Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Friday, April 9, 2021

Back when Thornton's was actually 'essential'

Today I've been eating bits of a Thornton's Easter Egg, which made me ponder that one of the many victims of lockdown has been the company that made it. 

All 61 of their stores will not reopen once restrictions on 'non-essential' retail are lifted next week, bringing an end to what became a fairly ubiquitous presence on the high street. And I don't really care.

In all honesty, I thought there would've been more shops than that - every high street in every town has a Thornton's shop, right? - but apparently they've been reducing the number for years from a peak of over 350 in whatever year my brain is obviously stuck in. Probably a year far longer ago than I think it is.

The brand, now owned by Ferrero, will carry on in some form, and I have to say I probably won't miss their stores. I can't remember the last time I went in one but it was at least 15 years ago and that was just for an ice cream on a hot day.

But I haven't always been indifferent about them.


Nostalgia alert

When I was a small child in the early 1980s, Thornton's was pretty much the premium chocolate brand and their product was seen as the best you could buy - certainly amongst British manufacturers. You couldn't generally get them from ordinary sweet shops or indeed many supermarkets. And that meant exclusivity.

My Grandma would get big boxes of Thornton's Continental in for special occasions, and they really were quite special. The wrapped 'Diplomat', the fuzzy Champagne Truffle, the little 'makeweight' bars of chocolate from a time before weights and measures were as precise as they are now.

I don't even recall there being many Thornton's shops on high streets back then either, so God only knows where Grandma was getting them from. But it wasn't just the rarity value. They did taste notably superior to the over-familiar products of Mars, Cadbury and Rowntree, and they didn't sound as foreign as Suchard and Guylian.

From the early 90s onwards the brand expanded and the quality seemed to drop. Just a bit. Then a bit more. Until Thornton's stopped being special.

Their product range expanded and became more affordable and ordinary. People started to get into rare estate cocoa beans and actually care about where their chocolate came from and Thornton's didn't really make any effort to keep up with this.

Nowadays Hotel Chocolat now occupies that premium echelon of the confectioners art but they've started opening a lot of retail outlets too and I'm already seeing the quality starting to dip there. Again, just a bit. But we all know what comes next.

I'm sure someone will come along making more exclusive and better chocolate to blow our minds and knock the hotel down before too long. 

And as for the Thornton's egg I've been eating, it was quite nice and brought back a few memories. The individual Continental chocolates are still fairly tasty with pleasant enough fillings - nutty, truffly, creamy - but I can't imagine anyone going out of their way to visit a shop specifically to buy them.


  1. You're right, Ben, and I don't think it's nostalgia. They used to be special, and I loved those little bags that cost a couple of quid.

  2. You are right Ben. Tony Wheeler (founder of the Lonely Planet Travel Books) once said "good places go bad, bad places go bust". I think as a rule of thumb for businesses its not a bad maxim.


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