The biggest queue in London this summer? Not a secret Peruvian pop-up bar on the roof of a car park in Peckham but your local ice-cream van, because nothing says summer in the city like a serving of the cold stuff. As Scoop – London’s first museum of ice cream – opens, allow us to present an A-Z of frozen creamy goodness. Whether you and your little ones opt for a charcoal Mr Whippy made with liquid nitrogen or a rainbow-coloured unicorn froyo, London’s ice-cream scene has come a long way from the humble 99 Flake.
A is for… Avolato
Still Instagramming actual avocados? On toast? So 2017. You want to get down to Snowflake, where £9.50 will buy you a dairy-free, vegan, avocado-flavoured gelato, served in a real avocado shell, with an edible nut-butter ‘stone’. This is the reason you’ll never get on the housing ladder.
B is for… Brain freeze
Love eating large quantities of salted caramel sorbet but hate the intense stabbing pain in your head? Relax! You’re just experiencing sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia aka ‘brain freeze’. When ice cream touches the top of your mouth, the nerve centre overreacts to the cold by trying to heat your brain, causing the ouch. To prevent it, warm the roof of your mouth by pressing it firmly with the underside of your tongue or a warm thumb (ideally your own).
C is for… Charles II
The ‘Merry Monarch’ was the first recorded person in England to serve ice cream at his lavish Garter Banquet in 1671. The delicacy for the royal table was ‘one plate of white strawberries and one plate of ice cream’. Before that, it was the fashionable dessert for wealthy Florentines, with Catherine de’ Medici bringing it to Versailles when she married King Henry of France in 1533. Not that different to turning up to your mate’s party with a Viennetta.
D is for… Daffodils
Forget mint choc chip and rum and raisin, at the aforementioned Scoop exhibition in Kings Cross you can lap up cones filled with forgotten, age-old flavours, including daffodil (which dates back to 1750), candied fruit (1649), all-day ice-cream breakfast (1691) and cucumber (1845). Top them with a flurry of hundreds and thousands by dunking them in the exhibition's enormous sprinkle fountain.
E is for… Eales, Mary
Confectioner to Queen Anne, Mary Eales was the first person to publish a recipe for ‘iced cream’ in her 1718 cookbook. If you’re interested: ‘Take Tin Ice-Pots, fill them with any Sort of Cream you like, either plain or sweeten’d, or Fruit in it; shut your Pots very close… Lay a good deal of Ice on the Top, cover the Pail with Straw, set it in a Cellar where no Sun or Light comes, it will be froze in four Hours.’ No word on what it tasted like.
F is for… Fortnum & Mason
As you’d expect from the holder of a Royal Warrant, Fortnum’s is the place to find the poshest ice cream in London. Its in-house ice-creamery the Parlour serves up decadent frozen treats such as an Afternoon Tea Sundae involving strawberry-and-scones ice cream, cucumber-and-mint sorbet and a topping featuring a ‘Coronation Surprise’ (presumably the fact that it all costs £13 isn’t surprising enough).
G is for… ‘Greensleeves’
The UK’s most used ice-cream van jingle is officially the sound of summer. In the 1960s, there were more than 30,000 ice-cream vans on the streets. Today, there may be less than 5,000. But thanks to a relaxing of the country’s chime regulations in 2013 (yes, really), the van’s tinkle can now play for up to 12 seconds rather than four. It won’t give you a head start on everyone in your street, though.
H is for... Hojicha
Move over matcha, the new Japanese tea flavour to make it big in the ice-cream world is hojicha. What it lacks in looks (it’s a sludgy brown colour), it makes up for with a rich, nutty, smoky flavour. Soho’s Japanese tea house Tsujiri is the place to sample hojicha soft serve and a Shiratama Sundae – hojicha ice-cream with mochi, red bean and roasted soy bean powder.
I is for… Ice wells
Italian-speaking Swiss entrepreneur Carlo Gatti is the man credited with making ice cream available to the Victorian masses. In 1857, he built a large ‘ice well’ capable of storing tons of ice in the Battlebridge Basin off the Regent’s Canal, importing huge slabs of frozen water all the way from Norway. You can still see his ice house, near King’s Cross, which today forms part of London’s Canal Museum. Humming ‘Ice Ice Baby’ while you look around is mandatory.
J is for… Juice
If you thought being on a juice cleanse meant you had to lay off all ice cream, you obviously haven’t made a pilgrimage to Gelupo. Run by Jacob Kennedy of Bocca di Lupo, Gelupo serves up proper granita, gelato and sorbet, including the Summer Sorbet Cleanse with beetroot, carrot and ginger.
K is for… Kiwi sorbet
Pastry genius Dominique Ansel may be famous for his creation the Cronut, but it’s the kiwi sorbet bar at his Belgravia bakery that’s made the world go fuzzy inside. Made of fresh kiwi sorbet, with a centre of Tahitian vanilla ice cream, speckled with poppy seeds and covered in a furry chocolate coating, this cold treat is freakishly kiwi-like. Special shout out to his What-a-Melon, a watermelon shell filled with watermelon soft serve and dark chocolate seeds.
