Award-winning pastry chef Janice Wong is set to wow dessert-obsessed Hong Kong with her edible art.
Text by Tiffany Chan
There is no denying it, Hong Kong is obsessed with desserts. The latest addition to the scene is Janice Wong’s dessert-cum-restaurant Cobo House by 2am:dessertbar.
Dessert queen Wong first launched 2am:dessertbar in Singapore in 2007, whipping the world into a frenzy with thoughtful and conceptual creations that have been described as “edible art”. While her desserts are beautiful enough to be showcased in a gallery, for Wong, they are first and foremost flavour-driven.
“Our desserts are designed with the philosophy of flavour first, then come texture and aesthetics,” she says.
Wong’s desserts are largely inspired by her food memories. Her iconic Cassis Plum, made famous through its appearance on MasterChef Australia last year, was inspired by springtime in Japan. The Hong Kong egg waffle is nostalgic for Wong, who lived in Hong Kong for three years from age 10.
“I draw inspiration from the memories of flavours. Where I have travelled, I try to remember flavours. In this way it is easier to connect flavours when creating a dish,” she says. “The egg waffle is signature to Hong Kong and I grew up eating it. When I was living in Hong Kong I would buy the waffle and eat it on its own and especially loving it – crispy [on the outside] and soft on the inside. The flavours are nostalgic and I wanted to create a play on hot and cold, sweet and salty.”
While Cobo House unashamedly rides on 2am:dessertbar’s cult status and success, it is also the first of Wong’s ventures to showcase her savoury dishes. She hosted her first savoury dinner in 2008, when she cooked for Pierre Hermé and his guests. And will the world fall in love with her savoury food as they have with her desserts?
“The pressure is great to deliver sweets and savouries to perfection,” she says, “but it is a good kind of pressure to have.”
Like Wong’s desserts, the scampi ravioli is beautifully and thoughtfully plated. Rounds of ravioli are garnished with diced vegetables, drizzled in beetroot oil and sit on alternating stripes of pumpkin and pea purée. The homemade ravioli is tender and densely packed with elegant, delicate scampi meat that is delicious enough to eat on its own. If the ravioli skin could be even thinner, nearly translucent, the dish would be even better.
For once, we passed on the wagyu beef and opted for a vegetarian main. Braised fennel and charred artichoke are the stars of the plate, served with watercress emulsion, black garlic, celeriac and smoked eggplant purée. The artichoke was soft and meaty, with slightly charred edges. The fennel was simply braised and slightly under-seasoned, while the purées were smoky and delicious. However, the watercress emulsion was inexplicably bitter and we thought more could have been done for the vegetables to shine.
Tsujirihei Green Tea Tart
While not the most unusual or surprising of Wong’s desserts, the Tsujirihei green tea tart was one of our favourites. Perhaps it’s our biased love of matcha, or because it’s a solid dessert. The matcha is baked on the outside and molten velvety on the inside. Cutting through the pastry crust, the warm, rich liquid filling spills onto the plate – not unexpected yet still a hard-to-come-by moment. The pastry is well made and not too floury in this dessert that is as rich as it is complex.
Water is traditionally considered the antithesis of chocolate. Wong spent months experimenting with the combination after attending a conference in Spain, and the result is Chocolate H2O, an aerated frozen chocolate mousse incorporated with Evian water. Inspired by the dead corals on the coast of San Sebastian, the mousse is sprayed grey and sits in chocolate soil with kochi yuzu sorbet. We didn’t know what to expect and were surprised: the water brings out the purity of the chocolate, then the richness hits a moment later. We’d never tasted anything like it.
We’ve been curious about Wong’s signature dessert since seeing it on MasterChef Australia last year. It is almost intimidatingly elegant. An aerated blackcurrant and white chocolate sphere filled with elderflower choya shiso foam sits on granita made from the same ingredients with kochi yuzu pearls and blackcurrant pastel. The complexity of textures and contrast of sweet-sourness was impressive, but we found the icy texture of the sphere diluted the flavours rather quickly. While beautiful, it is not perfect.
Cobo House by 2am:dessertbar
G/F & 1/F, 8-12 South Lane, Sai Wan
Tel: 2656 3088
*Featured in Crave’s April 2016 issue