Apr 26, 2018


All these time I have been taking dessert for granted. Shaped by what I was accustomed to, I didn't think twice or put any deep thought into it. During my recent trip to Tokyo, a short stop by JANICE WONG DESSERT BAR opened my mind about dessert. Who said dessert has to be cakes, ice creams, cookies, or even with sugar involved? In fact, dessert can be limitless. 

I actually tried to visit this sweet joint last time I visited Tokyo, but arrived too late and the room was already packed with customers seeking for something special after dinner hours. 

Second time around, I came prepared. Had early brunch and arrived at JANICE WONG close to noon, where most people are still eating lunch. Successfully avoided the afternoon sweets craving crowd, I managed to get a table without making a reservation ahead.

If you ever visit JANICE WONG DESSERT BAR, I do recommend their bar seats, where you get the most up-close view of all the plating actions, where the magic begins. I only chose the table seat for a more spacious room to put down my bag and hefty camera.

Located on the first floor of NEWoMan next to Shinjuku station, this is one of Janice Wong's oversea locations. 

Born in Singapore, Janice worked under several world-class chocolatier and pâtissier such as Pierre Hermé and Oriol Balaguer. Talented of course, she also has her own interpretation about dessert.

Frankly speaking, my initial plan was simply stopped by DESSERT BAR and picked two or three "regular" desserts. Something more familiar and definitely comforting. But it was during White Valentine's Day in Japan so they had a White Day's special menu. It's quite a long way to get here, so why not give it a try? And this mindless decision reshaped my understanding about what a dessert can be.

White Day's special degustation comes with a set of five different dishes. Alcoholic or non-alcoholic pairings can be added. 

Me and Mister went for one alcoholic and one non-alcoholic pairing.

Cute hand towel thing. It was dry and small similar to the size of a coin. The waiter came over and poured a small amount of hot water over to made the hand towel expand.

First course: white cube -

Let's check out the beverage pairings first. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions looked the same but with slight component variations.

Alcoholic pairing: pearl caps.

Made with Sileni sauvignon blank sparkling, passion fruit, pearl powder, and lemon grass. 

Non-alcoholic pairing: pearl ripples.

Made with appletiser, passion fruit, pearl powder, and lemon grass. 

Refreshing in a way, but the key lied within that galaxy-like colors in the glasses. With a little swirl, pearl powder started to reflect the colors and it's like drinking a miniature galaxy from the glass. A luscious opening.

"Guava, popcorn, salted caramel, star fruits."

Though it was going to be a light start, but actually quite a strong punch here. Ice cream-like cube coated with fine popcorn bits. Sweet and savory touches with fruity aroma. Just like the pairing drinks that came with layers of delicate colors, such simple snow-white hue but somehow just couldn't take my eyes away from it.

Second course: white aero -

"Naoshichi, fukinotou, hazelnuts, fromage blanc, flower pepper."

Naoshichi is a type of citrus, and fukinotou is a type of Japanese vegetable. Here's where it hit my head first. Dessert or not? How come there's vegetable on my plate? Flavor-wise too, it actually acted more like a light savory dish instead of a regular sugar loaded dessert. But in a way for sure there's a very gentle sweetness shining from these ingredients. Or was I wrong? Maybe it was that hint of salty taste flowing out from these sweet items? Couldn't tell which one's which, it was quite an interesting experience. 

Alcoholic pairing: white "wa" groni.

"Daigo no shizuku, suze, dry vermouth, homemade bamboo grass flavored gin."

Non-alcoholic pairing: virgin white spumoni.
"Homemade campari water, grape fruit, tonic water."

Not hard to tell why they picked this bamboo-shaped cup to serve the alcoholic drink that was also made with bamboo grass element. One would thought that the alcoholic pairing can be strong, at least heavier compared with the non-alcoholic version. On the contrary, putting the alcoholic drink and this dessert together, the drink actually softened the edges of the dessert and turned the whole flavor into a gentle sweet touch that suit the adult's preference.

Non-alcoholic version had a fizzy texture and refreshing sweet note, so in a way it loosened up the supposedly calm dish into a more lively direction. Unexpected effects from these two fun pairings.

Third course: white sandwich - 

"Coconuts, pandan leaf, lime, yuzu, almond milk tofu, turnip."

A brush of elegant green hue on the yuzu sponge from the pandan leaf. There's also yuzu parfait softly snuggled in between. The white sticks on the side were either almond tofu or pickled turnip. Talking about the surprises when bitten into pickled veggie, all the sudden I was craving for a bowl of steamed white rice. 

