There’s a dish at Noma – the Danish eatery currently topping the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants list – that contains oyster stock, spirulina powder, roasted kelp, and fermented and smoked pumpkin. It is served in an oyster shell. But it is not a savoury course. The flavours of the sea, the smoke and the funk of fermentation are combined with an ice cream made of quince and amazake – a sweet Japanese drink made, like sake, from fermented rice. The dessert also incorporates quince juice and honey. Junichi Takahashi is head of research and development at Noma – the three-Michelin-starred, Copenhagen-based restaurant does not have a pastry chef. He drew on the umami-focused cuisine of his native Japan to create the dessert – with surprising guests a key element of the recipe. “I wanted to create a dessert which surpasses the imagination and expectation of the guest,” he says. “Usually when creating dishes, dessert and savoury are kept separate. But we sometimes like to mix the two.” The rise and fall of Hong Kong tourist icon, Jumbo Floating Restaurant Noma is not the only restaurant breaking down the sweet/savoury barrier. At Michelin-starred Saawaan in Bangkok, pastry chef Arisara “Paper” Chongphanitkul serves a signature dessert called chilli crab that includes salt-cured egg yolk powder and a chilli sauce gel. The dessert is shaped to resemble a crab claw, evoking the beloved Singaporean dish, which is very much not a dessert. Maira Yeo, who was just named Asia’s Best Pastry Chef 2022, also uses fiery capsicum in one of her creations at Singapore’s Cloudstreet, a pre-dessert made with celtuce (a variety of lettuce with a thick stem), yuzu, yogurt and green chilli. In London, at innovative European restaurant Da Terra, head chef Rafael Cagali tops his baba (itself a trending dessert, with varieties appearing on fine dining menus around the world) with pistachio ice cream and a generous dollop of Kaluga hybrid caviar. Out west from London, in Wales, two-Michelin-starred Ynyshir uses A5 Wagyu fat with miso in a treacle tart. The Wagyu replaces cream, and adds a savoury note while retaining the creaminess typically expected from the dessert. World’s Best Female Chef 2017 award-winner Ana Roš, who helms Hiša Franko in Slovenia’s Soca Valley, is another known for unseating sweet and savoury from their traditional spots at the table. A dessert that combined local brown beans and bee pollen saw her colleague Hiša Franko’s Maša Salopek crowned world’s best pastry chef at 2021 The Best Chef Awards. “When Maša and I are testing and tasting we rarely say more sugar . We would usually say more salt,” says Roš. She also uses contrasts in her savoury dishes. “Probably the sweetest part of the menu is the pasta dish,” she points out. “Dessert needs to be a natural continuation of the menu – it absolutely cannot be a different logic.” The disappointment of dessert dogma – including that it should necessarily be sugary sweet – was a big motivation for Angela Lai, head of pastry at Taiwanese-French restaurant Taïrroir in Taipei. “I would go to otherwise good restaurants and would be disappointed by dessert. It didn’t flow or it was too simple,” explains Lai, who was named Asia’s Best Pastry Chef in 2021. “A dessert should be a perfect ending, it’s the last memory of the whole menu so it should make the biggest impact.” The 12 best French restaurants in Hong Kong, from Écriture to Gaddi’s Lai’s desserts add an extra wow factor by also telling stories. She often reinterprets the culture of Taiwan using local produce and French techniques, seen for example in her contemporary take on the traditional dessert of pong pia , which is given to new mothers to boost recovery from childbirth. The Taiwanese sugar pastry swells during baking, becoming a hollow puff with a creamy filling at the bottom. Lai cuts out the brown-sugar-laden bottom and dehydrates it to make a crumble. She then pairs it with 70 per cent chocolate crémeux, ginger ice, bubble tea pearls and a sesame oil ice cream. She also makes dessert versions of congee. Her sweet potato congee includes ice cream of salted duck egg, and incorporates pickled sweet potato, salt, pepper, champagne vinegar and a congee foam. Adding a story to the dish makes it “more fun – for me and those eating it”, says Lai. The Singapore native also gets to explore the culture of Taiwan in a “never-ending learning experience”, and then share it with diners. A dessert should be a perfect ending, it’s the last memory of the whole menu so it should make the biggest impact Angela Lai, head of pastry at Taïrroir Some guests take a little persuading when it comes to more challenging ingredients, such as Lai’s bitter gourd sorbet with salted egg cream and honey cake (a reworking of the classic savoury dish of fried bitter gourd and salted egg). “We had to convince some guests about bitter gourd, that the bitterness doesn’t linger. When using ingredients like this we have to play with the produce to make it more acceptable,” says Lai. Desserts that take diners out of their comfort zone are more memorable, and are earning pastry chefs like Lai more acclaim. Are tea cocktails taking over Hong Kong’s bars and restaurants? “Pastry chefs are winning more recognition, and this is a very good thing. Especially in Asian restaurants, it used to be a cook doing the job of making desserts, under instructions from the chef, but now there are many more dedicated pastry chefs,” she says. “It has taken longer to recognise pastry chefs in Asia, but things are changing.” This is beneficial to the craft, but also for diners. As Roš says: “Diners today want more than a classical combination of white chocolate and raspberry. They want to play and discover.” Want more stories like this? Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .