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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 September 2007, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
Hotel defends its $14,500 dessert
By Alastair Lawson
BBC News

The $14,500 dessert in Sri Lanka
It costs around seven times the average national income
The manager of a top Sri Lankan hotel has defended the decision to charge $14,500 (7,127) for what it calls the world's most expensive dessert.

Axel Jarosh, general manager of The Fortress hotel in the southern town of Galle, said that the chocolate pudding was not obscene in a poor country.

He said that the dessert contains a gemstone and was "especially designed for the hotel's exclusive clientele".

Aid workers say the idea is offensive when there is so much suffering.

"For many people in Sri Lanka it is a struggle of life or death, mostly because of the war but also because of the aftermath of the tsunami of 2004," one Colombo-based development worker said.

"In these circumstances such a publicity stunt is in extremely bad taste."

Leading tourist hub - Galle Fort is Unesco world heritage site
Name comes from Portuguese fleet that landed in 1505
Harbour used by naval and commercial shipping
Leading Sri Lankan cricket venue
Town badly damaged in 2004 Asian tsunami

But Mr Jarosh insisted there was nothing excessive about his pricey puddings.

"We have had a positive reaction both locally and internationally to the dessert which we don't think is out of place, even in a country where there is considerable poverty," he told the BBC News website.

"This is not an idea imported by foreigners and imposed on Sri Lankans, nor is it a marketing gimmick.

"The idea was created by a local design team as suitable for guests staying in one of the country's most up-market hotels."

Mr Jarosh said that the dessert consists of a pedestal upon which is placed a model of a fisherman clinging to a stilt - an image for which Sri Lanka is famous. Ingredients include chocolate, champagne and caramelised sugar.

Fortress Hotel
The hotel is one of the most luxurious in Asia

He said the reason why the pudding is so expensive is because it contains an 80 carat aquamarine stone about the same diameter as the head of a soup spoon.

"We felt that there has been so much negative news emerging from Sri Lanka in recent months in relation to the war," said Mr Jarosh, "and wanted to come up with something that was upbeat and fun."

Mr Jarosh said that one serving of the dessert had already been made.

The general manager said that while the conflict had hit tourism in the country, most European countries are no longer warning their citizens against travelling to Sri Lanka.

"We are optimistic that when the high tourism season starts in December, bookings from abroad will be significantly up."

The Fortress is one of the most expensive hotels in Sri Lanka, charging up to $1,700 per night.

Galle, some 100km (70 miles) south of the capital, Colombo, is a popular destination for tourists. It also suffered badly during the Asian tsunami.

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