Pop Up People: Happy Endings

By Laura Martin

A dessert only pop up? Like me, your first thought is probably: where do I book? Happy Endings (arf) is the creation of Aussie pastry and chocolate chef supremo Terri Mercieca and we joined her on the eve of her first ever event, hosted in her house by London Fields. Terri – who also runs her own chocolate and pastry company, Fraise Sauvage - talks about worldwide influences on flavours and to find out if the rumour she's planning a permanent sweets only restaurant is true, all whilst whipping up something mighty intricate for the following night's menu.

A three-course dessert menu only – genius. What made you think of that?

For years I wanted to do a dessert bar, I've been a pastry chef for such a long time. I always wanted to go and just eat dessert at a restaurant. I have a sweet tooth. It's going to be a work in progress. Everyone I tell about it, they want to come. It's nuts!

Why the obsession with the sweet stuff?

I've had a really diverse career as a chef and pastry chef, but it's always been about chocolates and desserts. It's so nice to work in this field, which is why I want to incorporate the two for the Happy Endings pop up and to start it in London. Eventually I want to open a dessert-only bar in Hackney, so I wanted to try out what people thought about it, because you can be successful, I'm sure of that. I'm just not sure if people are doing it here yet. But we live in a great time where we can be like “Oh, I want to have a restaurant in my living room” and have people come over and try it out and build the reputation slowly and slowly. It's a really exciting time. The whole point of a night like this is to come and indulge yourself.

What's the format for the night?

We have eight guests coming, and first they have a cocktail on arrival. We've been fermenting rhubarb, elderflower, mango and lime alcohol, so we're thinking and elderflower and rhubarb with prosecco and a bit of vanilla. So that's on arrival, then there'll be an amuse bouche of cheesecake with a yuzu addition that explodes in your mouth with fresh blackberries and micro herbs. Then three courses – small – of dessert.

Is it tricky to balance a three-course dessert meal so it's not too sweet?

The idea is that you balance it, both in flavour and portions. For example we've got one course that's fruity and acidic, then one that's more creamy and a bit salty – the popcorn panna cotta with strawberry jelly and a Mexican corncake, which is really just a naughty cake, with fresh strawberries.

How do you create your menu and dishes?

I think it comes from experience, I just really like coming up with ideas and thinking about what flavours will go together. I've travelled heaps and worked in China, India, Australia, Barcelona and here. In India I worked in a chocolate factory and I had to restructure their chocolate bar and so with that I went down to the markets and I ate everything. I got really sick, but I ate everything! They have a drink there called Badam which is an almond milk with saffron, rose and cardamom and it's so good. I was like “I'm sure I can make this into a chocolate”. And it worked. It's still selling now. Or flavours like Marsala chai, or salt and pepper cashew pralines. So my travels are really influential on my flavours.

You've also worked quite a lot on TV shows and films – how has that shaped how you cook?

When I'm working on a film set, I have to change the dessert menu every day. You have to think or something new, so your brain is already conditioned in that way. I think about food most of the time

Have any ideas you've had just not worked at all?

All the time. You have an idea in your head and you're like this is brilliant! And you eat it and you're like “it's fucking terrible”! You get disappointed. Sometimes it's just not how you visualise it – but sometimes it's even better. Sometimes the simpler it is, the easier it is to fuck it up. When I was working on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here I made a lemon meringue pie and it was a disaster. I was so embarrassed. But the conditions were crazy, I was working in a shipping container and it was 30 degrees with ridiculous humidity in the jungle. It's not ideal, really.

What's been the one dish you've been happiest with?

When I was working in restaurants, I created a date tart with a black spiced ice cream and candied ginger. It was cooked to order so you had to wait for it to be made and served warm but it was so comforting, with a date and orange jam at the bottom then an almond custard in the middle. One of the chefs I worked for nicked it. So it must have been all right!

Why do people love dessert so much?

I think people are indulgent. As far as the profession goes it's a really creative and artistic job, You're marrying flavours and you need to appeal to the eyes. It engages all the senses. If I can engage all the senses when people come here – so you walk in the door and smell a nice scent, hear nice music, tasting the food on the plate, feeling the crunching of something in your mouth, all those things they make you happy. I think desserts make you happy.

She's not wrong. For details on the next Happy Endings pop-up in July, check out Fraise Sauvage's Facebook

Sample Menu:

Cheesecake with Yuzu, Blackberry and Lemon Balm

A trip Down under: Mango jelly, passion cream, herb sponge, pineapple granita and vanilla ice cream

Hot date at the Movies: Salted Popcorn panna, strawberry jelly, mexican corn cake and caramel popcorn

Smoky Woman: Burnt butter hazelnut cake, roasted plums, smoky drunken prunes, malted milk chocolate cream and creme fraiche sorbet.

Tea and coffee with petit fours.

Cost: Donation – suggested £25+