2016 wasn’t my favourite year by a long stretch, but there were still a couple of sweet spots in it – five to be exact! So here are my five favourite desserts in Hong Kong last year… and here’s hoping 2017 will be even sweeter.
Chocolate H20, Cobo House
When Cobo House first opened in Hong Kong, people actually started sending me social media photos of this dish, saying “this has your name written all over it”. Sure enough, its main components are chocolate and salted caramel – and short of actually calling it “Order Me, Rach”, there was no question that I’d be falling for Chocolate H20 hook, line and sinker.
Cobo House is the Hong Kong spin-off of Singapore’s 2am Dessert Bar, the creation of award-winning pastry chef Janice Wong – and the desserts here are accordingly all pretty stellar. Even if they’re not to your taste, they’re still interesting, creative and presented beautifully, which is more than can be said for most restaurants’ dessert offerings here (chocolate fondant again?).
Chocolate H20 consists of a frozen aerated dark chocolate mousse that’s been whipped with Evian water, drizzled with generous amounts of salted caramel and heaped on top of a crumbly chocolate cookie soil. It’s a tried-and-tested combination and yet, you’ll never have tasted anything like it. The mousse is the most delicious dessert contradiction you’ll ever meet: frozen but not icy, gorgeously rich in pure, intense chocolate flavour but with a wonderfully weightless texture that feels lighter-than-air. Paired with a pour-me-a-pint-please caramel to deliver the perfect hit of salt and a scrape-the-plate-clean-scrumptious chocolate soil to deliver a contrast of textures and you have a dessert that’s equal parts exciting, exquisite and just pure excellence. There’s also a Kochi yuzu sorbet which I conceptually understand but personally disregard; there’s no doubting that it’s a great, refreshingly citrusy palate cleaner but when a dessert is this good, I want it to linger for as long as possible. Desserts like this are made to be savoured – and then salivated over yet again when you post it on social media, because it’s too beautiful not to.
Cobo House, 8-12 South Lane, Shek Tong Tsui, Hong Kong, +852 2656 3088; www.facebook.com/COBOHOUSEHK
Labneh cheesecake, Maison Libanaise
When I eat an amazing dessert, my brain bursts into song – and this year’s Maria McKee, Show Me Heaven moment (insert 90s power ballad of your choice here) was provided by Maison Libanaise’s labneh cheesecake. This dish came right at the end of the most massive Middle Eastern feast, of such hugeness that I’d started feeling full around the appetiser stage… But as soon as I had my first bite, I already started casting my eye around the table for dessert leftovers that I could steal!
I often think the key to a great dessert is for it to feel beautifully decadently rich, but to also somehow be so feather-light that it’s gone before you know it. This cheesecake nails this perfectly – the silky smooth, pillowy rich, deliciously light yet oh-so-creamy labneh with just the right amount of tang; a thick buttery, crumbly brown sugar biscuit base and the final masterstroke, a scattering of pomegranate seeds to provide the perfect pop of refreshing zing. As soon as I got home, I did what any self-respecting dessert lover would do – placed an order with Maison Libanaise for a whole cheesecake the next week!
Maison Libanaise, 10 Shelley Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2111 2284; www.maisonlibanaise.com.hk
Pecan pie, CRFT PIT
As a Brit, the delights of pecan pie have come to me relatively late in life – so thank God for the melting pot of culture that is Hong Kong’s culinary scene for introducing this divine dessert to my tastebuds.
CRFT PIT’s pecan pie is a dessert worth pledging an eternal oath of allegiance to; lots of pecans, lots of brown sugar, lots of butter and lots of hell yeah. Stick it in the oven for a few minutes and it becomes this majestic molten mess of gooey rich caramelised gorgeousness, studded with generous amounts of chunky whole pecans and contained within the most delicious, buttery pie crust I think I’ve ever tasted; I’m pretty sure pies are made to be shared but I assure you, you’ll want to share that incredible crust with precisely no-one. It’s a majestic molten mess that has burned the roof of my mouth more times than I would care to admit… but every single time I cut myself a slice, I simply cannot wait to dig my fork in immediately and fall headlong into pecan pie lust once more.
CRFT PIT, Unit 2, 3/F, Harbour Industrial Centre, 10 Lee Hing Street, Ap Lei Chau, Hong Kong, +852 2476 2800; www.crft-pit.com
Pandanus coconut dumplings, Samsen
Samsen is the new Thai restaurant from former Chachawan chef Adam Cliff and yes, their coconut dumplings are very similar to the ones that I first fell in love with at Chachawan – but I reckon Samsen’s rendition might just taste even better.
These little balls of joy are stuffed with a heady mix of palm sugar and shredded coconut, have a pandan-infused skin that’s soft, chewy, not-too-thick-not-too-thin dumpling perfection and are served in a warm salted coconut cream that envelops you like a welcoming hug on a winter’s day. The repeated mentions of salted caramel on this blog should tell you quite how much I dig the salty-sweet combo in my desserts, and this uniquely Asian spin on the trope is just beatifically good. When I eat this, I can practically feel a halo of dessert happiness descending on me, a golden glow that spreads from my lips throughout my whole body. Dumplings with a touch of divine intervention – you don’t get much more heavenly than that.
Samsen, 68 Stone Nullah Lane, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, +852 2234 0001; www.facebook.com/SamsenHK
Chocolate and hazelnut delice, Mercedes Me
I don’t think 2016 has been a particularly vintage year for new restaurants or indeed, new desserts in Hong Kong – and in light of this, sometimes it’s the standards that stick in your mind. The chocolate and hazelnut delice at Mercedes Me might have some surface bells and whistles – hello edible flowers and mini syringes of olive oil – but at its heart, it’s a very simple marriage of classic flavours and textures… which just so happens to include my all-time favourite combo, chocolate and hazelnut (see 2015’s best desserts list for further evidence of this).
There’s creamy rich chocolate ice cream, silky smooth ganache, buttery biscuit crumbs, shards of glassy thin chocolate brittle and all-too addictive crunchy candied hazelnuts – all enlivened with pings of sea salt and fizzes of popping candy. Sometimes simplicity with a touch of sophistication is just what the dessert doctor ordered, and this delice always delivers.
Mercedes Me, Shop C & D, Ground Floor, Entertainment Building, 30 Queen’s Road, Central, +852 2895 7398; www.facebook.com/Mercedes.me.HongKong
Note: Since a couple of people have asked, the “terms” for this list are that the desserts have to have been new to me in 2016 (or else Neighborhood’s chocolate palette would feature every year!), and have to still be commercially available at the time of writing (so not something my mate Gary made us for dinner once, or a one-day limited-edition item that has never seen the light of day since) so that you can actually go forth and try these desserts for yourself!