If you’ve bought into the lore of Henri Charpentier's saccharine charms, save your pretty penny for a trip to Japan instead. The 45-year-old Japanese sweet shop, named after the French chef who first set fire to Grand Marnier on crêpes, just set up its first overseas flagship, at the Tippling Club’s original space on Dempsey Hill. For a dessert destination so hyped and lauded, its international foray falls as flat as the French pancake for which the patisserie is famed.
Sitting in the warm room – not helped by the numerous bright spotlights – feels a bit like being in a Barbie Play Palace of deep pinks and four-poster-framed loungers staffed by a mostly Japanese crew. Their countrymen’s signature fastidiousness seems to have gone on holiday; we were left waiting a long while for our cutlery and water, and our mug of extremely pricey hot chocolate ($18) appeared to have been walked through a Ninja Warrior course, with splash and drip stains above the waterline and on the outside of the cup. And at $18 for a cup of liquid Valrhona, we also expected it to be the best we’ve ever tasted (it’s not), or that it comes with a back massage (it didn’t). The goblet of Muscat grape tea ($8.50) is thankfully more fragrant.
The incredibly expensive desserts ($15-$29) leave a figuratively bitter note in the mouth. The house signature Crêpes Suzette ($22) comprises a mere two flaps of dough bathed in orange juice, butter and too much Grand Marnier. Six exclusive plates have also been created for Singapore. The Flower Temptation ($25), finished with flaming triple sec features an odd combination of chocolate semifreddo and caramelised pineapple, and the Dome ($29) of chocolate melts away – by way of Eau de Vie set ablaze – to reveal an inner of chocolate parfait, strawberries and cream. This dessert of mismatched chocolate half-spheres is the most decent offering, but after awhile, you’ll realise that the main spectacle of the restaurant, flambée theatre, gets old very, very fast.
Ultimately, you're paying a premium here for a brand name that’s cashing in poorly on its repute. It’s a letdown – nobody likes to feel like they’ve walked away gouged of an experience and of good money, especially not from a dessert place that’s supposed to sell sweet happiness. Natasha Hong