A sweet change
As the dessert industry moves away from cupcakes and waffles, three new entrants and an old-timer discuss the evolving after-meal space in Mumbai
It would be simplistic to describe the feeling an eight-year-old child in 1998 experienced when eyeing a glistening chocolate cake with an intricate swimming pool made with kitschy food colour and flanked by fondant ducks as "desire". It was, in fact, something akin to aspiration.
A decade since, that same child, by now an adult, would have been mesmerised by sizzling brownies topped with vanilla ice cream and further down the line, perhaps getting a set of six red velvet cupcakes packed to go. At that time, a waffle on a stick would have been unimaginable. Today of course, that, along with a host of other sweet treats, are so commonplace that most of it manages to capture our imagination, at best, fleetingly.
The mushrooming of dessert-focused ventures all across the country, and particularly in Mumbai, be it Dutch pancake and waffle chains, sorbet, swirl and gelato bars or parlours expediting healthy confections, all point towards one thing — we have come a long way since the fanciest dessert one could imagine was a gorgeous three-tiered cake. But the point is, how did we get here?
Sanjana Patel, who earlier this year launched The Classroom by La Folie, an interactive culinary space that also houses a dessert bar and a bean-to-bar chocolate factory, says that in the last year alone, she has witnessed the emergence of a number of ventures similar to hers. Well-travelled customers who are informed about quality products are beginning to demand the same back home, and that, Patel suggests, is playing a pivotal role in the seeming evolution of Mumbai's dessert scene.
Red velvet cheescake brownie lokomades. Pics/Ashish Raje
"Many sourdough boulangeries and French desserts and chocolate stores are coming up to serve the needs of these customers, who are using these options for gifting and for consumption. Healthy dessert indulgence has picked up, too. There is an increased interest amongst our patrons to know where the ingredients are sourced from and what the nutritional contents are," she explains.
What are your toppings?
This is something Avni Biyani, concept head at Foodhall that has Xoco57, India's first soft serve bar, agrees with when she says that health is playing a more influential role in determining the direction of sweets.
"The rise of gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, dairy-free options has led to the introduction of several alternative desserts for those with dietary restrictions," she says. But for Biyani, the genesis of her soft serve bar began with the wish to revisit a childhood tradition — that of heading to a kiosk in a market place with your family post dinner to indulge in what most of us grew up calling, softy. "With many new and interesting dessert options available nowadays, the simple soft serve had been tossed to the wayside. We wanted to help re-create the fond memories we all associate with the fluffy frozen treat."
And yet, in 2019 in a city like Mumbai, where the F&B current is pulsating, really, a simple soft serve bar just wouldn't have cut it. So, Biyani put a twist on it by including a range of offbeat flavour combinations like pink peppercorn, rainbow sprinkles and chocolate-covered pretzels to the list of add-ons. This falls straight in line with a point Patel makes about the growing, but previously fledgling awareness around the concept of pairing ingredients. "Does sea salt pair well with caramel? Is it okay to add berries to a dark chocolate dessert? These concepts and the idea of tea-infused desserts such as matcha and jasmine were unheard of when I returned from France after working there for a few years in 2013," she recalls.
Chocolate soft serve
Such a format is designed to do well with a generation that prefers everything to be customised, be it the toppings on their ice cream or web-show recommendations that rely on an algorithm. And that is exactly what Lokomades owners Chandni Mehta and Nikhita Dalal have tried to capitalise on. A doughnut-like treat that has its origins in faraway Greece caught the fancy of the two friends, and now, partners while they were on a two-country trip to Greece and Turkey in 2018. Sensing a drudgery shrouding the QSR dessert space, Mehta and Dalal decided to bring the dessert to Mumbai and started their eponymous venture in August this year.
Icing on top?
"Traditionally, lokomades are soaked in sugar syrup and served with a sprinkling of nuts. We have the authentic version on the menu, but thought including new-age toppings and flavours like red velvet and Oreo would help make it more interesting," Dalal shares. Again, this corroborates with Biyani's response when asked what sets her soft-serve offerings apart. "The concept of an ice cream bar is, in and of itself, not unique by any means. But we were able to take it a notch higher with gourmet toppings, signature flavours and interesting flourishes like roasted almonds, speculoos and French crêpe crisps," she states.
What this makes one wonder then, is how much of this evolution is substantial. "We have come a long way from the ubiquitous cakes and brownies of yore. I firmly believe our evolution is just beginning, and I'm excited to see what the future has in store," Biyani asserts. And for Mehta, too, this is a phenomenon that holds immense promise. But according to Patel, we still have a long way to go, with most new entrants being a "little fad-ish". Interestingly, the only one who agrees with her is not a peer, but an old-time connoisseur of all things sweet — Mehernosh Khajotia, who started Celebrations Fine Confections at the age of 16, 21 years ago.
At that time, Khajotia had disrupted the business of fondant-heavy, kiddie-themed, grainy desserts with his luscious and visually spectacular offerings. To him, while a lot is happening, nothing has really "evolved". "It's like, we started with cakes, moved on to mousse and now, people want panacotta. But in my opinion, the quality of products has gone down. You must never cut corners with ingredients," he shares, adding that while new formats and seemingly unique dessert offerings are likely to intrigue Mumbaikars, the more important question is how long these ventures will last. When asked what he then thinks is missing from this part-promising, part-perfunctory progress, Khajotia candidly (and aptly) sums it up in one word, "Wholesomeness."
La Folie's range of bean-to-bar chocolates
Did you know?
This year, Mumbai also saw the opening of dessert parlours like Blendorama, a hybrid café that serves oddball treat like wonuts, a cross between waffle and donut and browniewich. Similarly, Ice Frost, another café has introduced offerings like Korean bingsu and chocolate paninis.
At Celebrations Fine Confections, Sun Mill Compound, Lower Parel. Time 10 am to 6 pm CALL 9870402901 (free delivery from Cuffe Parade to Mahim only; order 24 hours in advance)
At Lokomades, Pali Hill, Bandra West. Time 11 am to 11 pm Call 8454025012
At The Classroom by La Folie, Shakti Mills, Mahalaxmi. Time 9 am to 7 pm Call 9167762379
At Xoco 57, Pedder Road, Cumballa Hill. time 9 am to 11 pm Call 23871442
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