French celebrity pastry chef Dominique Ansel misses Hong Kong terribly and would like, as soon as it’s safe to travel, to come back to visit the city.
“I miss the team and I want to do a full tasting with them. I’m excited to go back – it’s been a year, time flies,” he says by phone from New York.
Despite the pandemic, his Dang Wen Li bakery in Harbour City, Kowloon, and his pop-up shop in the IFC Mall in Central on Hong Kong Island have done well this past year.
Business is so good that Ansel’s team in Hong Kong is gearing up for the opening of another Dang Wen Li on the island – this time, at H Queens on Queens Road Central. The menu at the upcoming bakery that opens in the second week of June will feature new items, including croissant toast in two flavours: sea salt and maple.
The new maple croissant toast. Photo: Dang Wen Li
Both croissant toasts are quite delicate and need to be sliced with a serrated bread knife. The one with sea salt is a square loaf that should be cut against the grain to reveal the numerous layers, with the inside very buttery and soft while the outer layer has a firm crust. It is meant to be eaten with toppings like avocado, mixed greens or jam.
The maple-flavoured croissant toast is cylindrical and has a more croissant-like, flaky texture. It is not too sweet and has a butteriness that makes it easy to eat on its own. “It’s fragrant without too much sugar. It has a nice crust and the maple flavour is caramelised,” Ansel explains.
Eight years ago, Ansel created his famous cronut – a cross between a croissant and a doughnut – in New York and the creation catapulted him to pastry stardom. Although the cronut is available in New York all year round it has only been available in Hong Kong twice: first in May 2020 and again in May this year. This year’s flavour at Dang Wen Li was chrysanthemum cream and blood peach jam.
“People ask me why I don’t bring the cronut to Hong Kong [permanently], but I want to do a menu that is more approachable, where the items are day to day. I want to do the cronut for a short period of time to celebrate the anniversary in May to make it more special,” he says.
Ansel hopes the new Dang Wen Li cafe and retail space at H Queens will “show the beautiful things we can do, to express my work in France and understanding of the Hong Kong market”.
The new sea salt croissant toast. Photo: Dang Wen Li
Ansel says the brand’s success in Hong Kong, despite the economic downturn, is because of “a mix of things, but most important is being true to who we are and we change the menu often”.
One recent change at Dang Wen Li satiated the wanderlust that many customers have felt during the pandemic. The “Around the World” collection contained pastries inspired by Japan, France, the United States, Thailand and Mexico, and were packaged in a box designed to look like a well-worn suitcase and that came with a mock boarding pass.
Covid-19 has, though, forced the closure of Ansel’s bakeries in London in Britain and Los Angeles in the United States. Nevertheless, Ansel says they are opening another location in New York near Gramercy Park, a 4,000 sq ft (372 square metre) space with a central kitchen and a new concept that will be revealed soon.
The cronut with chrysanthemum cream and blood peach jam Dang Wen Li served to mark the eighth anniversary of Dominque Ansel’s creation. Photo: Dang Wen Li
With its Hong Kong locations doing so well, is the celebrated pastry chef keen on opening elsewhere in Asia?
“I would love to and we get a lot of requests, but we are conservative and don’t want to go too fast. We want to cater to the local market. I’d like to explore other countries, but we want to be mindful and careful with who we partner with. Our partner in Hong Kong [Upper East Holdings] understands our brand value and promotes creativity.”
In the meantime – like everyone else – technology enables Ansel to communicate regularly with his pastry team in Hong Kong.
“We like to be quick with communication. When they have an idea we respond within an hour. My wife and I are parents of a baby [one-year-old Celian] so we don’t sleep,” he says with a chuckle. “But when I am with him, he lets me breathe and step back a bit from what I’ve been working on and think about something else.”