Six World-Class Desserts I Have Eaten
Chocolate mousse – La Zucca restaurant, Senza del Remo, Venice, 1998
Deserving of the accolade: Best Chocolate Mousse Ever (And I've Had Loads).
What's the story? There are many chocolate mousses in the world, but most of them are mediocre. Even with the given that home-made varieties are always superior to shop-bought, they can often go one of two ways – either they are enormously rich and therefore too sickly to eat a lot of, or they are very light and insubstantial, meaning that five minutes later you don't feel like you've eaten anything at all. Not this mousse, needless to say. It was the perfect combination of lightness and intensity of flavour that I have never found equalled elsewhere, with little chips of dark chocolate embedded in the creamy but not overly sweet mass. Mmm. I could eat another one right now.
Can I have a bit of that? Apparently not. A friend of mine went to Venice a couple of years ago and looked for the same restaurant but found it was no longer in business. Shame. Mind you, Venice is the easiest city in the world to get hopelessly (albeit picturesquely) lost in, and my friend has the sense of direction of a particularly short-sighted mollusc, so it may well still exist and she just couldn't find it. Keep searching, everyone. I promise, it's worth it.
Raspberry and ginger Eve's pudding – unknown tapas-type restaurant, Whitby, North Yorkshire, 1999
Deserving of the accolade: Best Hot Pudding.
What's the story? Despite my enormous sweet tooth AND being British, I am not a particularly great fan of baked puddings. Perhaps it's because I can almost never manage a heavy pudding after a large meal. Perhaps it's because I was fed too much nasty instant custard as a child. Or perhaps it's the pervading memories of SKOOL DINNERS (argh). This one, however, was something else. An Eve's pudding, for those of you that don't know, is a traditional two-layered concoction, with a pool of fruit underneath (often apple or plum, but could be anything), and a layer of sponge cakey stuff baked over the top. This version had a veritable lava lake of oozing raspberries below, and a glorious brown ginger cake layer on top. You didn't even need custard or cream, because the raspberries did that job themselves. It was amazing, and I've never seen or eaten anything like it anywhere else.
Can I have a bit of that? No idea, since I don't know whether the restaurant still exists. It was a really small place on the Abbey side of the town, I think.
Lemon tart – Cafe Concerto, York, circa 1998
Deserving of the accolade: Best Lemon-Based Dessert; also Services to the Eating of Multiple Gateaux.
What's the story? There are millions of cafés in York, but it's hard to find one that isn't full of frilly doilies and tasseled tie-back curtains and mad old ladies. Café Concerto, however, is not like that: it is cool and bistro-like, and has toilets that are (or at least used to be) wallpapered with old sheet-music. Most of their cakes are great, their lemon tart especially so (being very tart, in fact), and they give you very big slices. Best of all, however, is the option of buying a plate of smaller slices of several different cakes, so you get to try all the ones you fancy instead of having to choose. What a good idea that is. Many other institutions could take a leaf out of that book. (Marriage, for example...)
Can I have a bit of that? Yes. I think the café is still there – it's near the Minster.
Almond tart with crème anglaise – Aquarius (veggie restaurant), La Marais, Paris, 1998
Deserving of the accolade: Best Sauce or Accompaniment
What's the story? Now, the almond tart section of this entry was nice enough, but it would never have made the history books left to its own devices. What lifted this dessert into the realms of the legendary was the crème anglaise that it was soaked with. Now, crème anglaise is sort of French for custard, but implies a much thinner cream-like sauce, not a thick yellow English dollop of stuff. This one was thin and creamy and looked very white and plain, but the sheer flavour of it... ahh, it lingers on my taste buds to this day. It had a strong burst of fresh vanilla pod, with a fragrance that filled the senses in a delicate, delicious and supremely moreish way. Can it truly be called by the name of custard? Surely not. This, not the rubbish you buy in a can in Tesco's, must be the true Ambrosia.
Can I have a bit of that? Possibly. Aquarius certainly still exists, so it just depends what its desserts of the day are.
Chocolate and whisky tart – People's Palace restaurant, South Bank, London, 1995
Deserving of the accolade: Best Use Of Alcohol
What's the story? Despite the fact that I am generally a fan of strong liquor ("you don't say!" gasps precisely nobody), I must confess to the controversial belief that booze does not belong in cakes and puddings. I think the problem with it is that it's almost never handled sensitively, so that the alcohol nearly always becomes a dominant taste and shuts out all the other lovely things that cakes should contain. This cake, however, was dark and tangy and rich-but-not-too-rich, and therefore the best-ever example of booze and cake being united in mutual bliss, doing the culinary equivalent of skipping hand in hand through a field of waving cornflowers. If only more
Can I have a bit of that? Nope. The People's Palace still exists, but became very mediocre after it stopped being part of the Gary Rhodes empire. I believe it's shut for refurbishment at the moment, anyway.
The entire French patisserie selection – The Parlour @ Sketch, Conduit Street, London, 2005
Deserving of the accolade: Most Difficult Dessert Decision
What's the story? This is the second plug that Sketch have had from me in the Sunday Six, which probably makes me sound like a tedious fashion victim. However, I do not care, because lo! I have looked into their patisserie counter, and their patisserie counter looked into me. And it showed me many strange, wondrous and decadent things. I think the star item I've had so far is the "Mariké", which is a dome of coconut mousse, encased in white chocolate and with a jewel-like centre of green apple jelly. However, I say this only having tried three cakes out of a possible 25 or so, so that one may not be the bestest one of all, but I simply haven't had the time nor money to try them all yet. Nonetheless, I'm working on it, readers, I'm working on it.
Can I have a bit of that? Go ahead! Knock yourselves out, in fact. I'm keen to give them all the publicity I possibly can