The chocoholics of the Arts&Life section visited seven chocolate cafes across Abu Dhabi and Dubai to sample their sinfully delicious dishes – from lava cake to chocolate sushi. Here are the verdicts
A guide to the UAE’s best chocolate cafes
It's the new happy hour: a trip to indulge in the latest trend in UAE sweetness, the chocolate bar. Arts&Life visited seven sweet cafes in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Here is what our chocoholics found.
The Chocolate Gallery
The dish: Gallery chocolate fondue
This “semi-sweet’ chocolate fondue was perfectly sized for two people and beautifully presented, with a cute, candle-fired, water-mounted receptacle of chocolate kept warm throughout. It came with three pink marshmallows, two “sabre lollipop” biscuits on sticks, mini-brownie cubes and, for a veneer of healthiness, bite-sized melon, pineapple, banana and strawberry pieces. The cafe was out of the usual embellishment of pistachio cake (sob), but a substitute helping of extra brownies compensated. The fondue chocolate origins weren’t stated — it tasted Belgian to us — but it’s sufficiently excellent that once the dipping offerings were done, we gladly gulped down the not inconsiderable amount of remaining melted confectionery. For an extra-romantic fondue for two at home, you can also order takeaway.
The cost: Dh70.
The cafe: One of the cutest spots at the still-glittering Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, the Chocolate Gallery is a peaceful retreat that’s especially popular with sweet-toothed Arabic diners. Its seating is cute and you can see some impressive cake manufacture going on in the glass-fronted kitchen.
The menu: We also sampled a spa-meets-confectioner lemon and ginger chilled chocolate (Dh35), while the menu spans afternoon tea to cakes, paninis, salads, crepes and waffles, plus a wide range of hot and cold drinks.
The details: Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, 8am to 11pm, 02 654 3238; www.fairmont.com/abu-dhabi
* Adam Workman
Maya La Chocolaterie
The dish: The Maya Signature Fondue
The fondue comes in dark, milk or white chocolate with various combinations of sweets to dip. I chose milk chocolate with strawberries, marshmallows, bananas and mini-cakes. The fondue is beautifully presented in a ceramic white pot and a flame inside the pot ensures your chocolate retains its liquid form. The dessert for one comes with a handful of strawberries and bananas, two marshmallows and six mini-cakes, two each of vanilla, pistachio and chocolate. The chocolate is warm, silky and simply divine. This indulgence may leave you feeling guilty, but the best things in life usually do. You’ll have plenty of chocolate left after you finish dipping the cakes and fruit. Feel free to drink it.
The cost for one: Dh37
The cafe: The shop is located on the ground floor of Khalidiyah Mall, directly in front of you as you walk through the main doors. There are no walls and the wide open space is a perfect place to people-watch as you lazily devour all things chocolate.
The menu: This is a chocolate-lover’s paradise. The extensive menu offers something for even the fussiest chocolate connoisseurs. There are several varieties of speciality hot chocolates, frozen chocolate shakes, cakes, cookies, pastries and more. The kid’s menu includes a chocolate pizza, waffle treat, a honey crunch crepe and chokky shakes.
The details: Khalidiyah Mall, ground floor, 10am to 1am, 02 666 7401. Other locations in the UAE: Dalma Mall, Al Ain Mall and Bawabat Al Sharq Mall, Baniyas, www.maya-la-chocolaterie.com
* Stacie Overton Johnson
Butlers Chocolate Bar
The Dish: Hot Chocolate Lave Cake
It’s the smell of warm chocolate that hits you first, like brownies right out of the oven. The mound of chocolate cake dusted with confectioners sugar and brimming with chocolate sauce comes with sliced strawberries and a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with strawberry sauce. It’s hard to resist cutting right into the cake, which then oozes thick, delicious chocolate sauce. The cake, slightly crunchy on the outside, is sauce-soaked on the inside and with the ice cream completes the warm-cold decadence. An indulgent dessert it is. But it’s also a perfect portion — easy to share and just as delightful to enjoy all by yourself.
The cost: Dh28
The cafe: This branch of the Dublin-based Butlers Chocolates, tucked in a corner of the exentension of Al Wahda Mall, is bathed in browns, yellows and black, with incredibly comfy chairs arranged inside and outside the cafe. Sitting outside does mean you’re still in the mall, but it’s a wonderful spot for window shopping. Inside, you get gawk at the chocolates on display and there’s no feeling closed-in thanks to the huge glass panels that form the walls of the cafe.
The Menu: Dominated by chocolate-based desserts and drinks, including chocolate flavoured tea, there’s also other choices in coffee, milkshakes and tea, plus soups, salads, sandwiches (chocolate again makes an appearance in Butlers Chocolate Panini), breakfast (they cook the eggs on site) and muffins. And, of course, a selection of chocolates, which you’ll get to choose from every time you order a drink.
