All gelato is ice cream, but not all ice cream is gelato
Update 24/8/2016 – added Badiani review, updated some links and fixed one location error
Update 13/9/2016 – added Urban Ice review, updated some links
It’s easy to joke about the cold and wet English summer, but those jokes will be a fond, distant memory when London is inevitably roasting in 30 degree heat and humidity, turning your glistening sweat into your own personal basting sauce. One of the few things that makes me feel better in such sweltering conditions is a cup of cool, flavoursome Italian-style gelato.
‘Gelato’ is the Italian word for ice cream, but the term alone doesn’t quite convey just how magical the very best examples of this treat can be. Compared to other ice creams, put simply, gelato is made with less cream and has less air introduced into the mixture due to a slower churning process. It’s also stored and served at a higher temperature.
The result is an ice cream that not only has a noticeably bolder and more consistent flavouring, but a mouthfeel that’s wonderfully, consistently smooth, dense and creamy. This is often, but not always, exemplified by a pronounced elasticity – start spooning away a chunk and a noticeable tearing trail can be seen. Unlike cheap and nasty ice creams elsewhere, gelato should be so smooth that there are no discernible ice crystals – any sort of icy crunch should be entirely absent.
Until fairly recently, good quality gelato had been hard to find in London. Even with recent strides in the capital’s gelato quality, my dining companion the Euro Hedgie is adamant that the best that London has to offer isn’t a patch on what’s available in, say, Rome. Armed with the criteria above, I therefore set out to sample the gelato from every standalone gelateria in London (i.e. not restaurants that happen to have a flavour or two as a dessert course) that I could find.
As this group test brought me closer than ever to the edge of apocalyptic tooth decay and diabetes, I limited myself to just three flavours from each gelateria – three that should be the touchstones of any good gelato maker:
- Pistachio – a Sicilian favourite and it’s surprisingly difficult to capture the pithy essence of it in frozen form. On the very odd occasion where this storied favourite wasn’t available, I opted for another nut-based gelato.
- Wild card – boldly creative flavours, and how well they’re implemented, are a hallmark of any good gelateria. Gelato is, after all, a product of modernity. I chose the most eye-catching and unusual flavour I could find at each gelateria.
- Lemon sorbet – yes, this water and fruit-based treat isn’t a gelato, but sorbets are classic stablemates to a gelato and simply can’t be overlooked when attempting to find London’s best gelateria. Where lemon wasn’t available, I opted for another fruit sorbet – usually mandarin or mango. Sorbets may have a higher water content than a gelato, but that’s absolutely no excuse for any crunchy ice crystals. A lemon sorbet should either deftly balance the sweetness and tart sourness of the fruit, or it can go almost full throttle on the tartness as long as it stops just short of mouth pursing sharpness. Blandness is not an option, neither is a comedically sour impersonation of Cif.
Other gelato fanatics will probably howl at my exclusion of baccio, stracciatella, hazelnut, chocolate and other flavours. They have a point, but I don’t love any of those flavours as I love pistachio and if a gelato purveyor can’t ably handle the three above then the chances of them adeptly managing any of the others is slim.
Obviously, no one apart from me is mad enough to trapse across town just for a gelato. But this group test should aide you in deciding whether to indulge in that seemingly tempting gelati in front of you or whether you should save your calories and money for something else instead. Like a trusty Cornetto (my cheap, guilty pleasure of choice even if it’s nowhere near as good as a high-quality gelato).
Almost all of the three-scoop, three-flavour gelato cups here were priced, on average, between £4.50 and £5.50 with only Morelli’s in Covent Garden breaching ahead and hitting the eye-watering £7 mark.
One more thing before we get on with the reviews themselves. I don’t claim to be infallible and I do welcome polite and constructive feedback in the Comments. But I have very little time for weirdo commenters who insist that I’m wrong because I don’t like everything or because I don’t like their particular favourite eatery. I also have little tolerance for obtuse narrow-minded commenters who spout obscenities at me in the name of defending ‘tradition’. I have even less time for groundless accusations of bias with nothing to back it up. So please keep the comments civil and constructive. I don’t want to ban anyone, but I can and I will if need be.
Now that the formalities and the unpleasantries are out of the way, on with the reviews!
Table of Contents
Bella del Gelato
Cafe Russell / Cafe in the Gardens
Ice and Slice
Il Gelato di Ariela
Slice and More
Sitting on the edge of Borough Market, 3Bis might be an oddly named gelateria but its position gives it a solid trade and plenty of lasting power having been in business for years.
Although the pistachio gelato was only mildly nutty, its touch of pithiness, its consistency and smooth elasticity just about nudged its way into my affections. The peanut butter was similarly excellent in texture, but mild in nuttiness. Its lack of tangy viscosity, however, meant it tasted more like a bacci or hazelnut.
There were no complaints about the lemon sorbet though. It was baby smooth, without any hint of clumpiness or iciness. It also maintained a gentle balance between sweetness and mouth pursing tanginess.
3Bis’ comparatively early closing times rule it out for those of us with late night cravings, but it’s a good bet if you’re lunching at the street food stalls inside Borough Market and need to satiate your sweet tooth. It’s not quite good enough to score Four Stars, but it’s a close run thing.
