Chinese restaurants expand dessert offerings with new spin on Western sweets

More Chinese restaurants are putting a spin on dessert with Western-style and fusion creations

A meal in Chinese restaurants usually ends on a sweet but safe note, with perennial favourites being yam paste and mango pudding.

However, a growing number of Chinese restaurants have expanded their dessert menus to include Western confections. These include apple tatin and choux pastry and East-meets-West treats such as sticky date and dried longan pudding with wolfberryswirled vanilla ice cream.

At least eight restaurants here have been serving these sweet surprises in the past year to draw younger diners with a craving for the new and unusual.

While some Chinese restaurants, such as Taste Paradise in Ion Orchard, offer desserts such as chilled mango puree with dry ice for dramatic effect, the new crop of sweet treats boasts more complex and intriguing flavours and textures, coupled with refined presentations.

Last month, KEK Pandan Gardens, the modern offshoot of the popular Keng Eng Kee Seafood restaurant in Alexandra Village, rolled out desserts comprising soft shell crab and toast served with ice cream in savoury flavours such as chilli crab and salted egg yolk.

Xiao Ya Tou cafe in Duxton Hill, which opened in May, serves hip interpretations of soya beancurd and trifle.

Jiang-Nan Chun, a Cantonese restaurant in Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, overhauled its dessert menu in March after a 31/2-month facelift.

Tapping on the expertise of its executive pastry chef Audrey Yee, who was trained at Le Cordon Bleu London, it is pushing boundaries with fusion creations such as molten almond cream encased in crispy puff pastry as well as yogurt panna cotta and steamed mung beans topped with sour plum granita, longan and chia seeds, served in a cocktail glass.

Chef Yee, 45, says: "Diners are more well-travelled; they know their food and are willing to explore new flavours. It would have been difficult to change the mindset of chefs and diners 10 years ago."

She is working on new desserts such as doughnuts, scones and cookies infused with Asian flavours such as X.O. sauce.

At Empress, a contemporary Chinese restaurant at the Asian Civilisations Museum, Western desserts such as granita and poached pear are fused with South-east Asian ingredients.

Mr Robin Ho, 43, group executive chef of The Prive Group, which runs the restaurant, says desserts are on an "equal footing" with main dishes at Empress in terms of cooking and plating.

He adds that "cross-cultural" desserts such as sticky date and longan pudding are among the restaurant's signature dishes.

"To give diners an unexpected but pleasant finish, desserts have to have a balance of temperature and textural contrast," he says.

"Desserts can be a talking point among diners and a reason for them to return to the restaurant."

He adds that at least 80 per cent of Empress diners order dessert.

KEK Pandan Gardens' head chef Wayne Liew, 32, thinks young diners will lap up its three savoury desserts combining ice cream with soft shell crab and toast.

The idea came from a collaboration with chef Han Liguang of Restaurant Labyrinth last year, when they concocted a dessert comprising black pepper crab ice cream on soft shell crab and steamed buns.

"Diners above 30 usually find them too weird," says chef Liew.

But those in their 20s have adventurous tastebuds and are familiar with fanciful Western desserts, he adds.

"I hope to attract more youngsters to local seafood restaurants and show them a new generation of Asian food."

The restaurant sells about 20 servings of its soft shell crab-based desserts daily.

At Chow Fun, a two-month-old small plates-noodle bar at The Grandstand in Turf Club Road, there is an open-concept pastry corner where desserts such as green tea cheesecake with sesame nougatine and red bean paste are made.

Chef-owner Alicia Lin, 42, says: "By having a well-rounded menu, customers can have more fun with a wide variety of dishes and stay for dessert."

Meanwhile, Xiao Ya Tou is putting a spin on local desserts such as soya beancurd and fried banana fritters.

Its Coconut Tau Huay features coconut panna cotta topped with gula melaka sago, pumpkin ice cream and desiccated coconut crumble. Other flavours in its desserts include Ovaltine (a malt chocolate drink) and bandung (a milk and rose syrup drink).

Ms Abby Lim, 32, co-owner of The Quaintest Co, which runs Xiao Ya Tou, says: "By drawing on childhood memories, these desserts have flavours that diners can relate to. But we elevate them with new flavour combinations and a party of textures."

Such inventive desserts are whetting the appetites of diners.

Civil servant Justin Teo, 36, who dines in Chinese restaurants twice a week, says: "Desserts there have been neglected, with not a lot of thought put into them. But they are important as I need a sweet ending to every meal."

He tried the chilli crab ice cream with soft shell crab and cereal toast at KEK last week and liked the "quirky and interesting local flavours".

Undergraduate Chua Wei Xing, 23, appreciates the move to jazz up Asian favourites, such as the jasmine tea-poached pear and sticky date and longan pudding in Empress.

"The poached pear stood out as it is rare to see the fruit presented in such a way in Chinese desserts, and the Asian ingredients blend well with a Western dessert."

However, he will stick to traditional desserts such as yam paste when he dines at traditional Chinese restaurants, as "they do these old-school desserts best".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 10, 2016, with the headline 'Surprise endings'. Print Edition | Subscribe