Let them eat cake
In the world of the tasting menu, restaurants’ dessert options often comprises one or two light bites, invariably made with scattered pieces of meringue, some granita or – if the chef is really pushing the boat out – a chocolate delice. But as à la carte has come back into fashion, so too have bigger, more satisfying, desserts – step forward cakes and tarts.
In recent years, chefs have taken tart making to almost competitive levels to showcase their pastry skills. Gary Usher’s salted caramel tart that he serves at his Liverpool restaurant Wreckfish is a much-vaunted example, as is the brown butter tart at The Marksman in Hackney. At Lyle’s in Shoreditch, its treacle tart and milk ice cream is the only dish that hasn’t come off the menu since the restaurant opened, such is the popularity of pastry at the moment.
French cakes are also à la mode, says cake and dessert producer Brioche Pasquier. The company has recently created a crunchy coulant caramel entremet that comprises a base of chocolate biscuit topped with layers of chocolate and hazelnuts, and then salted caramel and caramel mousse. “Entremets are an on-trend chocolate dessert that offers richness in an elegant way,” says Jon Turonnet, foodservice sales manager at the company. “A slender slice of entremets offers the diner just the right amount of rich indulgence in a precise slice of intense flavour that showcases the best of French pâtisserie.”
You couldn’t move for macarons a few years back, with the tiny meringue-based confections becoming a staple of many a restaurant’s petits fours offer. They’ve since lost their shine a bit, partly because of their ubiquity, but now they’re back – and this time they are channelling the ice cream sandwich. Enter Yolkin, which, following successful pop-ups in Soho and Covent Garden, has just opened its first permanent ice cream macaron shop and 18-cover dining room in Soho. Founded by Hong Kong-born, self-taught baker Sammie Le, ice cream is added to the brand’s creations to avoid wasting the egg yolks left over from making macarons. Variations are inspired by south-east Asian flavours with a western twist (see Asian flavours) and include matcha and Oreo; pandan and coconut; lychee; black sesame; purple yam and Hong Kong milk tea.
Boozy ice cream
Ice cream is often considered to be one of the more child friendly of desserts, but strictly adult-only options are out to the spoil the kids’ party. Under the banner ‘alcohol just got cooler’, alcoholic ice cream brand Cheers has created a range of boozy flavours, including Pornstar Martini, toffee and vodka, chocolate espresso Martini, Mojito and strawberry Daiquiri flavours.
Available in 120ml pots and already found in places including Bounce, Ping Pong and Hilton hotels, the ice creams pack a punch and really aren’t for younger diners – they range from 5.8% abv to a top end of 8.4% abv for the Mojito. As the mercury rises, the trend for customers eating their digestifs could well take off.
Rewind a few years and a restaurant’s vegan dessert option would have been nothing more exciting than a fruit salad, but the rise of vegan restaurants has encouraged chefs to think more creatively about their dairy-free options. Farmacy in Notting Hill is leading by example with a vegan-friendly dessert offer that includes coconut rice pudding, banana bread and peanut butter pudding, a raw chocolate tart and a ‘nice cream’ brownie sundae.
Vegan restaurant Redemption, which has a restaurant in Notting Hill as well as Shoreditch, meanwhile serves bliss balls – raw dark chocolate and medjool date truffles rolled in coconut – as well as a banoffee pie and a seasonal cheesecake. It’s not just independent plant-based restaurants that are giving vegans more options for afters. Zizzi does a rather good dairy-free sticky chocolate and praline torte served with coconut and chocolate ripple gelato.
It might sound as ridiculous as deep-fried butter, but fried milk is a thing. It’s a bit of a misnomer in that the milk is actually more like a firm custard that is then battered and fried, which sounds infinitely more appealing. The dish is already very popular across the world – in Spain it is known as leche frita, in China it is called zha xian nai, in Italy latte dolce fritto and gulab jamun in India – and it can be served either hot straight from the frier or cold. It is now creeping into the UK’s dessert psyche and appears on the menu in a number of places, including dessert and cocktail bar Basement Sate in Soho, where it is served with dulce de leche, yoghurt crisps and chai latte ice cream. Taiwanese steamed bun specialist Bao has a take on it, too, with its fried Horlicks ice cream bao.
Matcha soft-serve ice cream was one of the big dessert trends of the past few years and Asian flavours will continue to rule supreme in the world of desserts this year. Property developer Shaftesbury has brought a number of Asian dessert operators to the capital to open at its Central Cross development in Chinatown, including the European debut for fruit dessert brand Guo C 100, which has more than 350 sites across China, South Korea, the US and Australia. The restaurant serves Cantonese mango pancakes; durian and mango milk puddings; and shaved ice topped with fruit. Chinese dessert and snack bar Roro, also in the development, offers mille crepes – that’s crepes of multiple layers with a custard cream filling between each layer – cream puffs and snow box – a fresh cream dessert wrapped in thin rice skin.
Asia has also been the influence behind ice cream producer Yee Kwan’s latest product range. Inspired by owner Kwan’s trips to Thailand, the east Asian range of flavours includes black sesame seed; red Thai tea; toasted coconut; mango and passion fruit; durian; lychee; and yuzu.
A choux in
Choux pastry became cool again a few years back thanks to the likes of patissier Maitre Choux, whose colourful and striking eclairs sparked fresh interest in the French delicacy. Now choux pastry is finding its way onto menus in different forms, including at newly opened Mayfair restaurant Hide, which serves the beautiful religieuse, a French dessert made of two choux pastry cases, one larger than the other, filled with crème pâtissière (pictured). Then there’s the Paris-Brest, that is also enjoying choux’s revival and which has appeared on menus at places including Cliptone in Fitzrovia and Cafe Monico in the West End.
This feature first appeared in the May 2018 issue of Restaurant magazine, the leading title for the UK's restaurant industry. For more features, comment, interviews and in-depth analysis of the restaurant sector subscribe to Restaurant magazine here.