Star rating: ★★★☆☆
Amorino (Islington branch)
This multinational chain has branches dotted around Zone 1. The small Soho branch is the most crowded, prompting me to seek out the more sparsely customed Islington outpost. Although neither of the gelatos I tried were especially elastic or creamy, they were at least evenly smooth.
Neither impressed when it came to the strength and consistency of flavour though. The pistachio was not only muted, but also oddly artificial. The wild card speculoos was mildly malty and tinged with ginger, dimly recalling the original Belgian biscuit rather than the boldly evoking it. Most disappointing of all was the lemon sorbet which had only a one-note tartness and no hint of sweetness.
Amorino might pull in the tourist and late night reveller crowds, but I was singularly unimpressed by its dim, faded wares.
Badiani is a gelateria of Florentine origin that plans to set up a London shop of its own. Until that happens, it’s trading out of the Mercato Metropolitano. This Italian grocer and covered market, home to many other Italian street food traders, not only looks attractive but has seating too. It’s not a faff to reach either, located close to both Southwark and Elephant and Castle Tube stations.
Both of the Badiani gelati that I tried were free of crunchy ice crystals. Although both could’ve been denser, they nonetheless had a reasonably smooth and elastic mouthfeel. Although the nuttiness of the pistachio was mild in strength, it was at least consistent and didn’t fade as I made my way through the scoop. It almost tasted like hazelnut, but that’s probably the placebo of the brownish-beige colour talking.
Badiani’s black sesame wild card was far more impressive, in flavour at least. The nuttiness with an edge was not only true to the source material, but was also highly reminiscent of black sesame-flavoured mochi without overwhelming the palate. Only Yee Kwan’s supermarket-stocked black sesame (non-gelato) ice cream tastes better.
In an unexpected move, Badiani’s lemon sorbet was far smoother and denser than either of the gelato. It tasted disappointingly tame though, with only fleeting notes of tartness appearing on my tongue.
Badiani’s middling showing here is surprising given its vaunted reputation. It’s by no means bad, but I expect to see significant improvement by the time it open its permanent London premises.
Bella del Gelato (Golders Green branch)
This narrow little gelato shop in Golders Green only has a handful of tables, unless you want to lick and slurp on the go. My server was charmingly lovely, but that couldn’t make up for the disappointing texture of the ice cream. Both gelato weren’t elastic enough and were just far too clumpy – the latter flaw applied to the sorbet as well.
Disappointingly, the pistachio was off so I had settle for the chestnut flavour instead. The modest nuttiness trended towards coconut if not for the slightly malty finish at the end which gave it a very modest resemblance to chestnut. At least the modest flavour didn’t dip in intensity at any point.
The Blue Moon wild card was only modestly evocative of the intended bubble gum with a mild yet still reasonably distinctive sweetness paired with a slight tangy edge. Things picked up with the lemon sorbet which was profoundly tart and citrusy, making up for its clumpiness.
Bella del Gelato has managed to get away with middle of the road gelato given the lack of local competition. Even so, it’s just about worth popping on a hot summer’s day if you happen to find yourself in this northwestern stretch of London.
This Haymarket hotel restaurant sometimes operates a standalone gelato stand facing out onto the street. The gelati I tried were neither elastic nor smooth enough. The texture was further blighted by surprisingly large air gaps as well as occasional but nonetheless annoyingly crunchy ice crystals.
Despite these problems, the clotted cream managed to be reasonably pleasing thanks to a measure of extra creaminess. The raspberry ripple was almost as creamy, but its vanishingly low levels of sweetness and tanginess were underwhelming. While reasonably smooth and ice-free, the weak mango sorbet was mango in name only.
Brumus needs to go back to the drawing board before wheeling out its gelato cart again.
This reasonably polished Italian cafe doesn’t have the charming kitsch quality of some of London’s other Italian cafes and delis, but it does have a gelato counter. Although the pistachio gelato was mildly smooth and elastic, its nuttiness was not only faded, but inconsistent in strength. The clumpy, chunky lemon sorbet was little better, descending into kitchen cleaner levels of excessive sharpness and acidity.
The zuppe inglese wild card failed in terms of mouth feel – one too many ice crystals, along with a general lack of denseness and elasticity, were displeasing. Moderately creamy, boozy and dotted with what appeared to be candied fruit pieces, it was an odd approximation of a zuppa inglese. While not terrible, I wouldn’t rush back to have it again.
Caffe Paradiso is more like Dante’s Inferno, at least when it come to gelato.
Cafe Russell/Cafe in the Gardens
Depending on which sign you believe, this cafe nestled near the edges of Russell Square (with a separate gelato takeaway counter) is named either Cafe Russell or the Cafe in the Gardens. Although its leafy location alone pulls in the punters, don’t order the gelato unless your life depends on it. The modest sourness of the lemon sorbet was disappointing; its excessive icy crunchiness was inexcusable.
Although very elastic, the pistachio gelato was also surprisingly clumpy. Its modest nuttiness faded quickly, leaving little to remember it by. The cherry gelato, which is about as experimental as this cafe gets, started out with a high degree of elasticity, but this was ruined by crunchy iciness then lumpiness. Alongside this dismal texture was a sickly sweetness that wasn’t at all true to the fruit.
Much of the gelato and sorbet I ordered from Cafe Russell/Cafe in the Gardens ended up in the bin. That says it all.
DiSotto is a catering supplier/food service company that sells a whole host of Italian foodstuffs to restaurants and cafes, not just gelato. Its own-brand gelato can be found at eateries across the city from Phillies cafe in Greenwich to a snack stall at the corner of Oxford Street and Wells Street. A wonky debit card and no sorbet choices meant I had to be content with just two scoops of gelato, although content is the wrong word.
Initially elastic, both gelato somehow managed to be both far too crunchy as well as airy with significant air gaps ruining the texture. The pistachio’s already modest nuttiness faded quickly, while the wild card blue bubblegum had a sickly saccharin sweetness. At least it was consistent in strength, lingering in my mouth and wearing out its welcome.
DiSotto gelato – just say no, more like.
If there’s one thing odder that Dri Dri’s name, then it’s the location of this gelato shop inside what is effectively a garden centre/miniature business park on a side street in Chelsea.
Like Bella del Gelato, Dri Dri was out of pistachio forcing me onto the chestnut instead. Unlike Bella del Gelato, Dri Dri’s chestnut was distinctly and pleasingly nutty. There was still room for improvement though as the chestnut flavour could’ve been stronger and it tended to fade over the course of the scoop. Just as worrying was the occasional icy patch and lack of elasticity and denseness.
The same textural problems afflicted the salted caramel which suffered from an even weaker flavour that, by the end, was just plain bland. Far stronger was the lemon sorbet – almost to a fault. The bold citrusy tartness just managed to stay on the right side of Jif-ness.
Dri Dri isn’t too bad, but it really needs to try harder. Much harder.
Star rating: ★★★☆☆
A longtime Chiswick institution, this odd café-hotel combo also has a gelato counter and you can enjoy your ice cream at the café boothes decorated with faux fresco panels.
The Blue Banana wild card had a mild tang that was oddly evocative of both banana and bubble gum. Although only mild, the tang did at least persist rather than fade over time. It was also pleasingly elastic and smooth, which is more than can be said for the oddly clumpy and chunky pistachio. It did at least have a moderately strong nuttiness that also stayed the course.
I have no complaints about the lemon sorbet though. It was not only very smooth without any hint of iciness or excessively uncomfortable coldness, but it also maintained an excellent balance between a sour tang on one hand and a light sugary sweetness on the other. Few lemon sorbets are better than Foubert’s.
Foubert’s odd little inconsistencies are worrying, but there’s still plenty to enjoy here making it a must visit if you’re passing through or visiting Chiswick.
Gelateria Danieli has an impressive empire if you believe its website, but its vaunted Shaftesbury Avenue branch has long since closed and I’m somewhat (but not completely) certain that one of its Kingston branches has closed as well.
It is just about worth joining the queues at its definitely open pair of branches in southwest London though. The branch near Kingston green rustled up a buttery smooth and dense pistachio gelato, its sumptuous mouthfeel almost making up for its understated nuttiness.
The honeycomb wild card had a similar mouth feel to the pistachio, but the few scabs of honeycomb had precious little in the way of sweet viscousness or crunch. Of all the honeycomb ice creams I’ve had in London, this is one of the least impressive – gelato or otherwise.
A few clumps interrupted the smoothness of the lemon sorbet, but the texture was generally smooth sailing. Sadly though, the tart citrusy hit dissipated quickly.
The slick mouthfeel of Gelateria Danieli’s confections isn’t matched by the flavours. Still, you could do far, far worse.
Although a little way off Notting Hill’s main drag, this branch of Gelato Mio is still more than easily accessible to pull in tourists and locals alike.
Gelato Mio’s main wares were decidedly middle of the road. Both gelato were reasonably smooth and elastic, but not especially so. The pistachio was lacking in intensity, but it was still distinctly nutty and it didn’t fade over time.
The wild card peanut butter combined moderate sweetness and salty nuttiness. Although it did a passable job of capturing the essence of the source material, the flavour faded a little too quickly for my liking. At least the lemon sorbet was a winner in the strength stakes – powerfully tart and sour, balanced out by a touch of sweetness. The sorbet was a tad too clumpy though.
There’s the basis for some good churned treats at Gelato Mio, but for now it’s merely okay rather than anything truly outstanding.
Gelatorino is the best of Covent Garden’s unsurprisingly numerous gelateria, but that’s more of a half-hearted recommendation that an unbridled enthusiastic cheer. Although smoother and more elastic than an Olympic gymnast, the initial nutty hit of the pistachio faded disappointingly quickly.
The fig ripple wild card was similarly superb in mouth feel, but its transient gritty syrupy sweetness just wasn’t good enough. Once again in this group test, and not for the last time, it was the lemon sorbet to the rescue. Although a bit clumpy here and there, it was generally smooth. A generally balanced hit of sweetness and sour tanginess was hewing a little closer to the latter, but it was still a very well-made lemon sorbet overall.
Gelatorino isn’t bad, but, like a recalcitrant teenager, it needs to try harder and apply itself more consistently.
Star rating: ★★★☆☆
Gelo Bar (formerly Bella Gelato)
Located deep within the bowels of Bayswater’s underground bowling and ice rink complex, Gelo Bar has the glossy dead-eyed feel of a franchised chain but seems to be an independent concession, or at least a standalone creation of the complex owners, as far as I can tell.
Gelo Bar’s concoctions have all the appetising appeal of a refrigerated tube of food colouring. It’s honestly hard to tell what’s more dispiriting about the pistachio – its utter blandness, its icy crunch or its hilarious mint green colour.
Then there’s the ‘Kinda Bueno’ wild card which was dominated by the occasional crunch of cheap chocolate and livened up only by faint hints of hazelnut. Although not as icy as the pistachio, it was still too crystalline for my liking. I’m not sure if the Yoplait-esque strawberry was a gelato or a sorbet – the droopy dude behind the counter didn’t know and it was so icy that it really doesn’t count as either. Even so, its artificial flavour will only appeal to indiscriminate six-year olds.
If you find yourself bowling or ice skating in Bayswater, don’t buy Gelo Bar’s gelato. If someone one buys it for you, bin it. Best thing for it.
Gelupo (Archer Street branch)
Gelupo is a spin-off of highly regarded Italian restaurant Bocca di Lupo. There are two branches within close proximity of each other in Soho – one directly opposite Bocca di Lupo itself and another within the same premises as Vico, Bocca’s sister restaurant.
Although the Vico branch is larger, I actually prefer the smaller original as the staff there tend to be far friendlier. Both of the Gelupo gelato I tried had superb elasticity and were exceptionally creamy and smooth, coming very close to the Roman standard.
Disappointingly though, the pistachio was only moderately nutty which is a let down as I’ve had pistachio gelato from Gelupo before that adeptly captured the pith and crunch of the nut. The wild card caramel and liquorice was also similarly underwhelming with a muted caramelishness and only a mildly bitter hint of liquorice. The blood orange sorbet was a winner though – bracingly cool without any icy crunchiness, fortified with the distinctively sweet tang of blood orange.
Gelupo’s unevenness was unsettling, but it still edges into Four Star territory thanks to the top-notch mouthfeel of its gelato and its exceedingly well-crafted fruit sorbet.
Star rating: ★★★★☆
Ice and Slice
As its name suggests, Ice and Slice serves the quintessential Italian classics of gelato and Roman-style pizza. This conceit, combined with its Fulham location, makes it a hot spot for flirting couples prettier and younger than I am.
I don’t want to get too involved in the pizzas as this is a gelato round-up, but their Romanesque pizzas aren’t as good as the Eternal City’s best. The focaccia-like crusts were far too thick and stodgy. The nduja had little of the promised spicy sausage, which meant this pizza ended up resembling a stodgily unappetising margarita due to its subpar mozzarella and tomatoes. The speck and courgette was dominated by woody, salty but not especially fatty speck. This would normally be fine, but the stodgy base spoiled it for me.
Despite the uninspiring levels of elasticity, Ice and Slice’s gelato still managed to have some respectable levels of smoothness. Flavours were lacking though – the pistachio was only mildly nutty at best, while the salted caramel tasted mostly of caramel. And not especially good caramel at that.
The lemon sorbet was similarly drab. Although smooth, it was neither sweet enough nor tart enough.
There’s a reason Ice and Slice seems to be patronised almost exclusively by couples – anyone who isn’t tasting someone else’s tonsils has gone somewhere better instead.
Il Gelato di Ariela
Il Gelato di Ariela seems to supply a handful of restaurants and cafes, but it does make occasional appearances as a stand at markets such as the South Bank street food market. I could only try two flavours instead of three – due to my lack of change (stupid malfunctioning debit card) and the limited choice on offer (this is a street food stall after all).
The Eton Mess was reasonably smooth, but not exceptionally so, and lacked both denseness and elasticity. Moderately crunchy meringue bits made up for the very weak fruitiness. If only Il Gelato di Ariela had stocked pistachio, then I might have avoided this disappointing wild card.
Mango sorbet was mango in name only, while occasional crunchy spots of ice ruined the otherwise reasonable level of smoothness.
Joe Delucci’s (Westfield White City)
I was quite surprised to stumble upon a Joe Delucci’s kiosk near the western entrance of the consumerist cathedral that is the Shepherd’s Bush Westfield. I’ve had several tubs of Joe Delucci’s supermarket-stocked take-home gelato, all of which turned out to be surprisingly decent.
I therefore had high hopes for the Westfield concession, all of which were summarily dashed. Both gelato were surprisingly lumpy with no elasticity, actually making them worse than the supermarket versions.
The pistachio’s mild nuttiness faded quickly, while the lumpy and clodden mango sorbet was far too sharp and bruising. It wasn’t quite as harshly tangy as the very worst cheap and nasty mango sorbets, but it was still a parody of the fruit.
I somehow doubt that the Oreo wild card is an officially licensed spin-off. It did have a very mild taste of the oddly artificial, but nonetheless enjoyable and distinctive sweet crumb of the original biscuit. It’s still not as evocative of the source material as the officially licensed Oreo ice creams though and is, overall, a poor gelato too.
It takes a special kind of industrial incompetence to produce two different kinds of mass produced gelato, one of which is markedly worse than others. If they gave out Raspberry awards for mass dessert production, then Joe Delucci’s would scoop every award going.
This compact and originally named gelateria is almost always busy in even modestly warm weather given both its close proximity to Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square, and also due to the surprisingly early closing times of much of its Covent Garden competition.
A wild card gelato of basil and chilli did manage to have the sweet herbiness of the former, but no chilli heat whatsoever that I could detect. The taste of basil faded quickly too. The texture also needed work – it was ever so slightly elastic with its modest smoothness interrupted by the occasional stray ice crystal. These weren’t big enough or populous enough to be a real problem, but were still annoying enough to undermine my already fractured enjoyment of this gelato.
The pistachio variant wasn’t especially elastic or dense either, but did nonetheless have a reasonable degree of smoothness. Its nuttiness was drearily generic though and not consistently strong in intensity either.
Oddly, the mango sorbet had more elasticity than either of the gelato. Its sweet buttery creamy fruitiness was initially very rich, but didn’t quite maintain its evocative strength over the course of the scoop.
La Gelateria’s confections are surprisingly hard to judge. While not actively awful or completely without merit, its wares were flawed enough that I find its overwhelming popularity to be somewhat unjustifiable. Okay but not dire – a Three Star ‘if you must’ gelato option it is.
If I gave stars purely for minimalist, evocative names then Lick would romp home with top marks. While the portions at this Soho gelato and coffee place are generously large, the texture of the two gelato I tried weren’t nearly elastic or smooth enough. Indeed, both were surprisingly watery which just is indefensibly bad.
Surprisingly, pistachio wasn’t available on the night of my visit so I had to opt for the hazelnut instead. It mild flavour faded relatively quick. The wild card matcha green tea flavour was only marginally more satisfactory. It had a moderately strong and consistent flavour of matcha, but this distinctive flavour was also accompanied by the bitter oily tang common to many shoddily-made matcha-based and derived desserts.
Lemon sorbet wasn’t available, so I had to settle for the mango variant instead. The rich sweetness of mango was modestly strong, but only somewhat true to the fruit. It wandered into parody territory at time, verging on sickly sweetness. Its lumpy texture was unimpressive too.
Lick is generous with its portions and stays open late everyday of the week, but these advantages can’t outweigh the remarkably poor quality of its gelato and sorbet. Gelupo is the better Soho gelato bet.
Mantovani 1946 is a franchised chain with branches predominately located in Italy, but with a handful of overseas outposts in Panama (!) and on Tottenham Court Road. The plain frontage is almost too minimalist and classily subdued, making it easy to miss.
Although clumpy and not elastic enough, Mantovani’s pistachio gelato still had an even and supple level of smoothness. This went well with the consistently strong nutty flavour.
The trifle-esque wild card Zuppa Inglese was less the custard and sponge trifle it was supposed to be like and more akin to a rum and raisin. Creamy with a hint of booze and some small fruity sweet raisin bits, this combination of flavours went well with the smooth, if occasionally clumpy texture.
After the bold flavours of the gelato, the disappointing zestiness of the lemon sorbet was absent to the point of non-existence. Still, at least this smooth white sphere was crunchy crystal blemish-free.
Although Mantovani’s gelato and sorbet are a little uneven in places, they’re still well-crafted and enjoyable enough to make this gelateria worth visiting. Hopefully, it’s a place that will improve over time.
Marine Ices is a Camden institution, having been in business for decades, yet it’s surprisingly attractive on the inside eschewing the bohemian grot that tends to characterise the rest of the neighbourhood. The stereotypical Italianate vistas on the walls might not be real frescoes, but they’re still charming.
The pistachio gelato had a bold nuttiness, but it faded relatively quickly. Although its mouth feel wasn’t exceptional, it did have a reasonably elastic and creamy consistency.
Oddly, the wild card honey and ginger had a very different texture and not for the better. It was far too icy, verging on crunchiness. It was dominated by candied ginger that gave this confection a modest hit of spice. The only presence of honey was from a very subtle undertone hinting at sweet viscosity.
Even worse was the blood orange sorbet which tasted of nothing and had a coarse texture of packed ice. If I wanted a Slushie, I would’ve got one from a newsagent at a fraction of Marine Ice’s prices.
Marine Ices is a prime example of a venerable institution that’s been sitting on its laurels. It might once have had good gelato and sorbet, but it certainly doesn’t now.
Star rating: ★★☆☆☆
Morelli’s gelato has to be very good indeed to justify both its high prices (£7 for three scoops!) and the aggravatingly touristy location of its Covent Garden branch. Although only mildly elastic, its pair of gelato were still surprisingly dense imparting a fair degree of smoothness.
Unfortunately, the moderate nuttiness of the pistachio faded very quickly despite the presence of actual pistachio pieces. The chocolate, chestnut and rose water wild card tasted little of chestnut, was cursed by uninterestingly dull chocolate and thus tasted mostly of rose water. It’s as if they tried to get the licence for Cadbury’s Turkish Delight, failed, yet decided to press ahead inadvisedly anyway.
Most lemon sorbets err on the side of too much tanginess. Morelli’s lemon sorbet goes the opposite way – it was a tad too sweet. At least it was smooth and not at all icy.
Such middling gelato and sorbet might be acceptable as a last resort at normal prices, but Morelli’s inflated pricing relegates it to the bush leagues.
