It was a happy – and delicious – afternoon when I was introduced to the old-world European charm of Maison Auer. I was in Nice for just 24 hours and a highlight of my whistle-stop tour was this family-owned chocolaterie-confiserie, located opposite the Opéra on the edge of the Old Town since 1820. Once frequented by Queen Victoria, who would take tea at the back of the shop and taste the Auer delicacies during her stays on the Riviera, the boutique is now run by charming fifth-generation chocolatier Thierry Auer.
I love the shop’s authenticity, which starts with the traditional golden letters on the window framed by a pelmet of white antique lace. The window is stacked with Auer’s celebrated candied fruits (€8.20 per 100g), made on the premises – sticky clementines, melon, figs, plums and apricots ready to be weighed. Inside everything sparkles, Florentine-style (an Italian feel frequently crops up in this corner of France): gilded swirly shop fittings are reflected in walls of mirrors and a twinkly chandelier, all topped with a stained-glass roof. Clearly here less is not more, with chocolate animals, chocolate plants and chocolate scenery configured in opulent displays.
I bought earthy chestnuts in all their formats – glacés (from €42.90 for 320g), candied in cognac (€19.90 for 280g) and puréed into crème de marrons (€9.50 for 220g) – along with pretty jars of noisette spread (€8.90 for 100g), chocolate-hazelnut ganache I’ve been popping on the table for family breakfasts. All are deliciously decadent, but best are the ballotins d’amandes (from €29.40 for 350g), or “scorched almonds”, with their burnt and buttery flavour sealed with a dusting of cocoa. Next time I’ll add in some of the extra-large rochers (€3 each), a knobbly mish-mash of praline, almonds and hazelnuts covered in white, milk or, for me, dark chocolate.