This summer, resist the urge to settle for a nostalgic 99 in the sun. From towering ice cream sandwiches to nitro-frozen, blow-torch brûléed creations, sweet-toothed chefs here in the capital are taking London ice cream to joyful new heights. Quality is also key: as with the rest of the food scene, frozen dessert craftspeople are also placing more emphasis on sourcing the right, seasonal ingredients, as well as taking the time to hand-churn in smaller batches – and to create better vegan options. In short, London’s ice cream scene has never been cooler or more experimental – and here are the people leading the charge.
Omar Shah and Mae Maglanoc at Mamasons Dirty Ice Cream
Europe’s first Filipino ice cream parlour Mamasons, which opened in Kentish Town in 2017, owes a lot of its success to Instagram; in particular, the shots of its lilac-hued ube ice cream, made with purple yams, or the black buko coconut ice cream and cone, darkened with charcoal from a burnt coconut shell.
But second-generation Filipino founders Omar Shah and Mae Maglanoc are all about tradition, too. ‘Most of our stuff is inspired by traditional flavours of the Philippines,’ says Maglanoc. ‘Ube is the main ingredient for Filipino desserts.’
Their signature dessert is the bilog – freshly baked milk buns, sealed around a filling of ube ice cream – a hot-meets-cold riff on the pandesal bread-enveloped ice cream served on the streets of Manila. ‘The reason we called it Dirty Ice Cream was because of all these street vendors, it was a nickname that became a term of endearment,’ says Shah. ‘It was something Filipino mums would say to their kids to stop them from buying ice cream,’ adds Maglanoc.
Buoyed by the recent rise of Asian dessert joints, even Ben & Jerry’s have been asking for tips, says Shah. ‘It’s pretty cool that we’re making the big boys raise their eyebrows and take notice.’
32 Newport Court, WC2H 7PQ, dirtyicecream.co.uk
Jacob Kenedy at Gelupo
It’s no surprise that Gelupo was the product of a year travelling around Italy. ‘I wanted to learn how to make ice cream,’ says chef Jacob Kenedy, who trained between Moro and Boulevard in San Francisco. ‘A friend of a friend, Giovanni Figliomeni, has a gelateria in Bologna. He kindly took me in for a few weeks and, from him, I learned how you go about making gelato.’
This ice cream expertise found its way onto the menu at Bocca di Lupo, which Kenedy opened in 2008, and, two years later, into the restaurant’s ice cream spin-off Gelupo. Filled with vintage movie posters, tourism ads and Lambretta posters, all the gelato is made the Italian way. The flavours on this season’s menu span bitter chocolate, rhubarb crumble, ricotta sour cherry, strawberry and pink peppercorn, and yogurt and lemongrass, while last season they experimented with a CBD flavour, which Kenedy says was ‘expensive, but quite fun’.
Ultimately, though, great ice cream is about ‘childhood, above all else,’ says Kenedy. ‘Eating ice cream takes you back. It’s fun, and it should be light-hearted.
‘It’s hard to open an ice cream shop in a cold country where it always rains,’ he adds. ‘But it made a lot of people very happy and I’ve never regretted it.’
7 Archer Street, W1D 7AU, gelupo.com
Ahrash Akbari-Kalhur at Chin Chin Labs
ElBulli-inspired liquid nitrogen ice cream parlour Chin Chin Labs has a classic recession success back story. A young couple, a trained lawyer and an art gallery worker, needed jobs in an economic downturn. After six months travelling around Europe, with little to lose, they decided to open an ice cream shop when they returned to London in 2010. The result: a concept that tapped into the steamy, sciencey, liquid nitrogen-fuelled zeitgeist then being popularised by Heston Blumenthal and MasterChef.
‘It worked with what was going on in a wider sense, it was a bit of a tough time, people wanted comfort eating, so sticky, rich, heavy things were the thing,’ says founder Ahrash Akbari-Kalhur.
These days, vegan flavours feature heavily across Chin Chin’s three locations, and they haven’t lost their experimental edge. Vanilla has been swapped out for tonka bean, there’s a creamy grilled sweetcorn scoop, a brûléed-to-order banoffee jam pie of butter caramel ice cream on a biscuit base, and, every year, a seasonal Christmas tree flavour. ‘The worst thing for me is when someone says that flavour’s subtle. I think, oh God, it’s the equivalent of “interesting” or “nice”. You want to punch people right in the face with flavour.’
49-50 Camden Lock Place, NW1 8AF, chinchinicecream.com
Natalie Slack at Black Milq
On a 2015 trip to New York, Natalie Slack had an ‘amazing’ bowl of black-sesame ice cream. Not able to find it back in London, she started making it herself.
Slack launched dairy-free plant-based ice cream company Black Milq last year, and now has a regular slot at Brockley Market, as well as supplying London restaurants including Wulf & Lamb and Palm Greens. Her ethos is small-batch, handmade ice cream ‘made from really simple flavours with really good ingredients’.
‘If I think about some of the best ice cream I’ve had, it’s been in Sicily or in Scandinavia, where they just collect really amazing ingredients,’ says Slack. ‘If you have pistachio, it has to taste like strong, roasted, classy, creamy pistachios.’
Her most popular, honeycomb and pine nut, won a Great Taste award last year, while she’s currently experimenting with a new mushroom, chocolate and salt flavour.
However, there’s still room for the classics: ‘People get excited when we do mint choc chip, because it’s a really nostalgic flavour. And you can always get a conversation going about Viennetta.’
Studio 11, Containerville, 35 Corbridge Crescent, E2 9EZ, blackmilq.com