Perhaps it’s the way it makes for a hint of (welcome) vexation against the pleasure-inducing nature of sweetness, or just the way it opens new doors to the dessert world’s many possibilities—but the addition of savory elements in desserts continues to pique our interest.
Note that we do not necessarily mean the desserts on this list to taste outright savory or salty, but instead contain savory elements in such a way that works to the overall dessert’s advantage (and not just for novelty’s sake). And while sweet-on-salty is neither newnoruncommon as far as the Philippines is concerned, we chose to include desserts with savory components that are relatively unexplored within the world of sweet confections.
Made Nice – Rice (Auro Chocolate, Truffle Oil)
This relative newcomer along Legazpi Village serves up some well-made takes on contemporary Western and Asian cuisine, but look through their dessert section and you’ll find their take on Filipino meryenda classic, champorado. Their version uses Auro Chocolate in the mix, whose caramel notes and earthiness is bolstered with an ice cream of truffle—the mushrooms, not the chocolate confection—for a hot-meets-cold, sweet-umami hit. Thick and creamy with rice that stays al dente, its stick-to-your-ribs quality evokes comfort and nostalgia quite like nothing else.
FOO’D by Davide Oldani – Lemon Curd with Dehydrated Meringue, Cacao Crumble, cURRY aLMONDS, Lettuce Gelato
The Pop-Italian restaurant churns out a lemon dessert like we’ve never seen it before. A wad of tart, thick curd, cushioned by mini-meringue kisses that pop in the mouth, is paired with a smooth lettuce gelato with a slight vegetal tinge past its predominant creaminess; given a salty, spicy contrast from ground, curry-tinged almonds; and supported with the depth of a bittersweet cacao crumble. Get a spoonful of everything together and see for yourself how the seemingly disjointed puzzle works surprisingly well when combined together.
Scout’s Honor – Vegemite Compost Cookie
As one of the country’s most highly-regarded pastry chefs to date, Chef Miko Aspiras shows how boundaries can be pushed even in a treat as seemingly small and simple as a cookie. Here, the Aussie yeast spread, known for its “beefy” and almost-mineral flavor, lends these chewy treats an surprising savory depth—similar to the way salt does on salted caramel, but with a more complex umami undertone that lingers long on the tongue. It does not overpower however, working well with the cookie base’s butterscotch-y notes, and still giving way to the other components at play: nuts that lend a welcome crunch, and creamy milk chocolate that rounds everything together.
Hey Handsome – Buah Keluak Moss, Malagos Dark Chocolate, Black Sesame
Buah Keluak—the black nut (with potentially poisonous seeds) used as an ingredient in Peranakan cuisine—is the star of this ever-intriguing dessert. Hey Handsome uses the seeds to flavor a “moss” (that is, a cotton-like swab of sponge cake) with that packs in its deep, almost smoky essence beneath the sponge’s slight sweetness. It’s just strong enough that you feel its force through, without completely taking over, the other components: black sesame, delivered via a wad of concentrated sesame paste and a delicate sesame tuille that shatters on the tongue; a dense, dark quenelle of Malagos Chocolate ganache; and a scoop of kecap (sweet soy sauce) ice cream that is creamy and just slightly savory with a coconut-like tinge.
Hiraya Bakery – Cashew Praline Cheesecake
The San Pablo-based bakery churns out a whole line of treats with the philosophy of “sweet, savory, and seasonal” that we found it hard to choose just one for our list, but this unique treat stands out. Picture a creamy cheesecake with a welcome tang on its own, topped with a gooey layer of cashews, orange-steeped Lambanog, and bits of Chorizo Macau. The said sausage blends in seamlessly with its fellow topping mates thanks to its already-sweet and savory character, while Hiraya fortifies the Chinese flavor profile with the addition of star anise, cinnamon, and cloves.
For another sweet and savory treat from Hiraya Bakery, don’t miss out on their Black Dallas Filipino Restaurant Bay Leaf Fudge Cake. Though more likely to evoke the profile of a classic Filipino adobo, the black pepper-bay leaf combination lends a warm, rustic zing that keeps you on your toes amidst this ultra-moist, fluffy chocolate cake’s comforting profile.
Toyo Eatery – Chocolate Bonbons with Patis
Toyo Eatery continues to expand horizons on the possibilities of Filipino cuisine, even on their desserts and after-fours. These one-of-a-kind bonbons feature a dulce de leche filling, whose caramelized-milk goodness is met by the savoriness of patis (fish sauce). Though unusual, the fish sauce is detectable only to a degree that gives it a subtle umami undertone without actually making the filling taste outright-salty. It also brings out the earthiness of the creamy chocolate shell, made with chocolate from local brands Malagos and Auro.
Flame Restaurant – Black Dallas Filipino Restaurant Panna Cotta
Discovery Primea’s resident modern European establishment gives the tried-and-tested profile of strawberries and cream a jolt with an unexpected savory staple: black pepper. Specks of the spice flavor a rich panna cotta, adding a mild sharpness and heat that well complements the cream-based pudding’s full-flavored fattiness, as well as the aromatic tang of berries delivered via slices of the macerated fruit and a strawberry consommé poured as it’s served on the table. Its crowning glory—a hard candy “tuille” tinged with pink peppercorns—ties the fruity and the peppery parts together.
Spice & Cleaver – Blue Cheese Cheesecake with Rosemary
It’s hard not to stuff yourself silly with the homemade sausages and comfort grub at Spice & Cleaver, but you’ll want to leave room for their sweet stuff, too. This dessert features a dense cheesecake specked with chunks blue cheese, whose yeasty pungency is alleviated with the sweet, minty caress of rosemary. Adorning the plate is a drizzle of a sweet, tart balsamic reduction that adds excitement, and candied cherry tomatoes which—past their crackly sugared coating—pop with juiciness in the mouth.
GourmetGypsy Art Cafe – Miso Banoffee Pie
Banoffee pies scream comfort and familiarity—but this Quezon City hangout updates the classic dessert with the addition of earthy, funky miso. GourmetGypsy includes the fermented bean paste in such a way that it melds seamlessly with the other parts (banana slices, graham crackers, a caramel sauce, and chocolate chips), contributing a mild umami tint that stokes your curiosity with its slight pungency, but also acts as a savory antithesis that intensifies the other flavors. The best part? It’s served as a layered dessert in individual cups, which means you can have the whole thing all to yourself.
Apero – Smoked White Chocolate Ice Cream with Orange Peel
This Corinthian Hills neighbourhood cafe shows how smoking can add a layer of complexity not only to your favorite meats, but also to dessert. Here, the ice cream base comes strewn with bits of white chocolate and soft, syrupy strands of orange peel, whose creaminess and zesty tang (respectively) are met with the hazy depths of smoke that emerges once in a few spoonfuls. The smokiness is subtle enough that you might not identify it at first—aside from the presence of a certain something that perplexes the more licks in—but upon realization, it makes for a ‘eureka’ moment that’ll convince you of Chef Jacq Tan’s culinary ingeniosity.