D ubai has just welcomed the first Bulgari II Cioccolato store in the Middle East and it's as impressive as the beautiful bites it conjures up. In the region to officially launch the concept is Silvio Ursini, Executive Vice President of Bulgari Hotels. Here the chocolate connoisseur speaks exclusively to Buro 24/7 Middle East about the brand's first matcha moment ten years ago, why eating chocolate is a luxury and what his response to cliche concepts is (hint: it involves a ring-shaped hotel)...

Welcome to Dubai. We're sitting in Bulgari II Cioccolato City Walk, tell me about the concept store...

For us chocolate is not a business. We're not planning to open 100 stores or even a factory. It's a fun project, which started in Japan. Now, we've just launched Bulgari II Cioccolato here in Dubai plus we'll have one more store inside the hotel when we open at the end of this year.

Bulgari II Cioccolato

Chocolate is an antioxidant. What's your philosophy on eating for pleasure versus eating for energy?

Well, we're Italian, so for us being healthy doesn't mean saying no to this and no to that. For us being healthy means leading a happy life and indulging in luxuries. But our chocolate is far less sweet than others you find on the market because of the amount of sugar that we put in. So it's a way of indulging in a pleasure, in a luxury, that's not going to harm you unless you eat the whole store (laughs).

Bulgari chocolates are known for their exotic centres. Tell me, what makes the ingredients you use specific to Bulgari?

Well, it's a fascinating process. We have a lady who works with our chocolate masters in Japan. She's very talented in coming up with these combinations, then from ten experiments, we choose two or three new ingredients per season. For example we have a fig and balsamic vinegar chocolate as well we use gorgonzola, which is like a blue cheese and the result is interesting.

Bulgari II Cioccolato

Was there one ingredient that you've put on the table and said: "I think this is going to be an incredible pairing".

A few. I think the one that I was pushing for, which they were not expecting, was matcha. But that was ten years ago, when almost nobody knew what the green tea-like ingredient was. Now you find matcha lattes everywhere. Back then, very few people used matcha outside of matcha tea.

How did you discover matcha?

I've been a huge fan and student of Japanese culture for many years. I've been there 100 times and I'd normally drink sencha, but then I discovered matcha in a tea ceremony. It was very rare to find. It's fantastic. But Japan overall is a fascinating country. The one thing that I think makes the country extraordinary today, is the fact that while many places run the risk of losing their identity due to globalization, Japan is one of those places that, because of its history and geography, has managed to blend modernity and tradition. For anybody who has dedicated their life to beauty and design like myself, it's paradise.

Bulgari II Cioccolato

Speaking of modernization, what are your thoughts on Dubai and where does Bulgari as a brand fit into the vision?

Dubai is a very unique case. It has the desert culture and bedouin culture but in the 25 years or so that I've been coming to Dubai, I've seen it change. Maybe it's no longer about being bigger and flashier, but about creating world-class projects, which are nurtured by the newer generations, who are also rediscovering their roots and their traditions.

Is that why you've waited to launch the Bulgari Hotel in the Middle East? Yes. You know, we've been looking for a location here for a long time. But, we've never quite found the right location, the right partner or the right vision. When you have someone who says: "I have a great site and I want to build a hotel in the shape of a ring" — that's not what we're about. We are jewellers and we are the jewellers of hospitality. The hotel is a jewel because it's crafted like a jewel. 

Now, go inside the Bulgari Dubai Hotel and Residences.