'Gelato’ may simply translate as ‘ice cream’ in Italian, but it's a much more complex matter than that. The Italians are passionate about the frozen treat, and with a heritage dating back centuries — Sicilians used to bring ice from the mountains and mix it with fruits for a delicious indulgence — it’s no surprise why.
Methods have become more sophisticated since then, and gelato is now characterised by three key qualities that set it apart from standard ice cream. Gelato is (by Italian law, no less) lower in fat than its simpler cousin; it omits the extra air whipped into ice cream, so is denser, smoother and richer; plus it tends to be served a degree or two warmer — the resulting dessert has a more immediate yet satisfying melt and, therefore, flavour.
The good news is you don't have to get on a plane to taste the stuff for yourself. Whether it’s wacky flavours you’re after, dairy free, vegan or simply some true Italian style indulgence, London has a gelateria for you. Here are our favourites:
The baby brother of fantastico restaurante Bocca di Lupo, Gelupo sits opposite on Soho’s Archer Street, tempting passers-by with some of the best gelato in London. Hands-on executive chef Jacob Kenedy personally develops, tests and tastes all the flavours that come out of the Gelupo kitchen to ensure that they are of top quality, and its awards cabinet is testament to this. Gelupo prides itself on its particularly gentle churning methods, and says the density and the low fat levels give delicious flavour with a very clean finish to their gelato. We recommend the ricotta and sour cherry for an authentic taste of Rome.
This Soho gelato parlour boasts an all-Italian kitchen and the biggest gelato cabinet in town. Snowflake’s head chef trained at the university of gelato-making in Italy, and is passionate about ingredients; using seasonal, natural and organic as standard and local wherever possible. Snowflake is the current supreme ruler when it comes to gelato at the Great Taste awards and with 50 different flavours on rotation, we urge you to try them all — starting with the deeply luxurious hazelnut. If you’re dairy-free then run, don’t walk there, as Snowflake’s dark chocolate sorbetto was richer and delivered a better cocoa hit than any chocolate gelato we’ve tried.
La Gelatiera is a tiny shop dedicated to gelato and coffee nestled among the boutiques of Covent Garden's New Row and although coffee shops may be 10 a penny around here, we bet none can tantalise your taste buds with a serving of honey, rosemary and orange zest gelato on the side. Or perhaps you’d prefer a scoop of basil and Calabrian chilli? Both flavours are triple award-winning and there are many more where that came from. Calabrian chef Antonio hails from a long line of gelato makers and with a commitment to using the best natural ingredients while pushing the boundaries of flavour, he produces exceptional artisanal gelato that has to be tasted to be believed.
Greek Street's Lick makes all its gelato, sorbetto and even yogurt daily from natural ingredients and so far has 150 flavours under its belt. Each day, staff select 24 which could be Lick Rocher (they are really spoiling us with this one), salted caramel which continues to grow in popularity, or even the exotic Durian gelato — a pungent, custard-like fruit from Malaysia. We’re firm fans of this Soho parlour and can frequently be found enjoying a gelato coke float to cool down over the summer months. This year there's even two alcoholic gelato flavours — Mojito and strawberry champagne — so we’ll be bothering them even more. Cin Cin.
There are three branches of Scoop dotted around the capital, but in our experience the expansion hasn't made them any less busy, so expect to queue (at their Covent Garden parlour in particular). Scoop says it sources the finest ingredients for its gelato, paying close attention to provenance and securing only the best Italian pistachios, single origin chocolates and rich Channel Island milk. its signature Stracciatella flavour combines all of this with deeply aromatic hazelnuts to produce one of the most authentic and exquisite choc chip gelato outside of Bergamo — the home of Stracciatella. Have it in a nutty or chocolate cone, made fresh daily. Its gelato cakes are next on our hit-list.
Ice & Slice
Ice & Slice is a Fulham based Roman-style pizza and gelato bar that prides itself on offering serious quality artisanal gelato in modern and exciting flavours. Staff make the gelato in view of the customers and strictly adheres to the true Italian traditions of gelato making; small batches are made throughout the day and served immediately for the best taste. Organic milk and thick double cream are the basis for incredible flavours like Tiramisu and crunchy cornflake, and we’re first in line to try the Aperol Spritz concoction at aperitivo time.
Christian Oddono brought his Italian grandmother’s homemade gelato-making methods to South Kensington in 2004 after realising high quality gelato was hard to find in the capital. His inherent skill, blended with the finest natural ingredients (Valhrona chocolate, Madagascan vanilla, Sicilian pistachios and so on) has since allowed branches to spring up in Hampstead, East Dulwich, Battersea and Queensway bringing traditional flavours such as Bacio (praline), pistachio and nocciola (hazelnut) to almost all corners of the city. Oddono’s also does a fantastic line in soya-based gelato, so no need to head straight to the sorbetto if you’re dairy-free.
Chin Chin Labs
Trust Camden based Chin Chin Labs to put a spanner in the works. This alternative style ice cream parlour does not produce gelato in the very true sense, but as it’s so good we’ll let them off. Essentially, the word ‘gelato’ is derived from ‘frozen’ and that is indeed what Chin Chin Labs do best as Europe’s first liquid Nitrogen ice cream operation. Having chosen your flavour from a small selection (usually around five) watch in awe as the laboratrist freezes your choice instantly. The Willy Wonka-style set up and Heston worthy flavours such as scones, jam and tea make this a must-try.
Gelateria 3BIS is situated just off Borough Market, and true to form, it lives up to the area’s artisanal reputation with well-crafted gelato. With tiny batches being made throughout the day, you can be guaranteed a high-quality scoop from this Italian outfit. Organic milk and the best Italian produce money can buy is churned to create flavours like Calabrian liquorice or 50 per cent fruit sorbetto with British fruits like Yorkshire rhubarb or gooseberries. We loved it so much we even made the trip to their founding branch in Rimini and can report it to be reassuringly busy.
By Joanne Gould.
See also: London's best ice cream