Sure, you've all heard of a cronut by now. But what about a gold-embellished eclair, a browned meringue or a croquembouche constructed out of all of the above? Feast your eyes on London's most showstopping, jaw-dropping finales, the most OTT desserts and puds in town with a full-on flavour to match that flamboyant appearance. Diabetics, look away now.
London's most decadent desserts
Choux pastry desserts – specifically pert little buns and cream-spurting éclairs – have enjoyed something of a renaissance in London over the past year or so, spearheaded in part by Pierre Marcolini. Taking a self-defined ‘haute couture’ approach, the Belgian master chocolatier-patissier creates cakes that are a sight to behold. Seasonal varieties come and go, but stalwarts such as vanille, café, caramel, chocolat au lait and chocolat noir – embellished with crushed nuts, chocolate shards and sprinklings of edible gold – are not just dinky works of art, they’re seriously nom nom.
Traditionally a mountain of profiteroles, the classic French wedding cake is, for reasons of practicality and price, a rare treat. Which makes online and Selfridges-stocked cakemaker Anges de Sucre’s Horn of the Unicorn all the more startling. It’s utterly, unnervingly resplendent: a metre-tall vanilla and chocolate cake tower, glazed in meringue buttercream and studded with choux buns, éclairs, buttermilk donuts, macarons, soft-serve buttercream cones, cream flowers, chocolate pearls and popcorn. It’ll set you back £850 (yikes!) and technically it’s not a true croque because of all that internal cake, but… just look at it!
The Japanese booze-food experts use trad Japanese hardware with rose-tinted American nostalgia for their DIY s’mores. A take on the American campfire classic – inspired by chef-proprietor Ross Shonhan’s four-year tenure in Texas – they’re a neat, sticky melding of East and West: hunks of pillowy passionfruit marshmallow are toasted over a hida konro (tabletop grill) then squished between slices of almond chocolate and crisp graham crackers. Plus, you get an honest-to-God open flame to play with. Gimme s’more!
Brash, overconfident, aesthetically flummoxing and alienating to the old – is there a more millennial dessert than the freakshake? Hackney’s Molly Bakes wasn’t the first place in London to do them, but the Kingsland Road café has become ground zero for this Antipodean shake-cum-sundae ‘movement’. Visually, think of the banquet scene in ‘Hook’: a jug full of milkshake, topped with tidal waves of cream, balancing chocolate/cake/sweets and doused in sticky sauces. It’s a diabetic’s nightmare game of Buckaroo and proof that, as ever, the yoof are quite out of control.
Venue says: “Roka is a place where food and drinks are shared with friends, and heat, warmth and an all-embracing energy abound.”
Proliferating the sharing ethos that marks the rest of its high-end Japanese menu, Roka’s near-legendary dessert ensemble is a beast. Get past the exotic fruits, ice creams and sorbets, and you’re on to some truly delectable pan-Asian treats: Hokkaido cheesecake with robata nashi pear; chocolate, peanut and vanilla sundae; and the signature chocolate and green tea pudding with pear ice cream among them. Factor in sashimi-style presentation and custom-made Arita-San ceramics, and you’ve got the prettiest platter in London.
Cronut king Dominique Ansel lands in the UK this month, with a smorgasbord of London-exclusive sugar-bombs in tow. Best of the lot is the Eton Mess Lunchbox, a mish-mash of jam and mousse ‘strawberries’, mini meringues, black pepper, fresh basil and fromage blanc in a clear box. Key to the enjoyment of this is the DIY aspect: the constituent elements of ‘mess’ are mixed in Korean doshirak (lunchbox) style with a frenzied shaking of the container. As you’d expect from Monsieur Ansel, even after this wilful bit of auto-destruction it’s as pretty as a picture.
Cast your mind back to the ’90s and that episode in ‘The X-Files’ where a pitiful scientist’s head is frozen in liquid nitrogen and smashed off. Thrilling, right? Well, applying that to puddings is no less of a lark. At Clapham’s The Manor, cultured yoghurt and seasonal botanicals – shiso, blackberry leaf, sorrel, fennel, anise hyssop and whatnot – are given the nitro treatment, freeze-dried into sharp little nobbles and fragrant shards. The painterly plate is completed with blackberry mousse, soya milk sorbet and plumes of chilly smoke. Just take care with your tongue: the threat of ice burn is real.
The Ivy and Nobu have rolled out melting chocolate balls, and they’re a Jackson & Rye signature pud, but Bob Bob Ricard’s Chocolate Glory is the capital’s superlative example. Therein a gilded chocolate orb yields to a criss-cross of hot chocolate sauce, coquettishly bearing innards of brownie, Valrhona Jivara chocolate mousse, berries, and a passionfruit and orange jelly. Even for Bob Bob Ricard – a veritable temple of chintzy consumption – it’s a filthily ostentatious high point.
The cooking of London’s favourite Portuguese son Nuno Mendes is as contentious as it’s attractive. This is exemplified in the Chiltern Firehouse’s frozen apple panna cotta. It’s a foresty, dramatic little dish: browned meringue sitting snail-like on a herb granita, cubes of vanilla and apple jelly, apple and maple panna cotta, made super-rich by freezing. Tastewise, it has divided critical opinion since day one. ‘Genius!’ some proclaimed. ‘Fairy Liquid!’ others sputtered. Either way it’s a very Mendes take on the ubiquitous classic.
As if picking your dinner with a roulette wheel wasn’t histrionic enough – that’s the concept of the Savoy Thames Foyer’s Temptation Wheel menu – how about serving dessert on a honking great lump of ice? Enter Citrus on the Rock, which merges pastel-hued art deco pizzazz with delicate flavour combinations. Balanced on said iceberg, half a grapefruit is topped with a honey tuile and a micro-cloud of diaphanous citrus fluff, concealing earl grey meringue rocks and tart grapefruit sorbet within. This is old-school gastro peacocking for the swanky hotel crowd.
Find more freaky desserts in London
Could there be a more epic drink (if you can call it a drink) than the freakshake? Originating in Australia, these monstrous concoctions promise to fix all your sugar cravings at once with their combo of milky goodness, rich, gooey cake, cookie chunks, lashings of cream and a carnival of colourful toppings. Here's where to find your next fix.
It takes just a couple of steps along the decked, tree-lined entrance of this Mayfair mews restaurant for a sense of oasis and calm to descend – an atmosphere that is deliberately cultivated and carried through to the cool, well-spaced dining room. Solicitous greetings abound the moment you cross the threshold; the Greenhouse is a place where chairs are tweaked, tables brushed and every detail seen to by a considerate team. The place was buzzing on a weekday lunch with a pleasing range of perceptions, palates and purses. Short dish names on the menus merely hint at the perfumes and jewels to come, and the set lunch is barely less pretty and opulent than the carte, which is three times the price. Sea bream and passionfruit ceviche (from the set lunch) and pan-fried foie gras with malabar pepper (from the carte) both carried a perfectly balanced touch of the exotic. The set menu’s cherry dessert proved as painstakingly executed as the carte’s praline concoction, though the latter was arguably more inventive. Extraordinary appetisers and curious petits fours are served with both menus, and well-priced wine by the glass showcases the quality and interest of the extensive cellar. Neither menu was entirely free of slip-ups; the corollary is that the Greenhouse leaves you eager to return not merely soon, but often.