Tucked away in the West End of London, La Gelatiera is a hidden (iced) gem for ice cream enthusiasts. The tiny shop is decked out with reclaimed wood and funkily-angled mirrors, a quirky, individual look which complements the owners’ commitment to natural, organic produce and experimental flavours. ICIP has been a fan of their gelato for some time, popping in regularly to sample flavours such as salted caramel, candied chestnut and basil and chilli. However, when news reached us that they’d teamed up with London Fields Brewery to produce a range of beer sorbets, we knew we had to find out more.
We are welcomed by owners Stephane Leyvraz and Antonio Parisi, who serve us up a scoop of their Love Not War sorbet. London Fields originally made this beer whilst holed up in the brewery during the 2011 London riots, a 4.2% red ale with a mixed blast of German, NZ and American hops, finished off with a dry hopping of Amarillo for added bite.
It was interesting to taste these flavours translated into the sorbet. It had a very rich, smooth quality with a punch of aniseed and pear which was less detectable when drinking the beer straight.
“There’s a caramel taste as well, so it’s very flavoursome,” says Stephane. “You almost feel it on your tongue. Not too fizzy, but a little.” Beer seems like quite a left-field choice for a sorbet, even by La Gelatiera’s experimental standards. Were they always confident it would work? “English beer makes good sorbets, because it’s bitter.” Antonio explains. “It works with the sugar. If you used another kind, a lager for instance, it would be too sweet.”
This is the third beer sorbet La Gelatiera have made with London Fields, the others being made from Hackney Hopster and Black Path Porter (both 4.2%), and they have been shipped out to be sold at the brewery tap where they’ve been a big success over the summer. “It’s still kind of a novelty,” says Stephane. “Which is good, we like it. When people try it, they are surprised, like you were.”
La Gelatiera is planning to maintain its relationship with the brewery, and maybe try playing around with yet more flavours and methods: “they said they would send us some malt after it has been used for the first fermentation,” says Stephane. “It’s quite interesting. Not taking the finished product but taking some of the ingredients and half of the process and seeing what we can do with it.”
The gelato makers have a history of producing boozy sorbets: “We have made sake, champagne, rum…” offers Antonio. “The vodka and melon was quite popular, we did Tequila Mockingbird with gooseberry… there’s a bar called The Cellar Door and they used our Campari sorbet in a cocktail which won an award!” adds Stephane.
We’ve all tried to make vodka jelly as students. The damn stuff won’t set and won’t freeze. So how do the gelato virtuosos make it work? “It depends on the alcohol content; the percentage of alcohol you are working with,” says Antonio. “There is a formula for that. At first we test it before it is frozen, with the sugars and the other ingredients, and then you freeze it and taste it and try it. We have a draft recipe which sets the sugar content, water content, fibres, making sure it has some air in it, but not too much… from there we can change the ingredients.”
La Gelatiera are advocates of the Slow Food movement, which encourages people to choose nutritious food, from sustainable, local sources. They have struck up relationships with suppliers all around London, and prepare as much of their ice cream ingredients on-site as possible. The only exception are 100% pure pastes, such as the one used for their Sicilian pistachio gelato. They even bake a wide range of cakes and pastries in their underground kitchen.
You’d think that as summer becomes a distant memory, ice cream would be off the menu for most people, but La Gelatiera has a full seasonal line-up planned for autumn and winter. Stephane mentions pumpkin, sweet potato and celeriac as a few of the flavours we can expect to see coming up soon. Last Christmas they did both mulled wine and merlot sorbets, and they are keen to try more stouts and porters going into the colder months.
When ICIP quizzes Antonio and Stephane on their previous experiments, they mention flavours as weird and wonderful as cucumber, balsamic vinegar, onion and porcini mushroom. But even they have to draw a line somewhere. “There was one which was really foul… houmous and carrot,” admits Stephane. “Vile. You could feel the fat of the houmous on your tongue; it left a film on the palate everywhere… I never tasted something as bad. Honestly. I swear on my life.”
But that hasn’t stopped them pushing the envelope. “In three week’s time we’re going to have black garlic,” Stephane says with glee. “Apparently it’s very toffee-like, almost like a caramel. It’s slowly fermented and it’s still in the shell… it’s very dark.”
ICIP will definitely be back to give it a try.
La Gelatiera can be found at 27 New Row, London, WC2N 4LA