Hampton Court Palace has over a thousand rooms, so it's perhaps understandable that sometimes people lose track of them a little. Thus it was only recently that staff realised the handy store room for flower vases was in fact a very special survival: an eighteenth-century chocolate kitchen. Now restored, it is open to the public from today.
Chocolate came to Britain in the seventeenth century, and remained an expensive luxury for some time. The wealthiest chocolate-lovers - including Kings William III, George I and George II - had dedicated facilities to prepare the exotic beverage: chocolate was roasted, ground, then blended with milk or water, loaf sugar and spices to make a rich drink served from a special pot. All those kitchens are now gone, except for the royal example which has survived with its fittings intact. There are advantages to being a little neglected!
The kitchen was for some years the domain of Thomas Tosier, chocolate-maker to George I; a few rooms away is the former chocolate storeroom, which was probably his bedroom as well. Its window shutters were a security measure to safeguard the precious bean and the silverware and porcelain in which it was served.
However, while Thomas lived in these dignified circumstances, his wife Grace had a racier public profile: she ran a chocolate house in Blackheath which attracted wealthy, if sometimes rakish, customers for its chocolate and dancing. Grace was a celebrity in her own right, and prints of her portrait were sold; one hangs now in Thomas's room.
A third room has been adapted for demonstrations of chocolate-making. When the demonstrations are not running, a rather good film demonstrating the process is projected onto its walls.
After all that chocolate-themed history, it was no surprise that the cafe was doing a brisk trade in its special hot chocolate selection. The four cups contained drinks from four centuries: a seventeenth-century recipe, rich and spiked with chili; a Georgian recipe contemporary with the kitchen, aromatically spiced; a sweet Victorian version; and a contemporary white chocolate drink.