Thanks to this course, I've never knew that pickles can intertwine so well with sweets. Similar to the sourness from fruits, light vegetable pickles act the same way.

Alcoholic pairing: oriental lady.

"Bobby's gin, jasmine infused cointreau, lychee, lemon, egg white, coriander bitters."

Non-alcoholic pairing: lychee jasmine.
"Lychee, jasmine, lemon, egg white, coriander bitters."

At least half of the drinks were covered with flavored foam. So even for the alcoholic one, when sipping it you also ingested a portion of the airy foam, which softened the punch from the alcohol. Both drink pairings were similar to this dessert course in terms of flavor and texture. It might be hard to tell from the presentation, but this course was in fact the most Japanese of the whole set.

Forth course: white risotto (written as risoto on the menu) -

"Potato, white asparagus, brown butter, hyuganatsu (a type of citrus)."

Risotto as dessert? Confirmed with our waiter and he tried very hard to explain to us in English. So it doesn't need to be in a common "dessert" form or incorporate any sugar for a dish to be defined as "dessert." The risotto here in a way was kind of a cross in-between savory and sweet. Lightly seasoned with citrusy aroma that permeated every bite. Just like dessert seasoned with salt, think the other way around, why can't a savory dish that come with a touch of sweetness?

True that, who said a dessert has to be in cake form or use of sugar? Putting too much thoughts on the definition can somehow limit the creativity and many possibilities ahead.

However, my mind somewhat accepted this whole new idea about dessert, but my taste buds were still adjusting. Especially when it comes to this course's drink pairings. 

Alcoholic pairing: du Barry flip.

"Cauliflower, Johnnie Walker Gold, Stimson chardonnay, smoked advocaat, consommé, truffle salt."

Non-alcoholic pairing: cauliflower truffle.

"Cauliflower, Vintens chardonnay, consommé, egg yolk, truffle salt."

Very avant-garde course, and very dangerous pairings. It's like an acquired taste similar to blue cheese and stinky tofu, both drinks were strong and tasted just like meat broth, more so like a cold foamy soup. I'm willing to step forward, but do need more time for this one. 

Glad the coming course came to a rescue.

Fifth course: flower garden -

"Yogurt, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, olive oil, orange blossom."

The most "dessert-like" of all. The sphere was composed with different berry layers with the outer coating made with yogurt. 

Little orange blossom flavored tapiocas were scooped out tableside. 

As I traced my memory back, this one was the most comforting course at the time since it lined up with what I originally expected what a dessert should be. But in the end, it was the least surprising course. Without that "wow" element, this course was good but couldn't reach the top as I thought about the lineup of every courses.

Did I grow from this whole "dessert" experience? Not so sure, but my mind definitely is more opened to different interpretations now.

Alcoholic pairing: sprout.

"Calvados, sauternes, campari, peach, cherry blossom bubble."

Non-alcoholic pairing: thawing.

"Peach, genmai cha, salted plum, almond milk, cherry blossom bubble."

Both drinks were such a delight in terms of presentation, aroma, and flavor. The non-alcoholic version was especially memorable with tea infused in it. Together with other Japanese touches such as plum and cherry blossom, this drink showcased the local characteristics with well-intertwined elements.

After all the courses, customers can pick their favorite one from the set as an extra complementary drink. I would have chosen the last or the first pairing, but was on the brim of over-flowing with food and beverage, so a simple hot tea was my only request.

Petit four -

Pound cake and airy caramel butter.

I usually prefer enjoying dessert or sweet drinks separately. Never a dessert paired with sweet wine sort of person. JANICE WONG DESSERT BAR broke that habit of mine. Sweet in a way but very gentle to the palate, unlike the usual sweet dessert top with even sweeter drink.

About dessert, I gained more appreciation after this short visit to JANICE WONG DESSERT BAR. Might not be as easy at first. But as time passes by, that initial hesitation dissipates. In return, my curiosity surfaced, wanted to know more and to find out what dessert meant to others. That's why eating is such a fun thing, not necessary bringing you that instant satisfaction physically, but mentally it can tickle afterward. 

So what is dessert? Guess I won't know till I eat my way out.  

5-24-55 Sendagaya (NEWoMan Shinjuku)
Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 151-0051
Japan website: http://www.janicewong.jp/
Singapore website: https://www.janicewong.com.sg/

Opening hours:
Monday to Friday 11:00 a.m. ~ 4:00 p.m.; 5:00 p.m. ~ 11:00 p.m.
Saturday, Sunday, Holiday 11:00 a.m. ~ 11:00 p.m.

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