Dessert Garden’s face-sized bowl of herbal jelly proves you shouldn’t judge a dessert by its name.

Herbal jelly (or grass jelly) is made from the Chinese mesona, a plant that’s part of the broader mint family. Taiwanese herbal jelly is served with shaved ice and a heap of toppings familiar to any Taiwanese dessert lover: taro, red bean and sago.

Now look, I know I said herbs but when it comes to herbal jelly you should banish any thoughts of basil or parsley. This isn’t your typical sweet and savoury crossover like olive oil cake or rosemary gelato, and there definitely isn’t the medicinal sting of the homemade herbal remedies that well-meaning aunties unleashed on me as a kid.

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Dessert Garden’s herbal jelly is a bowl of chewy sweetness that evolves with each mouthful.

When the tray of herbal jelly hits the table, the jelly – a deep brown mass that’s the colour of coke with orange and purple taro lining the edges of the bowl – trembles slightly.

Alongside it is a thumb-sized container of milk; when I pour it over the bowl, a stream cascades over the ridges of the jelly. Seeing the colours of the bowl transform makes me feel a childish glee.

When my spoon pierces the jelly, it’s like splitting mountains. Suddenly, rivers of white are flowing and pooling, making lakes where my spoon lay mere moments ago. Then, the taro balls roll in, crashing into the milk and unearthing a crunchy layer of ice.

The first spoonful is what you’d expect from jelly – bouncy, like the jelly cups I’d get as a kid. The second spoonful ends with a slight crunch, as the crushed ice integrates into the bowl. The soft chew of a taro ball separates each spoonful. By my fourth spoonful, the crunchy shaved ice has melted into a sweet brown slushy-like liquid. The jelly has split into islands divided by pools of creamy sugar and ice, and what’s left of the orange taro balls shine in the bowl like nuggets of gold.

It’s a murky and miraculous mountain of textures. It’s sweet, but not too sweet; cold, but not frozen; soft but sturdy.

As much as I love herbal jelly, I love Dessert Garden itself. In one word, the interior is “bright” with its neon signs, menu lit up on TV screens and pastel flowers on plastic tables. Playing with your food is encouraged here. Swirl your spoon around a bowl, dig deep into a saucer of sago and topple a tower of shaved ice.

Dessert Garden
2/297 William Street, Northbridge

Tue to Sun 3pm-10pm