The past was uncomplicated: decisions such as cone or cup, vanilla or chocolate, and Flake or no Flake were as flamboyant as things got. Now we have choices like ice cream brioche or tacos, fairy floss clouds or candied bacon, and Charcoal, sea salt or ube. No matter how you roll, here are the super-duper scoopers serving Melbourne’s best ice cream, gelato and soft serve.
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Melbourne's best ice cream and gelato
Talk about well qualified. Before opening Pidapipó, Lisa Valmorbida studied at the Carpigiarni Gelato University in Bologna, and then worked and ate her way round Italy’s finest gelaterias. We are the beneficiaries of her dedication and Piadpipó, a small gelateria with a long marble bench, brass light fittings and red neon sign channelling 1950s Italo-chic, is its result. Boxes stuffed with luscious peaches and watermelons in the window point to gelati that are fresh and full of natural flavours. They’re made daily in small batches and stored in pozzetti (airtight silver tubs) to ensure maximum freshness. You can taste it in the mint flavour: it’s like diving into a mint bush and its menthol magnificence will awaken the most jaded taste buds. It’s a very different experience from the radioactive-green version we’ve been accustomed to. The pretty, mauve, blueberry-and-dark-chocolate gelato is subtler and strewn with whole blueberries, so that it’s the sweetest way imaginable to increase your antioxidant intake. It’s hard to go wrong here, as the permanent queue outside Pidapipó can attest.
Gelato Messina is a Sydney import that Melbournians have embraced with mouths wide open. On a sunny Tuesday, a modest gathering hovers outside, counting down till opening time. Gelato Messina makes everything from scratch, which includes baking apple pies, mince pies and brownies before transmogrifying them into creamy, dreamy frozen treats. A whopping 40 flavours (35 permanent and five seasonal ring-ins) means you need to weigh your options carefully to avoid post-purchase remorse. The ‘What’s up Doc’, which turns carrot cake into gelato, is clever but heavy on the cream cheese and faint on the carrot cake. We prefer their heavenly ‘Mincing Tart’. Spiked with brandy and filled with smashed mince pies, it tastes like a summery Australian Christmas. These guys are very serious about gelato, which is why they have purchased a farm in rural Victoria with 270 jersey cows ready to be of service. That’s what we call udder dedication.
The swish gelateria out the front of Spring Street Grocer, with its curved marble steps, racing-green-and-red colour scheme and timber bench top, is suavely European. Ogle the brown butchers’ paper menu and choose from a rotating mix of milk-based gelati and dairy-free sorbets. Premium ingredients, both local (St David’s fresh cream) and international (Sicilian Bronte nuts), are churned daily into vibrant and memorable flavours. Purists are well catered for with the fior di latte, pistachio or lemon sorbet; but gelato authority, Massimo Bidin, also takes the path less trodden, exploring unusual flavours such as basil, walnut and honey, and matcha and black sesame. We went for a luxurious dark chocolate and a salted coconut and mango that delivered a sweet and salty payload with confidence.
In 2015, Perth surfing siblings Alex and Mitch Wells threw in corporate life to chase their ice cream dream. Their food truck business, Billy Van Creamery, began rolling round the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne, driving the Mr Whippy van concept into the 21st century. And in 2017, a permanent shop for their business was found near Fitzroy North’s Edinburgh Gardens. Decked out in pretty pastel pink shades with a playful ice cream mural, it’s a sweet place to savour BVC’s purist ‘ice cream with no funny stuff’. Their product is the real deal. They are made from simple ingredients – milk, cream, sugar and egg yolk stabiliser – and their vanilla comes speckled with bean seeds and sparkles with flavour while their chocolate walks the line between being flavoursome and rich. They also bake brownies and, for that perfect birthday gift to yourself, how’s about a 1.5kg cookie ice cream cake?
This is one of the old guard, scooping out a respite from summer since 2001. The longevity has something to do with its flair for innovation, as exemplified by the Red Bull or pinot noir flavours, counterbalancing a commitment to classics such as strawberry and French vanilla. It will also have a lot to do with the consistent quality of its products. The gelato is exactly what you want gelato to be: thick, creamy, and sweet. The cookies-and-cream has a fresh vanilla base that’s packed with malty, chocolate biscuit pieces. The Ferrero Rocher will have you seeing the little hazelnut chocolates in a whole new light. The lime green and navy blue store on Acland has limited seating outside so why not take your cones and cups down to the beach or to Luna Park? Fun fact: 7 Apples is named after a Tuscan nightclub where founder Mark Mariotti used to strut his stuff.
Setting up a new gelateria on Lygon Street in the middle of winter takes confidence and ambition. Gelocchio’s success in wooing the gelatophiles of Cairns must have given owners Valeria and Renzo plenty of both. Thus Gelocchio Carlton has come to pass, and it’s an intriguing spot, with its fairytale-themed mural, mismatched furniture and gaggle of Pinocchio dolls lolling on the shelves. The hazelnut gelato is a smooth, sophisticated number, while the fig cheesecake is packed with succulent, seedy fig segments. But it’s the vanilla custard that’s the crowd’s pick – and ours, too. Combining two classic desserts pays double dividends in a sunny-yellow velvety gelato. For those who want to branch out into other desserts, there are popsicles, Italian sundaes (coppa) and elaborate ice cream cakes, courtesy of pastry chef, Valerie.
Korea may not be known for its ice-cream making, but Milkcow, famed for its super-creamy, milky soft serve and unorthodox – some might say inspired – toppings such as jellybeans, fairy floss and popcorn, is changing that. The franchise has taken South-East Asia by sugary storm; no doubt you saw their watermelon ice cream sandwich (complete with chocolate pips) hovering in your social feeds. We tried their tiramisù – a tribute to multiculturalism mixing Korean entrepreneurial spirit with Italian dessert expertise and Australian organic milk. Sponge fingers are dunked in coffee, layered with milky soft serve and mascarpone and dusted with cocoa powder. While there’s no time for the flavours to mingle properly or the sponge fingers to soften, it’s a cooling, creamy pick-me-up. Word from the Milkcow frontline staff is that their matcha and Oreo combo and the classic honeycomb are their best sellers. But for aesthetics’ sake, go the Avalanche, in which chocolate espresso soft serve wears a fairy floss ’fro.
Award-winning pizza chef Johnny Di Francesco took several trips to Naples to learn more about the sweet arts of gelato, and then Zero Gradi was born. Conveniently located next door to his original 400 Gradi pizza shop in Brunswick, this little café is just the place for your post-pizza affair. Accommodating staff can guide you through their flavours – from classic pistachio and espresso to the quirkier Margherita (made with red sponge and zabaglione gelato), green apple and red velvet. The peanut butter and Nutella is somehow nutty, flavoursome and lighter than you could have ever expected these two much-loved toast spreads to turn out. Their strawberry shortcake gelato, with strawberry chunks and swirls of strawberry coulis churned through vanilla ice cream, has a concentrated berry flavour thats tastes like childhood summers. You can augment your gelati with a squirt from the Nutella tap. And there’s gelato cannoli, shakes and ice cream cakes, should you need to further boost your sugar intake.