I have a pathological love of good ice cream and gelato. Weather, time of day, distance, nothing comes between me and fine frozen dairy desserts. I think it started with that bubblegum pink Funny Feet many years ago at the ice cream shop in my local park. Or maybe it was the Screwball with the bubble gum at the bottom of the plastic cone, procured from the ice cream van outside my school on my way home. It’s been a lifelong love affair that seems to have only gotten stronger with time.
There was a time when the hottest ice cream place in town was the Haagen Daz cafe in Leicester Square (remember that on a teenage date or a night out with your pals?). But as I’ve grown up, thankfully so has the world of ice cream. Also, we’ve also been blessed with the invasion of gelato to our shores, and now London has some of the finest gelato and ice cream offerings around. I personally think some of the gelato we can get here is on a par with that in Italy, due to the unstoppably gastronomic Italians who can’t help but share this magical stuff with us and make it just like they do at home.
What is the difference between ice cream and gelato?
My personal test for distinguishing between ice cream and gelato is as follows:
- How it’s served: if it’s scooped out of the tub (using a scoop, obviously), it’s ice cream; if it’s manipulated with a palette knife or flat-edged implement to soften it, and then lifted up on to the knife, it’s gelato. The former will be dolloped into your cup/come; the latter will be scraped into it.
- Consistency: if it’s quite solid and hard, it’s ice cream; if it’s softer and starts melting almost immediately, it’s gelato
- Gelato will have more interesting, non-fruit flavoured sorbettos like dark chocolate (a personal favourite) and almond. Ice cream won’t.
- Gelato will generally have a more intense, vibrant flavour, which suggests to me that it has a higher ratio of non-dairy flavours to dairy ingredients
- Ice cream will tend to have multiple, funkier add-ins like chocolate pieces, peanut butter cups, caramelised nuts, fudge ribbons etc. Gelato is generally simpler and less fussy.
I owe the following explanation to Gelato Giusto, a delicious gelateria in New York, and as it comes from an expert gelato maker, I will say no more:
‘Gelato is generally prepared in small batches, whereas ice cream can be produced in industrial quantities. Ice cream is prepared using higher concentrations of cream, whereas gelato is made with a mix of milk and cream. This results in ice cream having fat contents of up to 30%, whereas Gelato has fat contents of up to only 6%.
Another major difference is the amount of air that is incorporated. Ice cream is churned fast resulting in much larger quantities of air; gelato, on the other hand, is churned at low speeds, resulting in 50% less air than ice cream [and therefore it’s more dense]. Finally, gelato is served 5 to 10 degrees warmer than ice cream. All of this results in a richer and more flavorful taste!’ (source: Gelato Giusto website)
I’d also add that ice cream is traditionally made with cream and eggs, whereas gelato contains little to no egg at all. So the two are noticeably different!
Over the past few weeks, I have failed miserably to limit the number of ice creams I have in a week – I was at one of my favourite places a few days ago after Iftar – so I thought I’d share the love and my summary of the best gelato and ice cream places in London. Enjoy!
65 Hampstead High Street NW3 1QP; Covent Garden Market WC2E 8RB; 13 Exhibition Road South Kensington SW7 2HE; 71 King’s Road SW3 4NX
Cost for regular size with 2 flavours: £4.20
Perfection: a cone with Cremino and Nougatine from Venchi
I have no idea why this place is not topping all of the other ‘best gelato’ lists I’ve read. I don’t mind, because it’s remained my secret, until now. Its gelato is simply the best in London, and that’s no surprise because it’s an outpost of the well-known Milanese chain which has branches all over Northern Italy. No other place I know does anything like the Nougatine, an amazing confection of nutty, gooey, caramelly nougat sitting on top of chocolate gelato; or the Cremino, their signature flavour with chocolate and hazelnut (it’s not like the other ones, believe me). My standard order is the Nougatine and Dark Chocolate Sorbetto – both amazing, as are the other flavours I’ve tried. Their chocolates are also delicious – I recommend the ‘Cubotto’ range.
7 Archer St, Soho, London W1D 7AU, 140 Shaftesbury Ave, London WC2H 8PA
Cost for regular size with 2 flavours: £4.50
Ah, Gelupo. Well known and rightfully well loved. Where else does flavours like Ricotta Coffee Honey? Or Fresh Mint Stracchiatella? I love this place, and both the Archer Street and Cambridge Circus branches are always busy – I prefer Archer Street because they’re open until late at night. My favourite flavours are the Ricotta Coffee Honey, and the Dark Chocolate Sorbet, although the latter can be a touch cloying. They also have seasonal flavours, and one I tried recently – Dark Chocolate, Earl Grey and Biscuit – was delicious.