L is for… Lick
We like a weird ice-cream flavour as much as the next Londoner. Not as much as George Washington, though, who in the summer of 1790 reportedly spent $200 on some oyster ice cream. He would probably have loved Lick in Soho, which serves 24 different flavours of gelato including mince pie, pumpkin and durian. Yep, the fruit that smells like vomit. Don’t be so vanilla.
M is for… Marine Ices
Before gelato was even a ‘thing’, Gaetano Mansi opened his first ice-cream parlour in Camden in 1931. Now something of a London institution, the retro interior of Marine Ices – along with its resolutely old-school flavours (tutti frutti, anyone?) – brings a scoop of la dolce vita to north London. And massive queues in the school holidays.
N is for… Nitrogen
If you like the science bit, go and see the guys over at Chin Chin Labs, who wear white lab coats and use nitrogen oxide to freeze the ice cream in front of your eyes. Not only is the result seriously smooth and without crystals, but it looks pretty damn cool too. Right now they are serving up a black tahini halva and a pineapple and habanero. If only chemistry had been this tasty at school.
O is for… Orbitofrontal cortex
The orbitofrontal cortex is the ‘processing’ area of the brain that lights up when you eat a spoonful of ice cream. Neuroscientists at the Institute of Psychiatry in London scanned the brains of people eating vanilla ice cream and found that it activates the same pleasure centre in your grey matter as winning money or listening to your favourite music.
P is for... Penny licks
Before the cone was invented, Victorians went in for ‘penny licks’: a penny’s worth of ice cream, bought from a cart and served in a shell or glass. An 1879 English medical report blamed a cholera outbreak on people reusing glassware, and fear of tuberculosis led the city of London to ban them in 1899. The penny lick was licked.
Q is for… Queen of Ices
Agnes Marshall, aka The Queen of Ices, was the Mrs Beeton of froyo. The Victorian food writer specialised in ice cream and frozen desserts, patented one of the first ice-cream-makers and invented the edible cone. Heston Blumenthal, who adopted her idea for making ice cream with liquid nitrogen, called her ‘one of the greatest culinary pioneers this country has ever seen’.
R is for… Roses
Sometimes in life you have to stop and smell the roses. Then eat them. At London ice-cream chain Amorino, your scoop of gelato comes intricately shaped like the flower, making a bog-standard scoop just seem plain vulgar, really. The petals can be sculpted from as many flavours as you like, though for true authenticity the purists go for pinkish shades of strawberry, raspberry and melon. Finished with a macaron ‘stamen’.
S is for… Sundae
Legend has it that the first ice-cream sundae was created in 1881, when maverick Wisconsin soda fountain owner Edward C Berners drizzled chocolate sauce on vanilla, and only sold them on Sundays. The Hot Paklava Meltdown at Persian deli-café Persepolis in Peckham, which involves layers of warm baklava, kaymak (clotted Turkish yoghurt) and ice cream, is so hot it’s cool. Literally.
T is for… Taiyaki
Fish and ice cream doesn’t sound like a winning combination. But a new take on the traditional Japanese dessert of taiyaki – a fish-shaped cake stuffed with sweet bean paste – has become an Instagram sensation. At Chinatown bakery Bake, the superstar snack is a fish-shaped waffle cone filled with matcha ice cream – and Instagrammed endlessly. Join the queue now.
U is for… Unicorn ice cream
You’ll have spotted the crowds outside Covent Garden ice-cream parlour Milk Train, holding their candyfloss-covered cones aloft for sticky selfies. To truly impress, order the Unicone (lol): a multicoloured monstrosity of rainbow drops and sprinkles with a ‘cotton candy cloud’. There are no words to describe the inevitable sugar high.
V is for… Vegans
Soho’s Yorica, aka London’s first allergen-free ice-cream parlour, is a lot more fun than it sounds. Its dairy-free, gluten-free and nut-free ice cream is made with rice milk in flavours such as beetroot and chocolate.
W is for… Waffle cone
Inspired by the 1950s Hong Kong street snack of bubbly pancakes made with leftover eggs, the waffley goodness at Soho’s BubbleWrap Waffle comes in three flavours – plain, chocolate and matcha – but the ice cream and sauce are more of an afterthought, to be honest.
X is for… X-rays
You know when you get your Ben & Jerry’s out of the freezer and the refrozen bits have gone all crystally and weird? Well, eggheads at Nestlé are working with avalanche experts to use an X-ray tomography machine to observe the evolution of ice crystals in ice cream. Ultimately they hope to maintain refrozen ice cream’s texture for longer.
Y is for… Yolkin
Clever baker Sammie Le has come up with a delicious (and ingenious) way of cutting food waste. Her shop uses the egg yolks left over from making macarons to whip up ice cream. Hence the name Yolkin (geddit?). The result is a pastel macaron ice-cream sandwich in flavours inspired by her British-Asian heritage. Think lychee and black sesame or earl grey and salted caramel.
Z is for… Zero sugar
We all know we should be cutting down on the white stuff. Thankfully there are some tantrum-free options for the sugar-content-conscious parent. Gelato chain Oddono’s does a sugar-free banana sorbet sweetened with isomalt, and Snog’s agave-sweetened frozen yoghurt is as saintly as ice cream gets. Just make sure you top it with fresh fruit rather than meringues, chocolate and extra strawberry sauce, yeah?
Hungry for a frozen feast? Satisfy your craving at one of these super-cool ice-cream joints.