From frozen tacos to macaron ice cream sandwiches, here is everything you need to know about ice cream’s artistic makeover…
Remember that glorious feeling, on a limpid-hot summer’s afternoon, when you got to the bottom of a Screwball and unleashed the marble-shelled bubble the gum nestling in the pot? Or when you’d finally, satisfyingly, whittled your Feast down to its bare bones and only had the chunky cold chocolate centre left to devour? Ice cream evokes something in us. Awakening our hazy nostalgia for sticky wrists and towering whipped-cream-from-a-can knickerbocker glories on a Saturday night.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be grown-up. In fact, ice cream is experiencing something of a renaissance right now. It’s becoming an art form, a means of expression, an aesthetic endeavour of sorts. In short, the cold stuff is looking, and tasting, better than ever.
In London, iconic Italian gelato-makers Grom has just opened up new digs in Piccadilly Circus (its first UK store) and ice cream is even being honoured in a landmark exhibition at The British Museum of Food, in collaboration with Willie Wonka-esque foodies Bompas & Parr (until 30 September). Scoop promises to be a ‘total sensory immersion’, with ice cream-making experiences, glow-in-the-dark varieties and installations dedicated to the neuroscience of the frozen treat.
“Ice cream has powerful potential to instil and evoke deep-set emotional memories,” says Sam Bompas. “Since time immemorial it has lent itself to some of the best culinary innovations from cooling, melting, flavouring, pairing, dispensing, garnishing and serving. This all provides a wonderfully rich social, cultural and culinary history to explore.” Ice cream, it seems, is culturally cool once more.
“Gone are the days where it was a toss-up between a Fab or a 99 Flake,” agrees food writer and trends expert Rachel Walker. “Ice cream is now spanning whole genres and global cuisines.”
From the sublime to the ridiculous, companies are being experimental with what they offer consumers. “There’s Korean ‘bingsu’ shaved ice – check out Jinjuu where it’s included in the bottomless brunch – and Chinese ice cream cone art – see the Taiyaki fish-shaped cones at Bake, and the Cantonese-style egg waffle ‘cones’ at Bubblewrap, both in London’s Chinatown,” says Walker.
“The south-east Asian street-food trend for freeze-fried ice cream rolls has also reached the UK through new chain, Pan-n-Ice. Then there’s the stretchy Turkish dondurma made using mastic, sweet Indian kulfi and Italian gelato that’s cropping up at some local cafes, meaning that the standard scoop of Wall’s has got more competition than ever.”
We will no longer make do with vanilla flavours, either. As well as savoury flavours in places such as Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen in London Fields (scotch bonnet) and Ruby Violet in North London (beetroot and horseradish), botanicals are also making their mark.
“The ‘new Nordic’ trend for using local and seasonal ingredients has certainly impacted the UK ice cream scene,” says Walker. “Kitty Travers from La Grotta Ices is leading the way, with blends such as white peach and tarragon or strawberry and elderflower [find recipes in her new book, La Grotta Ices, £18.99, Square Peg].
“It’s not just small producers, but larger companies who are starting to follow suit too – see Leeds-based Northern Bloc’s raspberry and sorrel sorbet or Beckleberry’s liquorice and blackcurrant sorbet for a taste of true English summer.”
As the heatwave continues, here’s what else is happening on the ice cream scene right now…
The most unusual ice cream cones in the UK
Wave goodbye to the wafer, there’s a new breed of receptacles in town…
The Churro Cup
Where to get it: Loop & Scoop, Glasgow
The UK’s first ice cream and churro bar serves dulce de leche-filled churros, giant chocolate- glazed loops and a cinnamon- dusted churros cup.
Where to get it: Yolkin, London
This ice cream macaron food stall now has a base in Chinatown. Flavours include black sesame or Vietnamese coffee stuffed between two halves of chewy macaron (£5.20 each).
Where to get it: Pan-n-Ice, London, Birmingham and Manchester
Marvel over the way they create their signature ice cream rolls, then order a taco wafer, filled with ice cream rolls, fresh fruit and biscuits.
Where to get it: Dominique Ansel, London
Pastry wizard Dominique Ansel’s Insta-worthy What-a-Melon Soft Serve has now arrived in London (£6.50 takeaway).
The coolest ice cream parlours in the UK
And not just parlours: we also have the best ice cream-themed immersive events and vintage trucks to visit right now, too…
Booja-Booja’s pop-up vegan ice cream truck
During their four-day residency at Camden market (12-15 July), vegan and dairy-free specialists Booja-Booja will be serving up frozen treats from their distinctive bright pink tuk tuk. Flavours include chocolate salted caramel and caramel pecan praline.
The London ice cream crawl
Like a pub crawl, but instead of downing pints of craft beer you’re guzzling tubs of artisanal ice cream, gelato and frozen yogurt at London’s finest parlours (what could possibly go wrong?). It will run from 13 and 20 July, 11am-1.30pm. Tickets are £25, and available at uk.funzing.com.
If you’re looking for a chic parlour serving up fantastical flavours, head to La Gelatiera in London’s Covent Garden or Stratford. Choose from a deliciously creamy Cornish blue cheese and walnut, award-winning basil and chilli, and Calabrian licorice gelato.
A cafe-cum-science lab, this nitrogen ice cream parlour in Cardiff’s Castle Arcade serves up experimental blends. Their Christmas Tree flavour tastes just as it should, and the bacon and egg blend is the best you’ll find this side of The Fat Duck.
Ginger’s Comfort Emporium
This ‘ice cream van for grown ups’ is mainly found in after-dark Manchester serving up a range of scoops in flavours including Pear & Tonka Bean and Chai Spices.
The best ice cream tubs in town
Put one of these in your freezer, stat…
Sheffield-born Yee Kwan uses her Chinese heritage and Asian travels as inspiration for fusion flavours in sleek, gold- topped tubs. Our pick is the rich, ever-so-slightly salty chocolate miso – like traditional chocolate ice cream, but much more intriguing.
Vegan chocolate truffle experts Booja-Booja’s ice creams are free of dairy and refined sugar– not that you’d know it from the creamy, indulgent texture. And the tubs are a thing of beauty. Try the caramel pecan praline for a hit of natural sweetness.
As ‘healthy’ as ice cream gets, Oppo is made with fresh milk, virgin coconut oil and stevia leaf for a naturally creamy, low-sugar option. New this year is a choc chip cookie dough flavour but our heart belongs to salted caramel.
Leeds-based ice-cream makers Northern Bloc are the kings of flavour mash-ups – just check out the intensity of strawberry sprinkled with black pepper. Stick a spoon in this right now.
Emerald green Sicilian pistachios are ground and caramelised for a double hit of flavour in world- renowned Italian gelato creators Grom’s luxurious tub. Top tip: buy a bag of their insanely moreish pistachio biscotto to use as a garnish on your scoop.
Made with 26% Italian espresso and all natural ingredients, this smooth-as-silk gelato is perfect in place of your regular coffee on a baking hot day. And we’re definitely OK with ice cream for breakfast when it tastes this good.
Images: Unsplash / Kyle Loftus / Brooke Lark / Daniel Hjalmarsson / Ellis Parrinder