By its name, Cocoa Kitchen is self-explanatory, specialising in all things chocolate. It's headed by Chef James McDonald, opening its doors to the public in May of this year at City Walk, Dubai.
When you walk into Cocoa Kitchen, you'll be welcomed by smiling faces and a very pleasant staff – not to mention an open kitchen and walls decorated with chocolate moulds that have been sourced from all over the world. It has a vibe of comfort yet the menu is anything but typical.
The kitchen revolves around one ingredient – chocolate – either in the form of cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, cocoa butter or chocolate itself. The soul of this restaurant stems from wanting to give customers a unique dining experience and surpassing the mundane, stereotypical use of chocolate being considered only for dessert. Every table is anointed with a real cocoa bean, enhancing the restaurant's uniqueness. To give diners a world of an experience, the cocoa products are sourced from all over the world – Ghana, South Africa, South East Asia, the Caribbean Islands, Papua New Guinea, Mexico – to suit the dynamic menu.
The passion fruit martini and mint lemonade had a sprinkle of cocoa nibs on top, a signature touch.
My gastronomic adventure with this out-of-the-box team of chefs started with a very enthusiastic
and learned waitress who made a special cocoa nib pesto served with a few slices of warm, toasted bread to get my taste buds tingling.
Next was the famous smoked burrata made with two types of heirloom tomatoes and basil pesto, served on a bed of greens. The theatrical effect of unveiling the dish was a great start; the taste was out of this world, a marriage of flavours that are simple yet delicious.
We followed with the shaved tiger prawn salad, with perfectly ripe avocado, tomato, papaya, pea shoots, cocoa nibs and lemon pickle dressing. The prawns were grilled to perfection, and the freshness of the papaya came through with the lemon dressing. This salad made for a great, well-balanced main course.
The signature dish, cocoa ravioli stuffed with butternut squash, with cracked wheat, rocket, Parmesan cream, balsamic vinegar and chilli cashew crumble, is one that goes down in the history of all dishes in the world. Yes, that is an exaggerated statement, but if you try this dish and taste the combination of flavours, you would say the same thing. To top it off, it's VEGETARIAN! All the vegetarians out there, you hear me?
We continued with the balsamic slow-cooked lamb shoulder, cooked with Romano pepper and piperade. Cocoa powder was also added, enhancing the earthy flavour of the lamb. This dish is a vision of beauty for anyone who is a meat lover.
Cocoa Kitchen's menu is driven and created through passion and absolute love of food, which shines though in the trio of beef burgers, made using three different types of brioche buns (beetroot, spinach and carrot), each filled with a moist beef patty and all the classic burger fillings and trimmings – except the cocoa nibs, of course, which add a fun textural element to the dish. When I asked Chef McDonald about the buns, he spoke confidently about how he believes in proper produce and hence uses fresh veggie juices to make the brioche (not artificial food colouring mixed with essence).
The cocoa-crusted beef tenderloin, served with carrots, white chocolate mashed potato, horseradish and beef chocolate jus and cocoa nibs, was definitely an interesting take on the typical steak and mash, syncing well with my passion fruit martini. The kale crisps on the side took the dish up a further notch.
The desserts were decadent. The first was a double dark chocolate (70%) brownie with crème diplomate, cocoa vanilla ice cream and warm milk chocolate sauce. Luxurious. Fudgy. Chocolate heaven. The chocolate cigar was filled with milk chocolate mousse and served with pistachio ice cream. Love at first sight. The chocolate was tempered to perfection and had an amazing texture.
Chef McDonald's knowledge of chocolate is impressive. He breathes, eats and drinks cocoa every day and believes in treating chocolate as a spice. The chef began his career in the UK, where he worked at well-renowned Michelin-starred and award-winning restaurants including The Greenhouse, La Noisette and La Petite Maison.
A must visit! I feel like I'm missing out on life by not tasting the rest of the menu, so I'll be headed back to Cocoa Kitchen very soon to check out some more dishes.
Shop B02-00-12, City Walk, Jumeirah 1, Dubai, UAE, +971 4 590 5070