Dominique Ansel's new cafe is a creative success and an Instagrammer's dream

In 2011, I was working in Soho in New York City and was headed to my favourite cafe for a wagyu beef sandwich. But when I arrived, a bright yellow sign that read Dominique Ansel Bakery had replaced that of the unassuming little cafe. As my eyes grazed over the beautifully crisp croissants and pains au chocolat at the counter, they quickly settled on something. Laying in front of me was the kouign-amann, a buttery pastry native to Brittany that, at the time, was rarely seen outside its region. I saw this as a sign that the bakery was going to be the next go-to destination for French pastry lovers. Little did I know that not only was Dominique's take on the kouign-amann—called the DKA—going to become one of the chef’s signature desserts but that two years later, he was going to create the cronut that was going to send him into international stardom.

Nine years later, I am in Hong Kong and standing in front of Dang Wen Li, one of Dominique Ansel’s newest international outposts. Throughout the years, I have admired his ability to think outside the box, to reinvent classics and to make pastries fun and visual. With Dang Wen Li, a replica of his other stores is not to be expected. Though he has kept a few signature items like the DKA, the chef decided to try a new concept and pay tribute to Hong Kong’s food scene through delicate and realistic representations of some of the city’s most iconic dishes.

Dang Wen Li is here to offer an experience. Upon entering, you'll find a bright photo booth filled with burnt orange egg cartons, milk jugs and flour bags, just waiting to be the background of your next Instagram post. A line forms at the counter as customers take in the real life dessert clones of the pineapple bun, fish balls, Yakult bottles, dumplings and more. The cafe has a laidback Parisian chic vibe, with the classical music playing in the background only interrupted by the occasional sound of the blow torch toasting the pretend fish balls.

I took a moment to admire the Pineapple Bun, which looked almost too real to be anything else. Yet the bun dissolved as I cut into the layers of coconut and pineapple lime passionfruit—an exotic and harmonious combination. The jam medley had the texture of a pâte de fruit, a traditional French confectionery made of fruit paste that brought me back to my childhood. The surprise continued as I bit into the Lemon Juice Box. While in most earl grey cakes the star ingredient is often overpowered by other flavours, I was pleased to find a strong earl grey presence in the mascarpone mousse, which was nicely paired with the bergamot curd and provided a perfect balance of sweetness and tartness.

The Milk Tin Panna Cotta was the most visually intriguing of them all, with the tin lid half open and bending just like a real one would. Though the rum-soaked brioche interior was on point, the white chocolate outside and rich salted caramel panna cotta—although delightfully creamy—put me in sweetness overload after a few bites. While the same could be said about the snickerdoodle Hong Kong Milk Tea Cookie Shot, a take on the original cookie shot found in other stores, I suggest alternating between a bite of the Yakult-shaped bottle and a sip of the milk tea to tame the sweetness.

Though the sweet to savoury ratio on the menu leans heavily towards the sweet side, the made-to-order Silk Egg Katsu Sando is worth its salt—its XO mayonnaise and silky egg combination gives off a satisfying juicy squeak at first bite and the crunchy outer layer of panko flakes could fool me into thinking I was eating meat. So I was slightly disappointed by the Turnip Cake English Muffin with Scrambled Eggs which came out lukewarm and fell short of the innovative creation I was expecting in both looks and taste, the latter perhaps having been downplayed by too many flavourful ingredients overpowering each other.

The pastries are a sweet ode to Hong Kong and prove just how creative Ansel can be. Dang Wen Li manages to double both as a daily go-to cafe as well as a trendy cafe for a special outing. Customers looking for the more classic viennoiseries can enjoy the DKA or the croissants, paired with the blossoming hot chocolate. Those with a sweet tooth can enjoy the sugar rush of the cute Hong Kong dish representations. And though some of the desserts might be too sweet for certain palates, Dang Wen Li is still worth adding to your must-visit list.

Dang Wen Li by Dominique Ansel, Shop OT G63A, G/F, Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, 3-27 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong;

A meal for two with two beverages and service: around HK$455

Rating: 3.5/5 

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Each of our reviewers score restaurants based on four main criteria: setting, food, service, and drinks, taking into account more than 35 different points of reference including manners of staff, usefulness of the wine list, and whether or not the restaurant makes an effort to be environmentally aware. 5/5 indicates an exceptional experience; 4-4.5/5 is excellent; 3-3.5/5 is good to very good; and 2.5/5 or lower is average to below average. Before visiting a restaurant, the reviewers will book using a pseudonym and do not make themselves known to restaurant staff, in order to experience the venue as a regular guest—if this is not possible, or if we are recognised, we will indicate this in the review.