“Someone describe gelato to me, in layman’s terms, without saying the words ‘ice cream’, and I shall begrudgingly repent.”
The middle of the day; the middle of an honest-to-god argument about frozen desserts via WhatsApp, the friendship group split as battle raged between gelato fans and gelato, well, deniers.
There are plenty of differences in the ingredients and method – gelato has a lower fat content, often doesn’t include eggs in the base, and is churned slower to incorporate less air – but it’s the texture that does it for me. Kept at a higher temperature, gelato is softer and smoother, and, weirdly, a joy to watch being scooped into a pot, with none of that warm-the-scoop-and-draaaaaaag you get with ice cream.
But let’s be honest. I love them both, so I’ve put a lot of time and effort across all seasons (such hard work!) into scouting out some of the best of them.
Life, told in frozen desserts
My adult friendships can be explained through ice cream in the same way that university tales are told through anecdotes about drunken nights out and the sort of photos you have to untag on Facebook as soon as you enter the professional world.
Dinner with my friend Sam. “I’m not eating,” I say, “I’m on a diet so I basically can’t eat out. I’ll just, uh, watch you.” Half an hour later I’m ordering a burger and fries with blue cheese sauce for dipping and Sam’s looking at me over his glasses, incredulous. “Well. If I’m going to break it, I’ll break it completely.” And I do. I wolf down dinner and we wander around central London on the hunt for dessert. You don’t have to walk for long before you find frozen treats, so it’s about ten minutes before I’ve got a cone in my hand and a grin, and probably a couple of runaway drips of gelato on my face.
Later, two friends are visiting from The North, and I am bad at planning entertainment. When you’re faced with people who fundamentally don’t like London, and wouldn’t be enthralled by novelty vegetables, picking things to do can be tricky. I know only two things: people will come over for dinner, and we will go for gelato. Squeezed around a small table, the boys are quiet and for a moment I panic, but then in one lick, pistachio, coffee, and caramel hit my tongue and I know why they’re silent.
Last year, my mamma and her friend visited London. I drew a map this time, in an attempt to plan better. It had my favourite shopping spots, where we were staying, the nearest tube stations…and all the potential ice cream stops along the way. When we finally got to one – a place I’d never heard of, but we stumbled across – I realised where I get my giddy-at-the-choice ice cream shop behaviour from, as we ummed and ahhed over flavours and sat grinning and licked our lips long after we’d tasted the last traces.
Ice, ice, baby
So I’ve tried, you know, a few. You can scroll to the bottom of this post to view a map that I’ll update as I venture around the country. But here’s my best bits, complete with many photos of my thumb (and cones).
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Show me an ice cream shop that rotates its flavours monthly, and I’m there. One that makes boozy flavours and I’m there with bells on. But one that rotates its flavours, including boozy ones and straight-up weird combinations? I’ll never wanna leave. And so it came to be that halfway through the last work summer do I grabbed a colleague and snuck away from the pub to walk for nearly a mile because the call of Udderlicious was too strong to resist, to be rewarded with the beauty you see on the right. Through all of its weird and wacky creations, I’ve not had a bad scoop yet. If you’re feeling extra fancy, they offer all the bells and whistles too: sauces, sprinkles, and fudge pieces among them.
Udderlicious has branches in Islington and Covent Garden. You can find out more and vote for next month’s flavours here.
Gelupo, baby sister of restaurant Bocca di Lupo, is a well-known classic for authentic gelato and has the out-the-door queues to prove it. It offers the vanilla and chocolate flavours you’d expect…but also gets a little wild with experimentation. It also usually has a good selection of sorbets that are equally rich in flavour.
London Ice Cream Tour
There are so many ice cream and gelato parlours in London that it can be hard to know where to start. Luckily, there’s an ice cream tour that takes you around all the best places and gives you an opportunity to learn more about gelato and London itself. And you walk it, so it totally cancels out the calories, right? Find out more here!
Cafe Gelato, Norwich
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: Norwich is becoming kind of cool. Literally, on the day that I took the above photo – it was 6°C and I was wrapped up in a thick coat and a scarf, getting my second Cafe Gelato hit of the weekend before heading back to the big city. It’s so delicious that I try to get in at least one visit every time I’m in Norwich, and judging by the fact that on a chilly February afternoon they’d sold out of all gelato but for a half a tub of meringue flavour, I’m not the only one who’s head over heels for it. Every. single. time. I do a little “oohhhh my god” under my breath. The ones to look out for in particular? Gingerbread and white chocolate and passionfruit.
Tutti Frutti, Reading
Can we just address the really silly thing in the photo above? What you can see there is a wooly glove clutching a waffle cone, because just as I’ll deal with low temperatures for old faithfuls, it’s never too cold to try new ice cream parlours. Out of dedication to eating, I took a day off work to explore Reading. This possibly seems odd, because there’s naff-all there. Apart from, you know, great breakfast, a gorgeous beer shop, and an ice cream shop that does a chocolate caramel flavour so rich and indulgent it almost feels like fudge. Not to be missed.
Holly’s Cakes & Bakes, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria
…And if I’m willing to travel for an hour and a half for waffles and ice cream, there’s no way I’m going to go 300 miles north and not hunt down some of the good stuff. This little cupcake shop, hidden down a lane in one of the cutest towns I’ve yet seen, also has a 20-strong range of flavours. Above is coffee and wild cherry, the one that was so good I salivate a bit every time I think about it. *Inappropriate sounds*
The map below is currently just a little biased, I know. But in the name of science, I fully intend to visit more places around the country. Just for you guys, you understand.