Go into Sandrine on the Upper Richmond Road
and you have entered chocolate heaven!
The first thing to hit you is the rich satisfying smell of one of the world’s greatest treats.
Then your eye is taken by the displays of delicious chocolates laid out like piles of precious gems behind the glass counters.
Together they add up to temptation with a capital T.
Sandrine is the kind of shop that Dawn French in her role as the chocolate-loving Vicar of Dibley would find impossible to resist. While it does not boast an actual liquid chocolate fountain, like the one into which she plunged her head in one memorable episode, there are over 80 individual types of chocolates that are guaranteed to drive your taste buds into a frenzy. They range from exquisite white truffles, to dark chocolate pralines, from stem ginger and crystallised orange slices dipped in chocolate, to a marzipan special laced with pear liqueur.
“All our chocolates are handmade in Belgium,” explains Anna Borfecchia, who runs the shop with her husband Sergio. “We buy them from a small family-run business and they are on sale here within a couple of days of being made.”
The well-known Sheen couple, who used to own the very successful Italian delicatessen and restaurant Valentina’s nearby, took over Sandrine 18 months ago.
Anna’s artistic flair is immediately apparent. A huge mouth-watering display currently dominates the main window – a testament to her style and panache.
“We don’t just sell chocolates. I like to make them look good as well,” she explains. “For example, our Easter eggs arrive in halves and they each have to be made up and packaged. It makes for a lot of work!”
Anna reveals that white is the most popular type of chocolate she sells, probably because of its sweetness, followed by milk and dark chocolate. But selecting the best-selling flavour is much more difficult, she said.
“The reason is that people have different tastes of the kind of fillings they like, but our truffles are very popular.”
She also likes to offer new flavours for her customers to try. Two of the latest are Cerisettes, a dark chocolate containing brandy and a whole cherry, and Rock Salt Caramel, whose sweet and sour taste goes well with a drink.
Luxury chocolates of the type sold in Sandrine are not cheap, but even in the recession people in the area are prepared to splash out to celebrate a special occasion.
As well, Anna offers chocolates for company promotions, weddings, birthdays, and other special anniversaries.
“I’m always thinking how to make the business grow bigger – it keeps me very busy,” she said.
With such a tasty product to work with all day, I asked if she was not tempted herself to eat into her profits?
“I do like dark chocolates,” she confessed. “But one is enough. I couldn’t just eat one after another.”
The Vicar of Dibley would be most disappointed!
You can visit chocolate heaven at 239 Upper Richmond Road West, SW14 8QS www.sandrine.co.uk
Article by Mark Dowdney – Photographs by Bob Lisney – Project Coordination by Richard Osbourne