The details: Al Wahda Mall extension, Level 2, Abu Dhabi, 10am to 10pm, 02 446 5141, www.facebook.com/Butlerschocolatecafeuae
* Kalpana Ramgopal
Vintage Chocolate Lounge
The dish: Chocolate Sushi
As far as inventiveness goes, we have to give full marks to the Vintage Chocolate Lounge for this dish. The “sushi” consisted of rolls of chocolate filled with a white chocolate cheese, a chocolate filled crepe and pistachio and coconut rolls. It was served on an indented dish with a fondue fork and two small bowls of sauce — one chocolate and one strawberry. It certainly looked a treat but the taste test was a mixed bag. The cheese filled rolls were delicious and not nearly as heavy as they sound and the crepe was standard. The nutty rolls were not really to my taste but I’m not of the opinion that nuts and chocolate mix so that might not be a fair judgment. For fun, presentation and a novel way to enjoy chocolate, this gets the thumbs up.
The cost: Dh45 — I’d say that was worth it.
The cafe: The Vintage Chocolate Lounge is sandwiched between the cinema and Segaworld, which, no matter what time of day or night you visit, is packed with people. It’s not the best location to kick back and chill out with a luxurious dessert and cup of coffee but there is plenty going on around you and an upstairs seating area for when it gets busy. However, it lacks comfortable seating and a few sofas wouldn’t go amiss.
The menu: Possibly the most confusing menu I’ve seen in a while, it was very large and there was only one or two items on each page so it was really difficult to navigate. I would suggest referring to the one on the wall above the counter which is much simpler.
The details: Dubai Mall, 10am — 1am, 04 339 9595.
* Anna Seaman
Alison Nelson’s Chocolate Bar
The dish: Alison Nelson’s Chocolate Bar calls it a Classic Molten Chocolate Cake. It’s a chocolate fondant, a delicious dish that, when done right, can be sublime. Chocolate Bar’s version is offered in white or dark chocolate and comes with two scoops of vanilla ice cream; I went for dark. The exterior could have been a little firmer and crustier, to contrast with the molten interior, but the melting middle was a lovely, gooey, intense mess. It was so good I was almost able to overlook the crystals inside the ice cream.
The cost: A hefty Dh51, but I was so blissed out by sugar and chocolate that it was definitely value for money.
The cafe: Originally from New York City, this cafe chain can also be found in Dubai and the World Trade Centre Mall in the capital. It’s a swish joint with satin seating.
The menu: savoury snacks and light meals, some with chocolate or cocoa ingredients, and an extensive and tantalising array of cakes and sweet creations. The coffee is also very good.
The details: Level 1, WTC Mall, Abu Dhabi, Opening hours tbc, 02 626 9089.
* Kevin McCardle
La Maison du Chocolat
The dish: Sphere Chocolat
The dish is touted as a “light chocolate mousse with intense flavour” but unless they are referring to the actual weight of the thing, this appears to be something of a misnomer. There is absolutely nothing light about it. The perfectly formed sphere that is placed in front of me consists of a rich, dense mousse sitting on a crumbly layer of streusel biscuit and covered with a coating of dark chocolate that is so smooth it gleams in the light. This is an incredibly intense chocolate experience and one that I would probably not recommend trying on your own. It’s a tasty affair, to be sure, but veers dangerously close to being overwhelming, brought back from the edge only by the salted caramel tang of the biscuit, the slightly bitter undertones of the dark chocolate and the frothy dollop of caramel fondant that greets you, almost unexpectedly, in the centre of the sphere. I was tempted to also order the Guayaquil, “a frappé of dark chocolate ice cream and cold Guayaquil chocolate with a subtle hint of bourbon vanilla” but am glad I refrained. Instead, my innocuous cup of camomile tea acted as the perfect antidote to the sweetness of the dish.
The cost: Dh45
The cafe: La Maison du Chocolat, which has been dubbed the ‘Hermes of chocolate’, is located on the ground floor of Dubai Mall’s Fashion Avenue. It’s in good company, wedged between Dior and Ermenegildo Zegna, and features a whole counter dedicated to beautifully presented chocolate concoctions, including the maison’s signature ganache bouches. The only weakness was the lighting, which was far too bright and made me feel like I was about to be interrogated.
The menu: The menu is extensive and demands a fair amount of time and attention. It is divided into pastries, éclairs, bouchees, macaroons, ice cream and sorbets and beverages, with plenty of options in each category.
The details: Dubai Mall, Fashion Ave., ground floor, 9am to 10pm, 050 424 3638, www.lamaisonduchocolat.com
* Selina Denman
Godiva Chocolate Cafe
The dish: Godiva three-layer cake
The presentation was flawless – a moist slab of dark chocolate cake served with a raspberry macaroon and a tiny jug of raspberry coulis, topped with a long white chocolate curl. The cake, dark, dense and tasting of almonds, had a feel of Sachertorte to it, and was nicely offset by the tart coulis. The macaroon felt like an unnecessary extra, but I ate it anyway. Who can resist macaroons?
The cost: Dh48.
The cafe: Godiva’s is in The Galleria on Al Maryah Island, set in the ground-floor atrium against glass windows looking out over the water. The couches are deep and comfy, the staff attentive and subtle, and the chocolate dishes heavenly (we also tried the dark chocolate sin cake and the chocolate tart).
The menu: It’s got “sin cakes”, sandwiches, a range of teas and coffees, waffles and tarts, and a staggering selection of beautifully wrapped chocolate: truffles, pralines, noisettes, caramels. The best of Belgium, really.
The details: The Galleria, Al Maryah Mall, open 11am to 10pm daily, 02 677 0717
* Christine Iyer