Some chocoholics want to live in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but I want to live in MarieBelle’s Cacao Bar!!! My friend Sheila and I went there for afternoon tea recently, and let me tell you what a supremely magical experience this was! Especially on a rainy Fall day.

Photo by Sheila Tracy.

Photo by Sheila Tracy.

This establishment in Soho is two treats in one—the front is a sweets shop and the back is a charming tea room. It’s all very European. I experienced something like this place only once before, on my first trip to Italy. And this was as enchanting as that was.

They serve lunch, desserts, and beverages, but the featured item is their famous hot chocolate. More on that in a sec.

You all may know that my favorite repast is afternoon tea. I check every city I go to for that meal. And I was very surprised to find that MarieBelle’s serves it, but with a major chocolate twist, of course. It was so wonderful that I even looked past the fact that they label it “High Tea,” as many in America erroneously do. (The quick version of the difference between the two is that high tea is actually a peasant supper with crusty bread and meat pies served after 5PM, while afternoon tea is this glorious meal that I’m about to describe for you, served much earlier. Thank you, MarieBelle, because I always appreciate the chance to educate people about this meal.)

Photo by Karen Salkin.

Photo by Karen Salkin, as is the one at the top of this page.

We began our visit to MarieBelle’s with a petite cupful of the Jefferson hot chocolate. Sheila took one sip and exclaimed, “This is the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted!” (So much so, in fact, that, after buying just one envelope to take home with her, we spent over an hour of our very limited time left in NY to go back down to Soho another day to purchase full tins of their incredible hot chocolate! It was a time sacrifice we happily made.)

The colorful meal came on the traditional three-tiered platter, and looked mouthwatering. We began with the trio of finger sandwiches. Sheila’s fave was the ham and swiss cheese, while my affections were divided between the grilled chicken with avocado, and pesto and tomato.

Then we moved on to the surprise here—in place of British scones, MarieBelle serves chocolate fondue with seasonal fruit. It’s absolutely delicious, especially with the juicy grapes and berries. Sheila describes it as “thick and rich,” and declares, “It’s certainly the best, and puts all other chocolate fondues to shame!”

MarieBelle's Aztec hot chocolate, that my mouth is watering for right now, just looking at this picture!  Photo by Sheila Tracy.

MarieBelle’s Aztec hot chocolate, that my mouth is watering for right now, just looking at this picture! Photo by Sheila Tracy.

The bite-sized desserts—two macaroons, a madeleine, and various chocolate barks each—are perfect for saving for later, in one of their cute tiny to-go boxes, with a window on top so your appetite can be whetted as you go on your way.

But, of course, the meal would not be complete without a couple of MarieBelle’s signature handmade chocolates, which we’ve been fans of since Sheila discovered them many years ago at one of Fifth Avenue’s upscale department stores. Those beauties are always a welcome treat.

The tea presentation. Photo by Karen Salkin.

The tea presentation. Photo by Karen Salkin.

And there’s more! For the beverage part of the tea service, you can choose to have it all with coffee or tea, but you’d be nuts to do that when you also have the option of one of their supreme hot chocolates! The most popular is the Aztec, which becomes the aforementioned Jefferson when milk is added instead of water. But you can’t go wrong with any one of them.

If you’d prefer to go the traditional route with tea, I have to tell you that that presentation is beautiful. It’s served on a tray with the teapot, strainer, pitcher of honey, and one of their many mismatched cups and saucer sets, which we loved.

The molten lava cake.  Photo by Sheila Tracy.

The molten lava cake. Photo by Sheila Tracy.

You would think we would be sugared-and-chocolated-out at that point, but we augmented the tea service with MarieBelle’s most famous dessert, Moelleux Au Chocolat, which is a dark chocolate molten lava cake with a side of vanilla ice cream. It was downright luscious!

The surroundings and service made the entire experience extra-special. It was all anchored by the lovely Fabiana Ardaya, who cheerfully explained every step along the way. (But please be aware that she works on Tuesdays only.)

Photo by Karen Salkin.

Photo by Karen Salkin.

As to the atmosphere itself, Sheila and I agreed that it’s charming, beautiful, and old world. It evoked the Belle Epoque for her. (Her mind is on a higher plane than mine.) And I adored that Edith Piaf music was playing softly in the background. It made me feel like I could have actually been in Europe for that entire afternoon.

We lucked-out that they had just put-up their elegant Christmas decor the day before. So I suggest that you visit MariBelle’s Cacao Bar in the next two months. And many times after, as well!

Part of the sweets shop. Photo by Karen Salkin.

Part of the sweets shop. Photo by Karen Salkin.

We were so cozy and comfortable that we lingered a long time, savoring the gentle experience, which we were happy to share with the steady stream of satisfied customers in the cafe that rainy afternoon. I can’t wait to do it again on my next visit to New York.

MariBelle’s Cacao Bar 484 Broome St. New York 212-925-6999 www.mariebelle.com



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