15 Just Desserts, Picked for the Most Demanding Appetites
Desserts are the forbidden fruits of restaurants, the sinful temptations that turn thin dreams into fat pleasures, good intentions into earthly delights.
If you are going to fall off the healthy eating wagon, best make it worthwhile. Here are some of London's finest puddings. Restaurants may not be too happy if you show up at the busiest times and just order a dessert. But wander in during the afternoon or past the dinner rush and your welcome may be as warm as a jam roly-poly.
The Colony Club Bespoke Sundae: Colony Grill Room
Here's the deal: You choose from six ice creams and sorbets, eight toppings and six sauces, to create your own sundae. It's £7.25 ($10) for two scoops and £8.75 for three. (I wonder why anyone would order two.) It sounds simple enough but you might find yourself wanting everything. It's served in a retro glass and is fabulous.
Cost: £7.25 or £8.75
The Beaumont, 8 Balderton Street, Mayfair, W1K 6TF; +44-20-7499-9499.
Blackcurrant "Eton Mess": Pollen Street Social
Chef Jason Atherton's modern take on this traditional English dessert features a smooth cylinder of meringue. Below lurk a miso sweet-pastry disc topped with a fromage frais and blackcurrant mousse, fresh blackcurrants, clove gel and blackcurrant sorbet. Smash your way through the meringue and create your own mess.
8-10 Pollen Street, Mayfair, W1S 1NQ; +44 (0)20 7290 7600.
Eccles Cake and Lancashire Cheese: St. John
This sweet-and-salty combination reflects St. John ethos of simplicity in conception and presentation. The puff pastry with currants from the restaurant's bakery isn't too sweet, while the Mrs Kirkham's cheese it tangy and sharp. Chef Fergus Henderson's mum is from Bolton, so it's local, too. To make this at home the recipe is here.
26 St. John Street, Smithfield, EC1M 4AY; +44-20-7251-0848.
Portuguese Custard Tart: Taberna do Mercado
Chef Nuno Mendes recalls his childhood in Portugal, when his grandmother would take him to cafes and order pasteis de nata that were so soft and runny, he would eat them with a spoon. The buttery pastry contains a touch of pork fat, and the tarts are cooked at a high temperature so they are almost burnt, with a near-liquid center.
Tipsy Cake: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
To many, this is the pinnacle of London puddings. The brioche is remarkably light and fluffy in view of the cream and brandy with which it is loaded. It's served with Costa Rican pineapple that has been spit-roasted for three to four hours. The caramelized fruit is sharp and sweet while the brioche is soft and buttery. The combination is like a hot cocktail on your plate.
Mandarin Hotel, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA; +44(0)20 7201 3833.
Soufflé aux Pistaches et sa Glace: Koffmann's
Pierre Koffmann's pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice cream has been on the chef's menu since 1977, when he opened La Tante Claire, which went on to win three Michelin stars. Pistachio was Koffmann's favorite childhood flavor and this creation has, over almost 40 years, become London's most revered dessert.
The Berkeley, 1 Wilton Place, Belgravia, SW1X 7RL; +44-20-7235-1010.
Sticky Toffee Pudding With Clotted Cream: Hawksmoor
If Homer Simpson lived in London, this is the dessert he would pick. It is loaded with light and dark muscovado sugar, together with salt, dates and butter before you even get near the Rodda's Cornish clotted cream on the side. It is heavy and rich - possibly to die for. It is the best-selling dessert across the Hawksmoor group, which shifts more than 1,000 a week.
10 Basinghall Street, the City, EC2V 5BQ; +44-20-7397-8120.
BABA Like in Monte Carlo: Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester
This baba is served with a choice of five rums, from light and aromatic to hot and spicy. A current favorite is 12-year old Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva from Venezuela. This is a dry, savarin dough that is then infused with syrup and citrus. Whipping cream with vanilla is served on the side. Alain Ducasse is reducing the sugar content of his dishes but this still tastes luxuriously sweet.
Cost: Part of a la carte menu or £20 as an extra.
The Dorchester, Park Lane, W1K 1QA; +44-20-7629-8866.
Bread and Butter Pudding: Pharmacy 2
Chef Mark Hix is a champion of British food and this dessert at Damien Hirst's new restaurant is a modern take on a traditional favorite. It is light and luxurious, with eggs, single cream, raisins and vanilla, topped with brioche. Don't tell anyone but this recipe was inspired by the Swiss chef Anton Mosimann, who served it at the Dorchester.
Newport Street, Lambeth, SE11 6AJ; +44-20-3141-9333.
Gateau St. Honore: The Ritz
There was a time when this classic French gateau would have held pride of place on many a dessert trolley. These days, it is made to order. Executive Chef John Williams has added touches of his own - a little white chocolate for texture and some diced pear - but you are tasting history, with layers of caramelized puff pastry and vanilla cream.
Cost: £36 for two
150 Piccadilly, W1J 9BR; +44-20-7493-8181.
Amalfi Lemon Tart: Theo Randall
Each tart is made with seven ripe Amalfi lemons, caster sugar, butter, nine egg yolks and six whole eggs. But not any old eggs. These come from Bologna, where the chickens are fed a diet of corn and carrots that results in deep orange yolks. Chef Theo Randall's lemon is almost like curd, with a fine balance of sweetness and acidity. There's crème fraiche on the side.
The InterContinental, One Hamilton Place, Park Lane, W1J 7QY; +44-20-7318-8747.
Sloe Gin Fizz Jelly: The Ivy
This is a light dish of seasonal berries in a jelly with gin and prosecco. This time of year, it contains blackberries but the dessert should really come into its own with strawberries in the summer. It is fresh tasting and not too sweet.
1-5 West Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9NQ; +44-20-7836-4751.
Spotted Dick: Sweetings
Sweetings is one of London's oldest restaurants and little appears to have changed since it opened in 1889. The puddings are charmingly old-fashioned and the spotted dick belongs to a happy age before we were watching our waistlines. It's made with suet, flour and milk and studded with raisins for quite a tart, strong flavor. It rests happily in a puddle of custard.
39 Queen Victoria Street, The City, EC4N 4SA; +44-20-7248-3062.
Amalfi Lemonade & Sarawak Pepper Ice Cream: Clove Club
This is a second showing for Amalfi lemons, which are so good they insisted on appearing twice. Here, they sparkle in a mousse that is piped onto a quenelle of peppery ice cream atop a teaspoon of lemon butter. There's a mini cornet on top for texture. This is a light and refreshing dessert with just a hint of a fizz.
380 Old Street, Shoreditch, EC1V 9LT; +44-20-7729-6496.
Chef Francesco Mazzei started in the kitchen as a boy making ice cream in Calabria. The desserts are a highlight at his new restaurant in Mayfair, where the tiramisu has been hailed as the best in London. Mazzei says there's no secret, just great ingredients and simplicity. He serves 30 to 50 a day, and if any are left over, staffers eat them.
20 Savile Row, Mayfair, W1S 3PR; +44-20-7534-7000.
Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines