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%.
The Top Five best gelato and ice cream in London
Other places of note
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.