My favourite things about this Clapham gelateria are two entirely superficial but nonetheless charming details. Firstly, the fact that the management had the good sense to stop selling frozen yoghurt and to remove the corresponding lettering from the main sign (even if their outlines are still visible). There’s nothing wrong with frozen yoghurt, but there’s no need for it in any good, self-respecting gelateria. Secondly, the wonderfully tall man at the till with his high-pitched, sing-song voice. Never leave, strange camp voice man, never leave.
Although Nardulli’s pistachio gelato was only moderately strong in its nuttiness, at least this flavour never faded. I couldn’t fault the superb smoothness, elasticity and dense thickness though. In either case, it was far better than the lemon sorbet which was a bit too clumpy and only modestly tart.
The fig wild card wasn’t as exemplary as the pistachio when it came to texture, managing only a modest level of smoothness and elasticity. It did manage to capture the essence of the fruit, largely by including actual extant fleshy bits of the coarse, treacly sweet fig in the gelato itself. It’s cheating, but I can live with it.
Nardulli’s is far from bad, but it can do better. Until it does, leave this gelateria to the local yummy mummies and their infuriating strollers unless you happen to find yourself in Clapham.
This nomadic street food stand only ever has a handful of flavours available due to the limitations enforced by its itinerant nature. They’re also only available in a cone, which ruffled my cup-only sensibilities. Although the cone and huge scoops inevitably led to a lot of mess, I couldn’t help but admire the careful and very deliberate scooping.
No pistachio was available, which left room for a second wild card gelato. Eton Mess was wonderfully smooth and elastic. It had a light sugary sweetness alongside its creaminess, but I failed to discern much fruitiness never mind any meringue. It was a similar story with the Rhubarb Custard with Ginger Biscuit Crumb. The same smooth elasticity made a welcome reappearance. The sharp sweetness of rhubarb contrasted neatly with a custardish creaminess verging on the buttery, but there was little of the promised ginger biscuit crumb.
There was no lemon sorbet on the day of my visit, just a raspberry and mint sorbet. It was surprisingly elastic – just as much as the pair of gelati. It had the sharp, distinctive sweetness of raspberry, but very little mint. It was not at all icy, but was still refreshingly cold.
Although Nonna’s Gelato doesn’t get everything right, it’s accomplished enough that you should definitely seek out this street food stand if it pops up in a street food market near you.
The branches of this small chain tend to be located in the more fi-fi parts of town, but that shouldn’t put you off as Oddono’s gelato tended to be of a reasonably high quality. They were consistently creamy and elastic without any hint of crunchy iciness.
The pistachio only had occasional hits of nuttiness, but its peaks of evocative pith-like character was emphasised by actual bits of crunchy nut. The wild card peanut butter did a surprisingly good job of capturing the heavy sweet crunchy nuttiness of the source material along with a suggestion, but only a suggestion, of sticky viscosity.
Oddono’s lemon sorbet was just how I like my lovers – smooth and cool without being uncomfortably cold. It had the distinctive sweet and sour tang of lemon, balancing both and not wandering into mouth pursing Jif territory.
Oddono’s isn’t perfect, but it nonetheless does a good job of producing high quality gelato and sorbet at scale. If you happen upon a branch, descend upon it with an open maw and your credit card post haste.
Star rating: ★★★★☆
Olivogelo’s gleaming white minimalist décor is especially welcome in the lifeless streets around Victoria coach station. Given its alleged Sicilian roots, it felt only right to sample the Sicilian nougat gelato. Although lacking in elasticity, it was nonetheless very smooth. Best of all was the taste – a joyful amond crunch combined with a milkiness and a saffron-like under taste.
The joy of the Sicilian nougat made the tame and faded pistachio all the more disappointing. The mandarin sorbet made up for it though with its supple smoothness, powerfully fruity sweetness and evocatively tangy finish.
Olivogelo’s underwhelming pistachio gelato is all the more disappointing given the high quality of everything else. Still, Olivogelo is a must visit.
Star rating: ★★★★☆
Scoop’s various branches across Zone 1 have a cheap and cheerful appearance which is more than can be said for its gelato. The almost brown-coloured pisatchio was reasonably nutty, but this was offset by its paste-like consistency that almost resembled plasticene.
The wild card cherry and milk was less heavy and leaden, but it had an overly medicinal sweetness akin to Calpol. I like the taste of Calpol (I had a sickly childhood), but that this was far too unpleasant and bore little resemblance to the actual fruit.
The tang of the mango sorbet verged on sourness and was far too artificial tasting. Oddly, the sorbet was more pleasingly elastic than either the pistachio or cherry and milk gelati.
Scoop’s branches are conveniently located, but I can only bear to drag my bloated carcass into one for a sorbet. The gelato just weren’t worth it.
Located on a stretch of Holloway Road not too far from Arsenal’s Emirates stadium, Sensations looks and feels like the bastard offspring of Sprinkles in all its garishly decorated glory.
Sensations’ pistachio gelato was reasonably elastic, but it wasn’t creamy enough and instead had a more paste-like consistency which was just as unpleasant as it sounds. Its nuttiness was very subdued, making for a very unsatisfactory experience.
Sensations’ kit kat gelato was very odd. Like the pistachio, it had an unusual paste-like consistency and was even less pleasing than the pistachio due to its underwhelming taste. It was mildly malty, but it had none of the biscuit crunch or cheap sweetness of low-grade milk chocolate that makes Kit Kat such a guilty pleasure.