Delicious: a cone with hazelnut, and dark chocolate, Earl Grey and biscuit flavours from Gelupo
178 Portobello Road, London W11 2EB, 4 Park Street SE1 9AB (bordering Borough Market)
Cost for regular size with 2 flavours: £4.30
Like Venchi, this is an Italian import, this time from Rimini. Like Venchi, the gelato here is the real deal: creamy, smooth, and lovingly softened and swirled onto your cup or cone with a steel paddle. I like the extra touch of adding molten hazelnut chocolate or white chocolate to the bottom of your cone before the gelato. I have tried several flavours, all excellent, but my yardstick flavours of dark chocolate and peanut butter were particularly excellent – the former was notably smooth and rich without being cloying and sticking to the roof of my mouth. It’s also the only place which has a cookies gelato that I like – crunchy yet smooth with a lovely, creamy flavour. This is my new local favourite, also because they stay open until 11pm every day (hint, hint, Venchi).
Dark chocolate and peanut butter at 3Bis – excellent gelato
27 New Row, London WC2N 4LA (also a branch in Stratford)
Cost for regular size with 2 flavours: £4.50
A recent discovery for me, and it’s shot into my top five. This is a cosy and friendly gelateria near Leicester Square. It’s one of the few places that does peanut gelato (one of my favourite flavours!), and it is amazing (better than Snowflake’s, in my opinion), as is their hazelnut favour. I can’t wait to go back and try more flavours.
Tiiimbeeeeer: a tottering tower of peanut, hazelnut and pistachio flavours from La Gelateria
2 Russell Street, London WC2B 5JD
Cost for regular size with 2 flavours: £4 (at last visit)
My biggest gripe about Gelatorino is that it closes so early – at 9pm. Otherwise, their Breakfast in Turin gelato is delicious – a combination of coffee, chocolate and biscuit – as is their Amaretto flavour when they have it. It’s a traditional gelateria and they do things like they do back home.
Various locations in Bayswater, Soho, Edgware Road (Marble Arch), South Kensington and Selfridges
Cost for regular size with 2 flavours: £4.50
Snowflake might seem a bit chain-like, but don’t let that put you off: their gelato is excellent, and the best thing is that they do great desserts, too. I’ve tried all the branches, but my clear favourite is the Edgware Road one: they always recognise me when I go in, the service is excellent, the ambience good, nice seating, and they’re open ridiculously late, which I love. I love their peanut gelato and dark chocolate sorbetto, and they have a delicious limited date, honey and yoghurt flavour for Ramadan. When I’m feeling decadent, or I want dessert for dinner, I’ll get a fresh waffle with a scoop of their gelato, sit back and enjoy.
Lush: peanut and dark chocolate sorbet from Snowflake
Dessert for dinner, anyone? Delicious waffles and gelato from Snowflake
Other places of note
Chin Chin Labs
, Camden Market (they also have opened a dessert bar in Soho on Greek Street).
You have to queue to get your ice cream from this novelty spot in Camden Market. Their USP is using liquid nitrogen to freeze their ice creams, which are made on the spot by the order (which means you can’t get tasters, which is a bit annoying). I tried their popular Brownwich, two brownie-biscuits sandwiching a scoop of Valrhona chocolate ice cream. The brownie-biscuits were uninteresting, but the ice cream was intense, velvety and very, very chocolatey. They only do a small number of flavours, and it’s quite pricey for a scoop (£4.45 including a topping), so it’s not my top destination, but it’s decent.
A Brownwich Sandwich from Chin Chin Labs – rich, silky, intense chocolate ice cream sandwiched in rather disappointing soft biscuits
– 187 Upper Street, London N1 1RQ; 24 Earlham Street, London WC2H 9LN
A very popular and colourful Islington creamery, a few mins walk from Islington and Highbury station. The democratic republic of Udderlicious makes the flavours that their patrons vote for, so if you like something, vote for it online to make sure it’s there the next time you come. I like the Chocolate Peanut Butter flavour, and the Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt is delicious. Their signature flavour is the Espresso Biscotti, but it’s not coffee-ish enough for me. They do lovely, indulgent sundaes. I wasn’t impressed on my last visit – the ice cream lacked depth of flavour – but it was heaving at 11pm, so others didn’t seem to think so. The Upper Street location is the original and best – the Covent Garden branch is smaller and slightly more expensive, probably due to location and rental prices.
A two scoop sundae from Udderlicious – good old-fashioned ice cream parlour indulgence
And some of the rest…
Amorino – various locations – rating: 7/10 – over priced and Instagram-worthy, but nothing special.
Lick – 55 Greek Street, London W1D 3DT – rating: 5/10 – unimpressive gelato, tasted icy and lacked flavour. If you do pop in, try the Illy crema (£2.50) instead, a frozen coffee dessert that is normally found in Italy.
Yorica – 130 Wardour Street, London W1F 8ZN – rating: 4/10 – this is not gelato or ice cream but is frozen yoghurt made with coconut milk, and unless you have a dietary need, don’t bother with it – it doesn’t taste of anything. Disappointing.