Old-fashioned desserts are making a comeback, but they’ve undergone a rather tasteful transformation, says Tania Ballantine.
Sarah Palin. A delicious retro pud. Of the two things we associate with Alaska, the one that comes with a hot meringue casing and ice cream inner gets our vote. Dig into London’s ‘flaming’ version (technically a bombe alaska) designed for two at Plum + Spilt Milk in King’s Cross, where a waiter pours fruit brandy over it and sets it alight. For a single portion (who likes to share?), get the lift up to sky-high City diner Duck & Waffle. The alaska has a custard ice-cream middle, chewy meringue and two servings of rhubarb (poached and dried in syrup). You didn’t get that in the ’70s.
Depending on who you listen to, crème brûlée (or ‘burnt cream’) was invented on these fair shores, though the French, to their credit, have won the marketing battle. Our version (using custard rather than cream) is traditionally named after the myriad places it’s associated with, such as the Saffron Hill Burnt Cream found at Farringdon’s Bird of Smithfield (made with English saffron), or the indulgent chocolate Cambridgeshire Cream served at Hoi Polloi in Shoreditch’s Ace Hotel.
A dish so simple a child could make it, the humble crumble fell out of fashion in restaurants precisely for not being chichi enough. These days, you’ll find homely-with-a-twist versions at Camden’s Q Grill (featuring a heavenly combo of apple and toffee) and Soho’s Ducksoup (with tart and crunchy rhubarb and hazelnut). You’d have always eaten up your school dinner puddings if they’d tasted as good as this.
Vintage favourite Wimpy (yes, it still exists) continues to churn out a knickerbocker glory for the retro price of £3.30. But elsewhere the dessert has gone upmarket, including at Bermondsey Street’s Tanner & Co where it comes with a grown-up salted caramel. At Hawksmoor, the kitchen layers clotted cream, clotted cream ice cream, chopped dates and hazelnut praline before pouring on toffee sauce for a perfect sundae. While at Clerkenwell’s Foxlow, the combination of bourbon caramel sauce and ‘soft serve’ ice cream (like Mr Whippy, but better) is so moreish you’ll scoff the lot in seconds.
The stuff of childhood nightmares, rice pudding has made a remarkable comeback. Perhaps it’s because most of the versions around town have gone for radical reinvention. At Berners Tavern, the chocolate rice pudding is served with an orange star anise jelly and a white chocolate and orange sorbet. But the must-try is a goat’s milk rice pudding at Soho’s Pollen Street Social: goat’s cheese ice cream, oat and milk crumb, and honeycomb. So good you’ll want seconds. Then thirds.
A posset used to be something you’d take to cure a cold (the original drink was actually prescribed as a remedy), but these days it’s a simple dessert. Try a classic version (cream, lemon and sugar) at Battersea’s Soif, served with shortbread and strawberries. Or head over to Barnyard where chefs infuse the mix with lemongrass and lemon verbena, and place 12 perfect marjoram leaves on top. It might not cure your cold, but you’ll feel a lot better about the world after one of these all the same.
Get toothy with London’s tastiest trends.