13 December 2022
First published in Nourish Magazine.
Words Denise Irvine, Images Brydie Thompson.
My apple mousse dessert is perfectly formed – it looks just like a beautiful green and pink apple – and it seems sacrilege to dig in and spoil its good looks. The reward, though, is a burst of lovely flavours and textures: lightly stewed apple with a hint of cinnamon encased in a caramelised white chocolate mousse and presented on a crunchy almond biscuit.
It’s so good, and it’s taken so much deliberation to select it from among 13 cabinet treats at But First…Dessert, the sweet Tauranga dining spot with the clever name. Owner Adele De’Arth points out some of her personal favourites in the line-up, among them the apple mousse that I’ve finally chosen, and a luscious layered caramel cake that is a best-seller: sponge cake layered with caramel cream, salted caramel sauce, caramel crème, and finished with caramel chocolate icing. “Everything that a caramel-lover could wish for,” Adele says.
The mango cheesecake and a layered chocolate cake are also tops with customers and staff. The chefs use seasonal fruits and other local ingredients as much as possible, and cabinet favourites are regularly rotated for variety and temptation. “Our talented kitchen team makes everything from scratch,” says Adele. “If there are leftovers, we will fight over who is having what.”
Adele’s dessert bar is just a year old, established on the back of an idea one night when she was out for dinner in Tauranga with friends. “We’d had an excellent entrée and main, but the dessert was a letdown. We thought how good it would be to have a place that focused solely on dessert, with cocktails as well, and wine, beer, and great coffee. It’s worked; people love it. There was definitely a gap in the market.”
Adele and Natalie Connolly (mentor and huge coffee enthusiast) spent many weeks prepping the premises they found for the business, the former Coffee Club on Elizabeth Street. Thankfully it had a functional kitchen but they stripped and cleaned and brightened everything, and did some fun branding in vibrant orange with a pop of turquoise. “We covered it with as much orange paint as we could.”
Initially Adele had thought that perhaps a smaller venue might work better for them, but as the word has spread, the 80-seater is typically chocka by 8pm on a Saturday night with people who have been saving themselves for dessert. Others drift in from 11.30am when the doors open, to enjoy cake and coffee (Excelso beans, supporting a local roaster). There is outdoor dining space for summer and Adele has plans for functions and special events in the future.
She brings extensive front-of-house hospitality experience to her new venture, plus a Waikato University degree in accounting and business strategy. While she’s not a baker she jokes that she makes a nice banana cake and admits to “a very big sweet tooth”. She is hands-on in taste-testing, menu changes, and listening to customer feedback. She says there’s currently a banoffee-style dessert in the works due to lobbying from regulars. “We love it when our customers make suggestions.”
As well as the cabinet sweets there’s a dessert menu that includes Chocolate Lava S’more, Carrot Cardamom Pudding, Salted Caramel Waffles, Tropical Sensation, and Citrus Meringue Trail. The Chestnut Tiramisu is a riff on the traditional Italian dessert, familiar but with earthy notes from truffle cream and parmesan whip, and a sweet hit of chestnut mousse to balance the flavours.
And if you can’t decide, the staff will assemble a dessert platter designed to cover a goodly selection of favourites. There are gluten free and dairy free choices and anyone who doesn’t do pudding is covered by a mini menu of chunky cut fries, wedges or garlic bread.
Staff can also advise on cocktail-dessert cocktail matches. Adele says the Toblerone cocktail, made with Baileys, Frangelico, Kahlua, fresh cream and honey, is her choice for the Chestnut Tiramisu, providing more lovely balance. There is a wine list of staff favourites, plus a selection of beer, non-alcoholic drinks, ice cream sundaes, affogato, shakes, coffee and tea.
Adele’s “light-bulb” dessert bar moment has found sweet success in Tauranga.