In the past few years, there has been a growing appreciation for the humble cacao bean, with more people learning how to enjoy artisanal dark chocolate over its more commercially viable sister, milk chocolate.
Lihui Li, the CEO of Singapore-based Thirtythree Private Limited – a boutique brand and franchise management outfit that owns franchises like American brand Marble Slab Creamery and Singapore-based organic cold pressed juice brand HicJuice – saw the potential in bean-to-bar chocolates after travelling extensively and trying some of these artisanal chocolates on her trips abroad.
Bean-to-bar chocolates are those in which every step of the chocolate-making process is done by the chocolate maker.
“I don’t have a very sweet tooth, so my impression of chocolate has always been that it’s kind of sweet, and ‘heaty’ from an Asian perspective. But in my travels, I came across a few emerging bean-to-bar artisanal chocolate makers. When I tasted these chocolates, I was like, ‘Wow!’ This was the first time I had tasted chocolate in a different ‘light’.”
That discovery prompted her to consider doing more with chocolate locally, exploring a concept combining food and education.
“I thought chocolate was a good canvas, because there is so much more to discover about it,” she says.
Which is why she decided to launch The Dark Gallery in the newly-minted MyTown Cheras Shopping Centre.
The boutique dessert cafe specialises in all forms of dark chocolate concoctions, like ice creams, bon bons, hot chocolate, macarons, chocolate waffles, ice cream cakes, granola, cookies, chocolate bars and so much more.
What sort of chocolate can you expect from The Dark Gallery?
Well, the cafe uses a lot of premium French Valrhona chocolate to make items like its signature 80% cacao dark chocolate ice cream, 38% cacao milk chocolate, and white chocolate ice cream.
Then there are the specially sourced bean-to-bar chocolates, from countries like Tanzania and Haiti, and single origin chocolates from Madagascar, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. The single origin platters will be updated every few months, so that customers will have new choices.
Navigating the ins and outs of the various chocolate options at The Dark Gallery can get tricky (only because you’re very likely to get greedy) so if you’re plagued with indecision (read: gluttony), indulge in the single origin tasting platters.
The platters basically give diners the opportunity to sample a wider range of chocolate offerings, encompassing a curated selection of single origin chocolates.
Li and the bean-to-bar experts that she recruited did a lot of R&D and tested over 20 single origin chocolates with different cacao percentages, as they wanted to showcase dark chocolate variants that were distinctive from each other.
The Single Origin Dark Chocolate Ice Cream Platter (RM21) for instance, features a trio of ice cream scoops – the 64% cacao Madagascan, 70% cacao Dominican Republic and 72% cacao Venezuelan.
The tasting platter comes with a sheet of paper that details the bitterness, acidity and taste profile of the individual chocolates, so that diners are aware of the intricacies of what they are consuming. Ideally, the ice cream should be consumed from lowest to highest bitterness levels, so as not to overwhelm the palate.
With each ice cream, you’ll discover subtle nuances and distinguishing features. The 64% cacao Madagascan ice cream is creamy and rich with fruity undertones, while the 70% cacao Dominican Republic is more robust and perfect for die-hard chocolate aficionados.
The difference between the 70% Dominican Republic and 72% cacao Venezuelan is very slight, but the latter has more pronounced chocolate flavours, with a tinge of butterscotch.
Li’s experience with Marble Slab Creamery means she already knows the essentials of making good ice cream – that’s why The Dark Gallery’s ice cream incorporates 13% cream and has a texture like soft, downy cotton. It’s addictive, but steers clear of being sickeningly cloying.
“When there’s too much cream, the first mouthful tastes really heavenly, but after the third one, your taste buds will be ‘blinded’ – you can’t taste the difference because too much fat has coated your tongue. We discovered that 13% cream is creamy, but doesn’t mar the taste of the ice cream,” says Li.
If you’re more of a hot chocolate fan, try the Single Origin Hot Chocolate Shots Platter (RM15) which features the same three single origin chocolates mixed with hot milk.
You’ll get slightly different flavour profiles from the chocolate in its melted form. The 64% cacao Madagascar hot chocolate is still fruity, but has a tinge of sourness to it; the 70% Dominican Republic has very dense chocolate flavours while the 72% Venezuelan is almost opulent in its richness.
If you wander into The Dark Gallery on a hot sweltering day, order the cold Choc Cube Hazelnut Latte (RM18), a shot of espresso with hazelnut syrup, frozen chocolate cubes and warm milk. The idea is to add the milk and espresso to the frozen chocolate cubes. As the cubes melt, the drink becomes progressively more chocolatey. This is a gratifying perk-me-up that serves up immense pleasure points, as you can choose to suck on the frozen cubes or let them melt and amp up the drink’s chocolate factor.
The Dark Gallery also makes its own chocolate take-away items including the insanely addictive Artisanal Chocolate Sables (RM20) which are crunchy, buttery and supremely chocolatey.
It also has a range of house-made chocolate bon bons (RM4.50 each) which are infused with flavours like passionfruit, coconut gula Melaka and caramelised figs.
The passionfruit offers an explosion of fruity flavours, while the coconut gula Melaka is a little like Cadbury’s Bounty bars, albeit in a localised palm sugar context.
Then there is the caramelised fig, which offers the sweetness of figs juxtaposed against creamy chocolate in what proves to be a delightful pairing of soulmates.
Despite the sheer volume of chocolate products on offer at The Dark Gallery, everything is made in-house. The ice cream is freshly churned every day, cones are made in-store, and the cakes and pastries are produced by the in-house pastry chefs.
The Dark Gallery’s offerings come at surprisingly reasonable prices, in spite of the premium chocolate used; Li says this is because she wants everyone to be able to appreciate what the dessert cafe has to offer.
“We want more people to know about it, so we are not setting it as a luxury product,” she says.
The Dark Gallery
Level 1, MyTown Shopping Centre
6 Jalan Cochrane
Tel: 03-2715 7360
Open daily, 11am to 10pm