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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Averse to fruits and nuts in most sweet treats, Rhea Dhanbhoora found herself an unlikely fan of the unconventional ingredients in SugarPlay’s out-of-the-box desserts. Take a look at what the delivery-only brand has to offer

Tasting food is serious business, or at least that’s what I’ve learned over what has been close to a decade sampling all the flavours that Mumbai has welcomed with open arms. If you spend enough time on the task, you can train your palate to identify whether dishes are good or bad, al dente or raw, and whether your soup has packet purees or the real deal. And, while I can’t claim to have a finely-honed palate (or even honed enough to pass the most basic litmus test for chefs), it’s hard to miss a mouthful of mustard in your mousse or a dash of dill in your dessert.

No, these aren’t reviewing nightmares or Rachel-Green-esque mistakes from a FRIENDS episode. They’re signatures and specials, inspired by avant-garde French styles. Newly launched SugarPlay promises to uncomplicate your desserts, but what’s more complicated than green pea custard with lime mousse? Nothing, if you’re willing to put pre-conceived notions to bed and dig in! Here’s what I tried, and why you should too.

The Konkan Opera
Rs 230

The only reason the Konkan Opera may not have scored full marks was because it was stiffer and more jelly-like than the rest of the desserts I tried. It’s difficult to get a dessert to hold its shape, but most of the items on SugarPlay’s menu manage that without the stodgy, gelatin-texture that ruins the taste. The chocolate jaconde, as in most traditional opera cakes, was subtly flavoured and the many-layered cake was sandwiched with (thin) equally restrained layers of kokum and honey creameux. A little more kokum wouldn’t hurt and you can barely taste the honey. But, while the pudding filling did well, I would have preferred a bouncier sponge.

Rs 180

Éclairs have been a guilty indulgence since I was a child, but I’ve never been able to master making the perfect choux. So, unless it’s soggy, chewy or dry, I’m more impressed by the casing than the (usually disappointing) mousse inside. This particular religieuse casing stood its ground (it’s not easy to cut into if you’ve just taken it out of the fridge) and, though I may not be the best judge, tasted better than most. The slightest hint of ginger in the chocolate crème was perfect, and if you’re wrinkling your nose at the thought of ‘olive oil’ custard, don’t. It’s not as uncommon as it sounds and if made correctly, lends a velvety smooth texture to the dessert. All in all, the combination of crumbly choux, thick crème and smooth custard made this dessert a success in my book.

Original Sin
Rs 230

This egg-free dessert is perfect for those who don’t like experimenting. If you pick chocolate over everything else and can get past the idea of a clove ganache — you won’t know it’s clove unless you read the description, since it’s so wonderfully balanced with the Belgian Dark Chocolate — this one is for you. Even with the cocoa dusting, it’s not the most spectacular tart I’ve ever tasted (it’s a little too thick), but the tawny caramel topping is worth fighting over — the sea salt isn’t too salty and the caramel not sickly sweet.

Rs 230

The true test of your mettle as a dessert chef could very well be the ability to whip up a good pannacotta and here, SugarPlay does well, with a good balance of cream and gelatin. You’re not affronted by the overpowering flavour of coconut (when a dessert tastes or smells like a bottle of hair oil, you’ve lost me), but I wasn’t too impressed. With the pineapple compote, chocolate crumble, hazelnuts… there’s a little too much going on with this one. I found myself digging in past the top layer to enjoy the pannacotta base instead.

A Beautiful Mess
Rs 260

The last time I had a good béchamel, it was in a salmon dish with asparagus and capers on the side. So finding the familiar taste in a spoonful of mousse was... strange, to say the least. Once you’ve wrapped your head around the common French sauce being sandwiched comfortably in your dessert, this could be an easy favourite. As horrible as it sounds, the mustard actually complements the raspberry perfectly and while I usually like a harmonious berry and dark chocolate combination, the white chocolate mousse adds a pleasant sweetness to the entire dessert. The gelatinous glaze and chocolate garnish add to the sweet-sour combination that few manage to get in such dreamy accord.

The Painkiller
Rs 260

One of the only items where every ingredient seemed quintessentially dessert-friendly, this pretty yellow sphere sits comfortably on a mint biscuit. The infusion of the bay leaf (which I’ve found is also brilliant in lemon custard) prevents the passion fruit mousse from being too acetic and while you can’t taste the dash of vodka, I’m sure the clear spirit lifted the flavours. It could have done without the raisin insert; unlike the mustard in A Beautiful Mess, this didn’t delight as much, but it helps sweeten the dessert without any sickly saccharine flavours. If you avoid passion fruit based treats because they’re often too sour, or sweetened beyond recognition, this is the dessert to turn to. 

Rs 260

If there were ever a list of after-dinner treats that managed to use features of your entree without offending your sweet tooth, this would come in at a close second to A Beautiful Mess. Your palate is treated here to a soft hint of lime, a surprise bite of jelly-like blueberry, a tart base (better than the chocolate) and... wait, does that taste like green peas? We’ve been on board with avocado desserts for ages, so this shouldn’t surprise anyone. With a well-masked (you won’t even know it’s there) dash of dill in harmony with the custard, you wouldn’t know unless you were really looking. This takes an ingredient that most people don’t even like in their meals, and places it in symphony with a lime mousse, in a tart that truly stands out.

Pushing the envelope
I’m not a fan of gelatin, especially in store-bought desserts. From the lumpy texture and sticky glaze to mouthfuls of gelatinous mousse, an incorrect balance of the ingredient and you’re left with dessert that looks delicious but tastes like boiled rubber. So when I saw the visual delights (individually placed on black boards), I was worried about the usual dessert faux pas. Then there was the fact that every description includes at least one savoury food item — from green peas to mustard. SugarPlay, however, believes all ingredients (a refreshing change from the ‘exotic’ and ‘imported’ tags), including local favourites and dinner specials, can find a place in good dessert. And for all my misgivings, they seem to have succeeded in showing us how pretty well.

What you need to know
SugarPlay’s desserts are only available for delivery, but they pack, prepare and parcel everything so you feel like you’re at a gourmet kitchen when you dig in. When they say they’re unconventional, they really mean it and their slightly stiff prices are actually good value for what they offer. Run by Chef Amit Mehta (trained at Le Cordon Bleu London) and Bharti Mehta (as director), the treats are available at They also serve macarons, truffles and tea cakes, which we’re going to try next!

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