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Shanghai Is Crazy For This Fake Fruit Dessert Thing

And it's all down to one pastry chef.
Last updated: 2019-09-11
Photos: Brandon McGhee
There’s only so much you can do with sugar, cream, vanilla and eggs. So when a pastry chef finds a genuine way to innovate, it sends shock waves through the dessert world. Shock waves that are studied, dissected, copied and replicated. That’s what happened when the young French pastry chef Cedric Grolet invented a line of hyper-realistic molded fruit desserts, with a stippled exterior and real leaf on airbrushed lemons, and a filling of diced citrus. He’s done it for mangoes, for apples, for peaches and hazelnuts. In 2017, he released a book, Fruits, that gave away his secrets.

China promptly ate them up.

And now, for the last year or so, Shanghai’s patisseries have been awash in fake lemons, ultra-shiny apples and fuzzy airbrushed peaches. In a way, it makes perfect sense. Grolet is the original Instagram star, with more than a million followers. China is at least as mad about social media and the Likes wars as the west is. And let’s not pretend otherwise: these desserts are made to be photographed.

So this week, that’s what myself and the hungry SmartShanghai photographer set out to do. Here, five places where you can crack your way into the world of Grolet cook-alikes.

C’est Patisserie


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This small shop is sandwiched between Una’s and Dodu on Changshu Lu. One airbrushed Bergamot Lime Caviar here, filled with a lemon mousse and diced citrus (Buddha’s hand, pomelo and finger orange), will cost more than an entire pizza or a quarter chicken dinner next door.


Bergamot Lime Caviar, 92rmb





A quick look around behind the counter immediately found the bright yellow spine of Grolet’s 2017 book, the foundational text of all these places. We sliced and smushed our way through three desserts here: the green-and-gold lime with a gold-painted leaf, an orange with a crazy realistic skin (the Yogurt Clementine Abricot) and the more plasticky looking Pink Guava, filled with a cooked hawthorn compote.

Favorite: The bright citrus filling inside the fake lime


Pink Guava, 86rmb






Yogurt Clementine Abricot, 86rmb





ST Coffee & Sucre


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A 10-minute walk away on a quiet residential stretch of Huashan Lu, ST Coffee & Sucre surprised us. We came for the peach — sold out — and ended up with a tomato. It’s a fruit too. But is it part of Grolet’s universe? I’m not sure. At 62rmb, it felt like a steal coming after C’est Patisserie, so a tomato it would be.

I balked at the core of frozen, sweet tomato flecked with avocado (also a fruit) and basil, all encased in a cream and feta cheese mousse. Psyched out, man. I got psyched out. Photographer ate the whole damn thing. Love or hate. Love the tomato or leave it. (Or just get the peach.)

Favorite: The door marked “Negotiation Room”


Tomato, avocado, basil, cheese, white chocolate, 62rmb




BoboLEE Cake


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This is an adorable little café in a garden off of Jianguo Lu. Good for smashing two Yayoi Kusama polka-dotted pumpkin pastries on a Tinder date. Also good for realistic “green apples” complete with a stem, like it’s just been picked off the Grolet tree. It’s filled with an apple-fennel leaf compote.

A little weird for me, but photographer crushed this one too. Poor guy was starving and all I could give him was fake sugar fruit. He couldn’t sleep until 3am.

Favorite: The single girl who ordered, photographed and then ate three desserts in 10 minutes. LIKE.


Apple and Fennel, 78rmb



Bathe Coffee


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The next day, photographer a little tired, we trundled down Xiangyang Lu to Bathe for something different. A bar of soap. This is not a Grolet fruit and it’s not a patisserie shop. It’s more like cute Insta-café with a couple on-trend desserts: a purple lavender-and-peach bar and a coconut-and-mango bar.



Unlike The Fruits, these are more like a stabilized mousse, bouncy and heavy on the gelatin, rather than a molded and textured chocolate shell. I had a burger for lunch and took one bite of each. Photographer finished them. Again.

Favorite: The part where they weren’t fruits


Lavender-and-peach and coconut-and-mango “soap”, 38rmb each






Whites


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Whites does a whole range of Grolet fruits and even a cigar, but we didn’t go all the way to the Cool Docks for more fruit (though their “apple” is pretty good). We came for the mushroom. A red, spotty little guy, looking like the archetypal fungus you’d find on a walk through Sherwood Forest. Love it.



Underneath the white chocolate shell, the stem is filled with a vanilla mousse and raspberry jam; the stem itself, also edible, is filled with cherry. Big win. Had to fight the photographer off of this one.

Favorite: Shrroooooooooming


Mushroom, vanilla mousse, red raspberry, cherry filling, 78rmb




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