Being largely made from milk, ice cream presents quite a stumbling block for vegan and dairy-free diners looking for a quick summer cool-me-down. In recent years, vegan ice cream has become more common and more tasty, and much more readily-available, as per the below London cafes and restaurants which all serve dairy-free versions.
As for gelato and sorbet — well, they're quite often vegan anyway, as they doesn't usually contain milk, but it's always worth double-checking as sometimes honey, eggs, or other non-vegan ingredients are used.
Vegan ice cream at Chin Chin Laboratories, Soho and Camden
Chin Chin has always been a bit ahead of its competitors in the ice cream game — it was using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream as far back as 2010.
Fast forward a few years, and vegans are catered for at locations. The ice cream parlours in Camden and Soho have a regularly changing menu, with the weekly specials often vegan. Past examples have included pandan leaf and lychee & geranium rose. Vegans needn't miss out toppings either, with raspberry sauce, and pistachio & cardamom powder among the offerings.
Things are done differently at the street market outpost at Dinerama in Shoreditch. Here, focus is on desserts and ice cream, but there's usually a vegan option too — at time of writing, it's the rather enticing hot griddled cookie with tonka bean ice cream.
Vegan ice cream at Yorica, Soho
'Free-from' is the ethos at Yorica in Soho, so all products are created without animal products, and avoid major allergens such as gluten, eggs and nuts. So yes, the entire menu of ice creams (including soft serve), shakes, crepes and waffles is open to vegans looking for a sweet treat, thanks to the use of rice and coconut milks as a dairy alternative.
The run-of-the-mill chocolate, vanilla and raspberry flavours are available, but let's face it — you've been waiting long enough for vegan ice cream to become exciting that you'd do well to try the more adventurous scoops such as matcha, mango and caramel popcorn. There's a decent choice of toppings and sauces too, with enough fruit, cookies, sweets and sprinkles to make you feel like a kid in a sweet shop.
The shakes are a hearty alternative to scoops, each drink containing three scoops of ice cream, and the waffles and crepes can be served on their own, or topped off with — you guessed it — ice cream.
Vegan ice cream at Amorino, across London
With its 13 London locations, gelato parlour Amorino has become something of a staple on the London ice cream scene, and although many of its gelato flavours contain milk and eggs, vegan flavours are being introduced — and they're rather exotic.
Take the lime and basil for example, a green-hued scoop that tastes like summer, and is more palatable than you might expect. The banana nanica is a sweet and exotic option, while the fragola camarosa (strawberry) errs on the side of tradition.
See menus in individual branches to find our which vegan flavours are currently available.
Vegan sundaes at The Parlour at Fortnum & Mason
We love the sleekness of The Parlour at Fortnum & Mason. In winter, it's our go-to place for hot chocolate, then when summer rolls round, we head there all over again to work our way through the sundae menu, drooling over that curved ice cream counter, its neon sign and pastel palette luring us in.
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While your non-vegan friend tucks into a knickerbocker glory or one of the other sundaes on the menu, vegans can choose between a banana split (chocolate & cashew nut ice cream, banana ice cream, raspberry sorbet, sliced banana, raspberries, coconut cream, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce and nuts) or the Choconut (chocolate & coconut ice cream, chocolate & cashew nut ice cream, coconut shavings, millionaire shortbread, coconut cream, chocolate ganache, chocolate and caramel sauce).
If that all sounds a bit heavy, vegan ice cream is available by the scoop in coconut & chocolate, chocolate & cashew, or banana flavours.
Vegan knickerbocker glory at Persepolis, Peckham
Ah, Persepolis. This petite Persian cafe in Peckham — dubbed 'Snackistan' by its characterful owner Sally — is highly underrated on the London food scene as far as we're concerned, and deserves to be better-known by vegans particularly. Everything on the menu is vegetarian, and lots of it can be made vegan on request, and the highlight is the vegan knickerbocker glory (an absolute bargain at just £4).
Vegan sorbets at La Gelatiera, Soho and Stratford
The sorbet menu caters more for vegans that the gelato side of things, with Sicilian pistachio, extra dark chocolate with Calabrian chilli, coconut, almond, and alphonso mango just some of the example flavours that might be available for any given day (we'd cross our fingers for the chilli chocolate...).
The Soho branch is on the cosy side, with limited seating, so we'd recommend going on a summer day, then hot footing it to Soho Square or Covent Garden to sit and enjoy your ice cream in the sun.
Vegan gelatos and sorbets at Marine Ices, Chalk Farm
Often posited as London's best ice cream shop, you'll find gelato and sorbet aplenty on the menu at Chalk Farm's Marine Ices. All sorbet and gelato on the Parlour menu is 'completely natural and free from any animal products', based on the original recipe brought to England by Italian founder Gaetano Mansi. As such, we reckon this is where you'll find one of London's best selections of flavours for vegans.
Perhaps it's the history of the place, or perhaps it's the traditional ice cream parlour ambience, but we always feel like we're stepping back in time when we step over Marine Ices' delicious threshold.
Vegan gelato at Prime Gelato, Shaftesbury Avenue
Despite its Shaftesbury Avenue location, Prime Gelato is less well-known than some of London's other ice cream and gelato shops... but don't write it off as a tourist trap, especially if you're vegan.
Hats off to the brand for dedicating a whole page of the website to vegan flavours, making it easy for those who are looking for ice cream and gelato free of animal products to find what they're looking for.
Currently, six vegan flavours are available, including dark chocolate, hazelnut, and pistachio.
Vegan freakshakes at Canvas Cafe, Brick Lane
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But we're here to talk about the sweet, cold section of the menu, specifically, freakshakes. The crazy-ass milkshakes are often off-limits to vegans, due to ice cream being their made ingredient. But Canvas Cafe have drafted in soy as an alternative to create a freakshake that looks and tastes indistinguishable from a non-vegan one.