Weaving through a maze of historic churches, stunning tiled pavements, and mosaic walls, I glance down at my phone before looking back up at street signs, trying to navigate my way through Lisbon’s winding roads. I’m in Portugal’s capital, in search of what has been described as the best chocolate cake in the world. “People come from all over the world to eat this. You can’t come to Lisbon and not try it — trust me,” says a local who I had met earlier that day. He had hastily typed step-by-step instructions on my phone for me to follow, and I’ve now finally found the store he’s urged me to come to.
Located on an unassuming street corner in Lisbon’s Campo d’Ourique neighborhood, it’s hardly what you'd expect a world-famous storefront to look like. The actual store, unabashedly titled, “O Melhor Bolo de Chocolate do Mundo” (which translates to “The Best Chocolate Cake in the World”) looks more like a pop-up — with no more than approximately eight seats inside, the walls are plastered with clippings from various magazines and newspapers, all singing praises of this notoriously acclaimed cake. There isn’t a menu. This place serves one thing, and one thing only — and customers, loyal locals and determined tourists alike, come in ordering slices (occasionally with a coffee) or full cakes for future consumption.
I place my order and eagerly await my slice, which is presented to me simply, without decoration, frills, or fanfare. Immediately, there’s something magical about the deep brown tones of this chocolate cake. The gloss and shine of the top layer of chocolate beams at me, and almost seductively beckons in a knowing manner. It’s the ultimate definition of food porn. But the biggest shock for me comes from the realization that this world-famous chocolate cake is not your typical baked, spongey cake. In fact, it’s a flourless cake — constructed with layers of crispy chocolate meringue, sandwiched between soft chocolate mousse and then coated with a decadent chocolate ganache. It’s a true architectural masterpiece, each chocolatey component carefully put together by hand, in a charmingly rustic, yet tantalizingly refined way.
Upon taking my first bite, I’m immediately transported to a chocolate utopia. I’m taken to a place that chocolate cake has never taken me before — not because of the body-numbing taste of that beautifully rich yet heavenly calming chocolate, but rather because of the absolutely incredible textures that flood your mouth. The layered construction of such delicate pieces results in this overwhelming textural journey. The gooey chocolate ganache instantly smothers your lips. It’s followed by the crunch of that crispy and buttery meringue, which then melts upon a second bite as you reach the smooth, velvety mousse. And that’s all then brought together again by another wave of that indulgent ganache, which smothers everything so perfectly together. It’s a true orgy of chocolate — in so many forms, each layer with its own different texture, flavor, and sensation. With each bite comes an overwhelming, eye-rolling moment without any heaviness or over-sweetness.
The creator of this masterpiece, chef Carlos Braz Lopes, is fully aware of the power of texture and different flavor elements. It’s what drew him to create such a unique style of cake. “It’s very important,” he explains to me. “It shows how such a simple thing like a chocolate cake and a different texture could give people new flavor experiences.”
Lopes confesses that, back when he created the cake 15 years ago, he had very limited experience and skills in the complex field of pastries. But it was the cake’s texture that really set it apart, resulting in the subsequent worldwide acclaim and media attention. “The Best Chocolate Cake in the World” name is now known across the globe, with resellers in Spain, Brazil, the United States, Australia, and the UK. “The name just came when people that heard about the cake, but had not tried it, asked me if the cake was good. And for fun, I said, ‘It’s not good — it’s the best in the world,’ and suddenly this name became a success, as well as the most dangerous name we could give to any product.”
And he’s right. It’s a dangerous claim to make, with many chefs attempting to rival that title. But regardless of whether you agree with it being the best in the world, one thing’s for certain: This unusual chocolate creation will hit you with an incredibly unique textural experience that will challenge any bite of chocolate cake you’ve ever had.