It's cold, wet and wintry here in Melbourne - perfect weather for curling up on the couch with a good book and a mug of steaming hot chocolate. I recently visited Fraus, a fabulously good cafe in North Melbourne that serves thick European hot chocolates. I hadn't visited for a while and was thrilled to discover that you can now buy take-away sachets so you can savour their hot chocolates at home. While I am a caffeine addict, there's always room for a good hot chocolate. I've compiled a list of my favourite hot chocolates from around the world and would love to hear any nominations you have for places I should try (especially from fellow Melburnians, as I'm sure there's plenty of places close by that I don't know about.)
BEST HOT CHOCOLATES IN THE WORLD
Fraus, Melbourne, Australia
A slice of Europe here in the grungy end of Victoria St, North Melbourne. After a morning shopping for fruit, vegetables and delicatessen delicacies at the Victoria Market, stop in here for an indulgent cup of hot chocolate made with the finest cocoa powder imported from Europe. The menu lists many varieties, including hazelnut, vanilla, caramel, nougat and tiramisu, but the classic hot chocolate, with a creamy, rich, milk chocolate taste, is the hands-down winner. It tastes so thick you feel you could eat it with a spoon. Heaven on its own or enjoy one after a croissant or savoury crepe.
Brunetti's, Melbourne, Australia
This Melbourne institution is rarely empty and is best savoured on a weekday when there's a better chance of scoring a seat. The long glass counters are filling up with the day's multitude of sweet treats. When ordering hot chocolate, make sure you specify the Italian hot chocolate or you will be served with (an admittedly still good) milky hot chocolate. The Italian hot chocolate, served with or without cream, arrives in a latte glass and looks unappealingly watery. But one sip and you are transported to heaven: a thick, rich, not too sweet hot chocolate. How can something that looks so thin be so deliciously thick in your mouth? Best enjoyed with a fresh escargot.
Europjska Cafe, Krakow, Poland
The cool, dark interior of this cafe, with deep maroon walls, comfortable chairs and little round tables, is the perfect image of a genteel 19th-century Eastern European cafe. Sitting in the window, we can look out at the bustle of Krakow's Old Town Square while the waiter arrives with a silver tray bearing little white jugs of molten chocolate, which we pour into white china cups. It's like drinking a chocolate fondue and is perfect accompanied by slices of Sacher torte and black forest cake.
Cafe du Commerce, Nancy, France
You'll pay extra for the privilege of sitting outside at a little round marble-topped table on one edge of Place Stanislas, a beautiful square in the middle of Nancy. But it's worth it, sipping on a smooth and rich hot chocolate while the hot summer sun blazes off the gilded gates that make up one corner of the square. The classical buildings that line the square are adorned with glittering gilded balconies, and the fountains in the centre are also gilded. With views like this, there's no need to order anything to accompany your hot chocolate - but perhaps seconds might be in order.
Wedel's Cafe, Warsaw, Poland
Inside the famous Wedel chocolate shop, with its glass counters filled with exquisite chocolates and topped with glass jars full of foil-wrapped chocolates, is the Wedel cafe. Choose either the green or pink room, both decorated with striped chairs, checkered napkins and tablecloths in varying shades of green or pink, and be prepared to blow your chocolate limits sky-high. The deliciously rich chocolate is served in white bone cups and is perfect on its own or with a chocolate pancake, studded with orange and pineapple chunks and drizzled in thick chocolate sauce.
Cafe de la Paix, La Rochelle, France
The seaside port of La Rochelle is lined with cafes and restaurants offering fine seafood and three-course menus for tourists. But go for a stroll in the little streets away from the port and you'll come across this turn-of-the-19th century cafe, decorated with lots of gild, ornate mirrors, engraved lights and little round wooden tables with comfortable sofa seats. Thick, rich hot chocolate drips into stylish white cups. A perfect accompaniment to a pain au chocolat for breakfast.
St Martin, Ile de Re, France
Hire a bike from La Rochelle and you'll work up a healthy appetite on your cycle across to the island of Ile de Re. After hauling your way up the Pont Ile de Re, a graceful bridge spanning the Atlantic Ocean, the 12km cycle to the island's capital, St Martin, takes you along the sea, past villages filled with little white-washed cottages and then inland through patches of pine trees and bracken. Hurtle down tiny cobbled streets to St Martin's sheltered port and harbour and take an outdoor seat at one of the cafes, where a thick, molten hot chocolate is exactly what you need to refuel you for the return ride.