The mango sorbet was a bit too icy in places, but it was otherwise quite smooth with a moderately sweet and evocative mango tang. It’s a mild impersonation of the fruit at best, but it was the one pleasure of the evening next to the two scoops of deformed gelato.
Holloway Road isn’t the most glamourous stretch of London you’ll ever come across, but it doesn’t deserve such poor quality gelato as this. The only sensation I feel at Sensations is icy resentment.
Slice and More
Like Fulham’s Ice and Slice, this Old Street eatery sells gelato alongside pizza. The name is slightly deceptive though as it only seems to sell pizza in either whole or half-pie portions – not individual slices. Before we get onto Slice and More’s gelato, a few words about the pizza. Although the pizza dough was thin and reasonably fluffy at the centre, it became much harder and uncomfortably chewy the further out towards the crust.
Pepperoni actually had some spice for once and was joined by surprisingly elastic and creamy mozzarella, which made up for the muted tomato sauce. A capricciosa used the same tomato and mozzarella base as the pepperoni. The unremarkable ham and mushroom was livened up by some unexpectedly salty, yielding olives and supple, reasonably bitter artichoke segments.
Although the pistachio gelato wasn’t elastic at all, it was reasonably dense with a creamy mouthfeel. Rather than nuttiness, it tasted more like matcha green tea with a lightly oily bitter tang. Odd and not unpleasant, but not what I want from a pistachio gelato. A lack of any interesting wild card flavours whatsoever led me to plump for the chocolate. It had a similar texture to the pistachio, but its mild nutty sweetness bore more of a resemblance to nutella than to dark or milk chocolate.
The less said about the lemon sorbet the better. It was far too lumpy with crunchy ice crystals, while its muted flavour occasionally spiked into a one note tartness.
Slice and More is only really good for a late night feed and treat if you’re staggering home from a night out in Shoreditch/Hoxton. It’s not much good for anything else.
I wasn’t expecting much from this late night Soho gelato joint, so I was pleasantly surprised by the buttery smoothness and superb elasticity of its gelato. Plus, both of the gelato I tried managed to be bracingly, refreshingly cold without any hint of iciness.
The pistachio was consistently and profoundly nutty with the taste of pith. The apple and cinnamon wild card was lightly tart, but was entirely lacking the warm spice of cinnamon.
I could’ve opted for the usual lemon sorbet, but the papaya flavour caught my eye. It had a candy-like sugary sweetness that didn’t really capture the subtle nuances of the fruit. Even so, like the gelato, it was very supple in its smoothness.
Although only the only confection at Snowflake to sweep the board was the pistachio gelato, everything else still had something superb enough to write home about. Snowflake isn’t quite as special as it could be, but it’s unlikely you’ll come away from this gelateria unhappy.
Star rating: ★★★★☆
If there’s one thing grimmer than the grey stretch of Finchley outside Sprinkles’ door, then it’s the cheap porn star bourdoir décor inside the door. It truly is a pulsatingly garish sight to behold.
What matters though is the gelato and here Sprinkles come up short as well. While reasonably elastic and smooth, the pistachio gelato’s transient nuttiness was flaccid to the point of non-existence. The similarly textured ‘Crème Egg’ managed to capture the sweet milkiness of the chocolate’s ‘egg white’, but it had none of the tanginess or creaminess of the ‘yolk’ and, perhaps mercifully, none of the sharp sweet tang of cheap and nasty Cadbury’s chocolate. Or the taste of any chocolate at all, for that matter.
The lemon sorbet was very tart, but not unbearably so. It was almost consistently smooth, with only an icy spot or two letting the side down.
There might be a good all-rounder gelato among Sprinkles’ cascading cavalcade of concoctions, but I doubt it.
Unico is located in the town centre of Bromley, one of southeastern London’s most spotless boroughs and also one of its most crushingly dull. It’s the last place I’d expect to find a gelateria – especially one backed by professional footballers. In a neat touch, there are power sockets with USB ports underneath the bar-style tables.
The plating is utterly ridiculous though – squeezing three large scoops into a wee little cup the size of Donald Trump’s modesty was a surefire recipe for drippage. It’s worth putting up with though – the superb levels of smoothness and elasticity were simply brilliant. Although arguably verging onto soft scoop territory, the scoops of gelato had just enough density to avoid such ignominy.
The strong pistachio flavour almost had an edge of pithiness and was consistently strong regardless. Despite the cheat of having a hot bottom layer of dark, bittersweet chocolate sauce, the Due Torri wild card was nonetheless immensely pleasing. The mascarpone gelato was more buttery than milky, but it was still nonetheless delightful – especially as it had the same silky texture as the pistachio gelato. It would’ve been more than good enough on its own – combined with the cheating chocolate sauce and it was simply divine.
The smooth lemon sorbet was a good ‘un too, neatly balancing sour and sweet in a cool, refreshing spherical package.
I never thought I’d find top-notch gelato in Zone 5 of all places, but that’s London for you. It’s full of surprises and so is Unico.
