• Peter Alton

Hong Kong: Just Desserts

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

A place worth trying for curiosity value alone is a Food Franchise called Honeymoon Dessert. There is a small outlet nestled in the Food Court in Times Square, another in the Entertainment Building in Central and a larger more extensive restaurant on the ground floor of the Western Market in Sheung Wan. There are also various outlets in Kowloon and a recently opened restaurant in the Ngong Peng Village. The Western Market restaurant is a pleasant and relaxed place overlooking the tram tracks as they meander their way towards Kennedy Town. The menu is pretty extensive and unsurprisingly like its name suggests consists solely of desserts. Anyone with images of chocolate gateaux, trifles and delicious ice cream glace should perhaps linger over the menu a little longer before entering as this is a specialty restaurant catering for the more unusual delicacies. Looking through the menu you will find a whole manner of equally delectable and disturbing items that perhaps you would never normally associate with dessert. You can choose from a variety of glorious desserts and drinks featuring such wonders as glutinous black rice, grass jelly, braised swallow nest and durian, the so called “king of fruits”.

It was on my first visit to Honeymoon Dessert that I was to have my very first encounter with the legendary durian. On first glance the fruit itself looks innocuous, rather like a large knobbly brownish green pineapple, which can grow up to 40cm long and 30cm in diameter. This innocent looking fruit holds a secret, which is only unleashed once you cut through the thorny outer flesh. It is in fact one of the worst smelling natural foods on the planet, so bad in fact that most airlines refuse to even transport it. To say that it is smelly is an understatement in the extreme; it has an intensely pungent and thoroughly unpleasant aroma that could clear any room in a few seconds. It will give even the smelliest cheese a run for its money and make anyone in the near vicinity extremely nauseous. It smells pretty much like a combination of blue cheese, onions and sweaty socks but somehow much, much worse.

I really don't know who it was that first decided to eat a durian or more importantly thought that eating one would be good but it is very much regarded as a delicacy. I can't imagine that anyone coming within thirty metres of a durian would ever think of eating it. Chemical warfare or perhaps pest control would be the two uses that I would think of, with eating the thing way down and quite possibly not even on the list. Most delicacies tend to be grouped in one of two distinct classes by gourmets who seek out the unusual. They are either wildly exotic dishes that excite and treat the taste buds or dishes that have a unique and unusual taste that for some reason any serious foody must try. I am always wary of anything that has a unique and unusual taste and I was hoping that Durian didn't enter into this category.

Therefore it was with much trepidation that I walked through the door of Honeymoon Dessert in the Western Market intent or trying this fabled fruit. The restaurant is pleasant, cool and on the day I visited relatively quiet with only three other tables occupied. The menu offers such wonderful delicacies as Grass Jelly and Red Bean Soup, Sesame Soup and Swallow Nest Braised with Almond Tea, all very good value with prices ranging from HK$3 to HK$70. I opted to try the Durian Pancakes at HK$12 but I was spoilt for choice and could easily have had it in a manner of guises.

I sensibly ordered some Jasmine Tea just in case it proved truly horrendous and I needed to clean my palette with some degree of urgency. My order arrived on an attractive plate thoughtfully covered with a plastic cloche, which seemed a bit redundant as I could still smell the dish approaching. The waitress rather hurriedly put the dish down on my table and rapidly disappeared out the back presumably to take cover and breathe fresh air again. It was at this point that I realised that all the tables in the restaurant were watching me expectantly. One young lady was holding a tissue to her nose a little longer than necessary to let me know she smelt it too. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if the person reading the menu outside had smelt it, as he seemed to beat a rather hasty retreat across the road. There is absolutely no doubting the smell is horrendous even processed into a pancake and secured under a plastic covering it still packs enough of a punch that threatens at any moment to remove the hairs from your nostrils. It is very reminiscent of a strong French cheese combined with rotting meat and to say the least not conducive to helping stimulate your appetite. Once I removed the cover from my dessert the full aroma assaulted my fellow diners and me. I felt a little guilty but I was more worried about the prospect of actually eating the thing without throwing up everywhere.

It actually looked very appetising the outer pancake was a rather vivid green colour and ascetically it looked good enough to eat. Cutting into the pancake revealed a pure white creamy centre within which I could see darker strands of what I assumed to be the sinuous durian flesh. I cautiously cut a small piece to try and was conscious of the silence around me as I bravely tried my first taste of the king of fruits. I was hugely relieved it had a smooth enticing taste, which is very difficult to describe. It reminded me of honey, cheese and avocado with the texture and lingering taste of garlic. So lingering in fact that it was to stay with me for most of that afternoon and into the evening. It was actually quite nice, not a delicacy that I would walk over hot coals for but something that I would consider ordering again. I received a nod from the table opposite and a knowing smile from the occupant as if he knew I would be tasting this particular dessert for the next few hours at least.

I have actually dined at Honeymoon Dessert many times and have been pleasantly surprised each time, so far nothing has lingered quite like the durian but I have tried some interesting and delicious desserts and drinks. I tried the swallow nest braised with coconut juice which at HK$50 is one of the more expensive items on the menu although to be honest still pretty reasonably priced. I was actually more than pleasantly surprised with this dish as it was quite delicious and something I would consider ordering again. It looks like a creamy frothy coconut soup and that is exactly what it tastes like. It is sweet with the flavour of the coconut taking over the whole dessert making it extremely palatable. You can have it as a hot or cold dessert and although I chose the hot option I think cold it would be equally as nice.

An unusual dessert is the Thai black glutinous rice with mango, which is not altogether unpleasant. The rice although it looks a bit strange is actually quite nice but the spoonful of red bean paste and chopped sweetcorn spooned in the centre of the dish had my taste buds doing somersaults as it is not what you would normally expect to be lurking in a rice pudding! My favourite Honeymoon Dessert dish so far at least is described on the menu as sweet ball with crushed peanut and sesame. This is a hot dessert that has a weird texture but the crushed peanut and sesame compliment the hot doughy ball and produce a very sweet but delicious dessert.

Another dessert found not only in Honeymoon Dessert but all over Hong Kong is grass jelly or leaf jelly as it is sometimes known. It is a dark brown translucent jelly that is frequently used in drinks and desserts. It is made from the boiled herbs of the mint family along with the addition of potassium carbonate. The resulting liquor is cooked and then allowed to cool and set into a gelatinous consistency. The cooled jelly is cut into cubes and added to mixed fruits along with coconut or fruit juice to create an interesting dessert. The grass jelly is largely flavourless although it has a slight iodine taste that is not altogether unpleasant. It is often made into a sweet cold soup or mixed with syrup or fruit juice to create a refreshing drink. In some areas of Southeast Asia it is mixed with soya milk creating an interesting drink called cincau that contrasts the white milk with the black jelly. The contrasting light and dark appearance of the drink gives it the common nickname of a Michael Jackson, which proves someone has a sense of humour.

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