cocomaya, London’s new chocolate shop-bakery-cafe, is a clear study of what can happen when fashion types go into the catering business.
Manolo Blahnik ends up with chocolate court shoes for a press day, Lulu Guinness gets cocoa lips for its pop-up shop, and otherwise-average chocolate truffles are embellished with the flavors of cardamom, saffron and passion fruit. For Easter, Cocomaya is selling white chocolate eggs inspired by the rock band Kiss (red and blue lips and eye makeup have been hand-painted and sprayed on with a cocoa butter gun), and metallic eggs adorned with medallions, roses and daisies.
Much like a designer brand, the entire operation is run on a specific schedule. “We do things seasonally,” explains Joel Bernstein, a former head of concept at Liberty who owns Cocomaya with accessories designer Walid Al Damirji and Agent Provocateur co-founder Serena Rees. “We don’t really see it as just plain food. The visual element is really important to us.”
That much is evident in their chocolate shop, a witty spot drenched in a palette of vivid fuchsias and limes located in London’s Connaught Village, between Marylebone, Notting Hill and Mayfair. One could easily imagine the Mad Hatter setting up a tea party here among Al Damirji’s eclectic antique finds. There is a stuffed peacock, Walton Ford-esque murals of pelicans on the walls and multiple Toby Jugs — the kitsch ceramic British jugs in the form of an historical figure.
“The Toby Jugs are really ugly, but they work in here,” says Bernstein. “There’s a humor to it.”
The chocolate truffles are displayed on vintage cake stands on a long marble table. It’s a setup that Al Damirji finds irresistible. “I’m like a Pac-Man,” he says of his tendency to swipe sweets off their perch. “I go past each one, but I don’t like marzipan, so I skip that one. It’s got to the point where they hide things from me.”
The bakery next door feels more like an English country kitchen with long wooden tables, jugs of English wild flowers and speakers emitting the sounds of birds tweeting. The menu there features treats such as lemon meringue and pistachio polenta cakes and chocolate fondants.
Al Damirji and Bernstein swapped stitches for the sugar business nearly three years ago, and opened Cocomaya in October. “We were both immersed in the fashion world and we wanted to do something that we were both passionate about,” says Bernstein. “As you can see, we both love food.”
They later approached Rees, who sold Agent Provocateur in 2007 and invested in Cocomaya last summer. “I thought it was really lovely, what they’re doing, and it reminded me of the early days of Agent Provocateur,” says Rees. “Sort of a really individual, very special place that you could go to, and have a real experience with something that’s of very high quality and very beautiful and with a lot of love put into it.”
Rees attends tastings and board meetings, but leaves the kitchen work and customer service to Al Damirji and Bernstein, who are on-site every day.
“It’s hard work, believe me, and we go home at night exhausted,” says Bernstein. “I mean, we’re not spring chickens anymore.”
“Speak for yourself,” says Al Damirji.
Cocomaya: 12 Connaught Street, London, W2 2HG, 0207 062 770;cocomaya.co.uk. Psychedelic Easter eggs range from 5 pounds to 50 pounds, or $7.55 to $75.50 at current exchange.