Star rating: ★★★★★
If I was the proprietor of Woolwich’s Urban Ice then I’d be mightily annoyed with my builders. As I have a safe house nearby, I’ve witnessed Urban Ice’s long struggle to furnish and fit out its gutted premises. Beginning back in April 2016, this dessert eatery finally opened in early September having missed most of the summer. Although Urban Ice also sells waffles, cakes, milkshakes and coffee, I would be greatly irritated if my business had missed out on a long hot summer ideal for selling gelato.
Having said that, Urban Ice’s gelato barely deserves the name. Both the gelati I tried were admittedly smooth and free of ice crystals, if lacking in denseness and elasticity. But the drab looking pistachio tasted of little more than vanilla.
The wild card Oreo and bubblegum was embedded with actual Oreo cookies in the display case, but my server neglected to include even a fragment in my scoop. Its sugary sweetness was admittedly true to actual bubblegum, but it was so cloying that it take several glugs of water to wash away the aftertaste.
Both of the miserable gelati were masterpieces next to the lemon sorbet. The lumpy consistency was bad; the diluted Sprite-like flavour was diabolical.
If the slapdash and godforsaken gelato are any indication, then I’d be very wary indeed about the rest of Urban Ice’s menu.
Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Venchi was the least impressive of the gelato sellers I had the chance to try in Rome, so I held out little hope that its small Covent Garden shop could do any better. Venchi’s small portion size – around 1/3 to half the size of other three scoop cups – wasn’t a good start unless you count it as a crude form of calorie control.
Surprisingly, the salted toffee wasn’t all bad. Essentially Venchi’s take on the postmodern-ish salted caramel, the caramelised sweetness wasn’t too overpowering which is just as well as the hint of saltiness present wasn’t enough to counterbalance it. It was pleasingly elastic, supple and smooth though.
This made the unexpectedly clumpy pistachio all the more surprising, although it eventually smoothed out into a reasonable resemblance of supple evenness. The feeble nuttiness faded quickly though.
Venchi’s lemon sorbet was a bit too icy and crunchy for my liking. Oddly, it somehow managed to have a sour tang of the fruit but without the accompanying citrusy zest. That’s an accomplishment, if an unwelcome one.
Despite the spot-on mouth feel of Venchi’s gelato, its amateurish flavours, the bomb of a sorbet and small portion sizes make this gelateria almost as bad value as the neighbouring Morelli’s.
Vero Gelato (at Gastronomia Italia)
Vero Gelato is a sub-brand from DiSotto and separate from the food service catering company’s dismal own-brand gelato. It’s stocked less widely than the main DiSotto brand gelato which is a good thing, as it means you’re less likely to inflict it upon yourself. Gastronomia Italiana is a charmingly fusty Italian deli near Victoria. I can’t speak to the quality of its other wares, but Gastronomia Italiana isn’t doing itself any favours by stocking Vero Gelato flavours.
Pistachio had a reasonably strong nuttiness at first, but it faded quickly. It was moderately elastic and smooth, but not exceptionally so. In the absence of any sorbets, I plumped for the strawberry which was far too thin and watery and did a poor impression of a diluted Yoplait.
The wild card caramel crunch had a very vague caramelishness to it, with an occasional crunch provided by small dreary chocolate balls that might have been in the same room as some proper chocolate once. It was at least somewhat elastic and smooth.
Vero Gelato is somewhat better than the main DiSotto brand gelato, but that’s not saying much.
Wafflemeister (Westfield Stratford)
This waffle chain also sells gelato, or at least it does at its concession nestled deep inside the mindnumbing labyrinth that is the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford. The pistachio gelato was far too airy and wispy – it just wasn’t dense, elastic or supple enough. The flavour wasn’t very impressive either – the very mild nuttiness faded with indecent haste.
The wild card creme brulee gelato was somewhat creamy and buttery compared to the pistachio, but it was still too airy and wispy for its own good. There was no attempt to replicate or evoke the crisp crust and custardy nature of a creme brulee, leaving me to puzzle at the point of this gelato’s existence.
Unsurprisingly, given the poor textural quality of the gelati, the mango sorbet was too watery. This did at least mean that it didn’t suffer from any of the excessive iciness that blighted other gutter-level sorbets in this group test. The sweet tang of mango was moderate in strength and consistency, but its one note sweetness tasted a little artificial.
Why Wafflemeister? Why?
It’s a little depressing that there’s still so much poor quality gelato so widely available throughout London. In the end, though, the positives outweigh the negatives. Although not quite meeting the Roman standard, there is also some excellent quality gelato and sorbet to be had in the Big Smoke.
Honourable mentions go to Nonna’s Gelato and Mantovani 1946 – their icy treats may be flawed, but they’re still heads and shoulders above many other vendors in the capital. Coming out on top are Gelupo, Oddono’s, Olivogelo and Snowflake. Although all fall a little short in one way or another, they all still serve superlative gelati and sorbet that’s absolutely worth your time, calories and money.
Those four cover a decent geographical swathe of London, but the very best gelato in my books lies far out south in Bromley, zone 5, of all places. Unico’s gelato and sorbet comes closest to meeting the Roman standard, which, in this context, really is the highest praise I can think of. Since most people won’t be willing to travel that far (which is fine given the four other superlative options located elsewhere), Bromley-ites should count their lucky stars.
you should check out Fabulous Ice Fires in East Dulwich as a priority – suspect it would make it to your list of winners.
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