When I was younger I stood across from the Chinese border twice. We used to live in Vietnam so it really wasn’t that far away. On two trips up North I got a chance to look over to China, but I never got a chance to visit. Now I’m sitting in a hotel room in Hong Kong after two quite exhausting weeks travelling around China and Hong Kong.
Whenever I go anywhere, another suburb, interstate, overseas, I’m always interested in checking out the desserts and sweet things on offer. Thankfully I get to put it under the guise of research– not just pure indulgence. This is a short list of most of the desserts we’ve eaten over the last couple of weeks. There are also a few unmentioned places I’ll be looking at in a bit more detail later.
1. Red Bean and Green Tea Ice Cream, Victoria Peak, HK
I had this combination a lot through China, mainly in the form of a red bean and green tea frappuccino from Starbucks. I can’t remember the name of the place we went to, but it was at the top of Victoria Peak after we’d taken a ride on the peak tram. Hong Kong was hot and sticky, so ice cream was a very welcome treat.
2. Red Bean Snow Ice, Din Tai Fung, Beijing
We saw one of these come out of the kitchen when we first sat down. Safe to say we were ordering one. A towering pile of shaved ice covered in red bean. We were going to get a mango or strawberry one as well, but by the time we got to dessert they’d already sold out. I got lucky with the red bean, but it’s a bit of a shame that not everyone on the table was much of a fan.
I didn’t know what to expect. I thought the shaved ice might be a little flavourless. There was some kind of milky sauce at the bottom of the dish, that soaked through all of the ice. It was quite a light dessert, and very refreshing. Din Tai Fung is a Taiwanese restaurant, and I suspect this is probably more of a Taiwanese dish. I was a bit fan, and I think I probably ate most of this mountain.
3. Brunch at Grace Beijing
One of the highlights of the trip was brunch at Grace Beijing. We had a five course brunch menu where you choose a dish from each of the categories: starter, entree, main course, asian kick, and dessert. Then there was the complimentary seafood platter because we had six people. You can swap around any of the courses at whim. If you wanted three desserts you’d just have to forgo two of your other dishes. Accompanied with free flowing wine, mojitos, and juice cleansers (basically mocktails), it was something I’d be tempted with far too much if I lived in Beijing.
My starter was a thick banana pancake with a scoop of crunchy chocolate ice cream. The pancake was very thick, and I was worried it might be a little stodgy. Thankfully I had the first bite and it was beautifully fluffy. This came with a strawberry smoothie shooter, and a few fruits. There were these sweet red berries with the dish that were unlike anything I’ve had before. At first I thought they might be giant cranberries, but the flavour wasn’t quite right. Turns out they were actually cherry tomatoes. I’m not quite sure how they prepared them, they appeared to be almost glaceed, but I’d love to see if I could incorporate that sweetness into another dish somehow.
For dessert I had a passionfruit creme brulee. The crack on top wasn’t too pronounced, but the brulee was delicate and creamy. The apple tart tartine came highly recommended by our friends, and the menu claimed the chocolate cake was the best in the world. All of the desserts looked very appealing, and ended the meal on a constantly high note.
4. Toffee Covered Fruit, Beijing
In Beijing we went out to one of the ‘snack streets’. I get the feeling that a lot of the food is geared towards making tourists squirm, but there were a few good things we got to try. One of these is the toffee covered fruit they sell on long skewers. The idea is similar to a toffee apple, but the result is to much better. Once the excitement of a toffee apple wears off you’re usually left with a thick bit of toffee and a disappointing and soft apple underneath. We had our eyes out for toffee covered strawberries, as recommended by one of our friends, and later on we followed this up with toffee covered grapes.
For starters, the toffee isn’t as thick as a toffee apple. This means that the combination of the soft fruit and the toffee works better together. Otherwise you end up eating the toffee and then the fruit, rather than the two together.
This is definitely something I’ll be trying (probably once strawberries are back in season).
5. Fruit at Da Dong, Beijing
Da Dong was one of the restaurants recommended to me by Fuschia Dunlop. I wish we’d had the chance to try more from the menu. We had their roast duck, but most of their other more interesting dishes were a little too elaborate and expensive for the type of meal we were having. We weren’t splashing out that night, but it was a tempting proposition.
We didn’t actually order dessert, but we were given a complimentary dessert before leaving. There was a glass with some kind of fruit puree. It looked delicious, but none of us could pick the flavour. We also had a plate of fresh fruit that looked beautiful. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best fruit, but you can’t fault the way it looks.
6. Degustation at Yu’s Family Kitchen, Chengdu
The last one was another Fuschia recommendation. We were lucky to get a table because we just turned up on the night, without really knowing where we were going. They managed to fit us in, and we got to enjoy Chef Yu Bo’s 34 course degustation menu. We had two desserts, followed by some fresh watermelon.
I wish I could remember exactly what the first was. It looked like a small powdered log. When you bit into it the outside shell cracked and there was a glutinous filling. It was warm, and had a nice play of textures. The second were battered balls of apple, covered in toffee. They were brought to our table hot, and we dipped them in a dish of cool water to make the toffee set. I think this is so you get the hard crack of set toffee, while the rest of the dessert remains hot.