Cream of the crop
Cities tempt us – and keep us keen – with the promise of excitement and opportunity but they can be tough taskmasters too. Perhaps the relentlessness of living in them is the reason that, when the mercury creeps up, the prospect of stopping and clutching a cooling cone (or licking a lolly for that matter) is such a tempting one. Whether you’re perched on a bench in Barceloneta or sauntering through Soho on a balmy day in the Big Apple, there’s an indulgent air to snaffling a chilly treat before wending your way. Ice cream also contains a curious bundle of allusions: some hedonistic (even suggestive), others bound up with memories of childhood and innocence. One thing’s for sure: there’s a reason children don’t crow for carrots and why few foods unite young and old, or strangers and friends, as much as an impulsively bought ice cream. We hope you enjoy our sunny salute to spontaneity, city living and ice cream’s joyous role in both.
Eyescream and Friends
Few cities attract the kind of crowds that Barcelona’s pavements endure on a daily basis. And the further you venture towards the Mediterranean that laps at its shores, the heavier the footfall. It is said that before the port was developed for the 1992 Olympic Games, Barcelona was a city with its back to the ocean because there was little reason to visit the dilapidated coastal neighbourhood of Barceloneta – unless you were a sailor or a certain sort on the tout for a tart.
“Today Barceloneta is a year-round draw for locals and tourists,” says Federico Mendoza, the entrepreneur behind Eyescream and Friends. “When we were looking for a spot to open our shop in 2012 we knew it had to be here.” Mendoza opened the parlour in a small shopfront with his partner Joad López on the busy Paseo de Joan de Borbó when they saw an opportunity to bring the Asian penchant for shaved ice to Europe. “Joad had been travelling in Asia and had seen how popular it was,” says Mendoza. “We saw it as a chance to do something new at home.”
The pair then set about developing the concept, which sees a solid block of ice cream – made almost daily from a mix of local and the best Italian ingredients – attached to a rotating arm and lowered onto a blade that shaves off whirls of frozen helado into a pot, where it is then adorned with candy eyes and a choice of toppings. The idea has proven so popular that they began exporting the Eyescream and Friends concept in 2016 and currently have three shops in Singapore and Dubai, with two more opening in Kuwait and Malaysia in the next few months.
But while our ice-man mission began at said shop, we were also lured through Barcelona’s tight streets as we tracked down a whole city that seems to be based around an agreeable dilemma: one scoop or two?
The Market SE1
Along Japan’s Shonan coast, 50km southwest of Tokyo, The Market se1 is a rarity: a place to get homemade gelato. It’s odd that there aren’t more options, given that there’s been no end to Japan’s experiments with ice cream since it was brought to these shores from the US in the latter half of the 19th century.
Today all of the customers huddled around the gelateria’s glass display case are locals. “Sometimes you know the other people, sometimes you don’t,” says 59-year-old Mitsuru Kamishoji, an antiques dealer and part-time photographer. “But we all talk.”
It’s a bright and balmy afternoon. A young couple occupies the bench beneath the shop’s awning. Every few minutes a tram clangs past the temple on the far side of the road. Kamishoji – goatee, unbuttoned Aloha shirt, comfortable walking shoes – has come to satisfy his daily ice-cream craving before he strolls down to the beach five minutes away. He’s been a regular since 2009, when Yasuo Atarashi opened the place. “I always get the same flavour,” says Kamishoji. “Milk.” “He doesn’t have to say anything,” says Atarashi from behind the counter. “He walks in and I start scooping.”
Atarashi named his shop after the postcode for London’s Borough Market, his favourite place to shop for food during the decade he spent in the UK capital. Back then he worked as a chef at top restaurants and for Honda’s F1 racing team. But a desire to be at home in the evenings with his wife and young son prompted him to return to his homeland and make gelato and ice lollies. “I thought I’d get to take it easy,” says the 46-year-old.
Atarashi produces gelato in two-litre batches using milk from grass-fed Brown Swiss cows raised in the mountains of Shimane and beet sugar from Hokkaido. He buys fresh fruit (and sometimes saké) from small producers or grows herbs in his garden. When he runs out of a flavour he makes something new. It’s the scarcity – of, say, lychee and cucumber, amazake (sweet, fermented rice juice) or peach-pineapple – that draws people in.
But that’s not all. Locals say it’s also the comfort of knowing that they can come alone and not feel lonely (the space is barely big enough for six people). They might be eager to celebrate or in need of some joy. There’s the housewife who gets antsy if she doesn’t come once a week and the father who brings his young son as part of their routine on his days off. Atarashi’s breezy chatter – about Japanese race-car drivers, a recent fireworks festival or the state of his Fiat Panda – puts everyone at ease. “Running an ice-cream shop is about providing medicine for the spirit,” he says.
You can always tell when the tourists wander in: they’re the ones minding their own business and then slipping away quietly when they’re finished.
A couple mosey along Naples’ curving bay; a child balances on a sea wall; an elderly mother and middle-aged daughter sit shoulder to shoulder. Each is engaged in the same enterprise: slowly devouring a creamy gelato from Chalet Ciro in the haze of the mid-afternoon sun.
Ciro is a landmark, a modest seafront snack-stand opened in 1952, whose product reels in Neapolitans of all stripes. In Naples a chalet – unlike its Alpine namesake – is an alfresco affair and a title given to the food kiosks that line the city’s harbour. Ciro’s is one of the largest, with golden-yellow awnings and two long vitrines where patrons (up to 2,000 a day) swarm in anticipation of a cooling treat. “It’s a concert of people,” says Antonio De Martino, owner and grandson of the founder, wearing a blue suit and tie despite the beating sun.
Over the years Ciro has served gelato to countless famous actors and politicians but De Martino shrugs off the attention. “We’re the standard,” he says. “Every part of society comes here – it’s like the football stadium.” A patio full of idle chatterers makes it more all-ages pub garden than sports arena: patrons loll in wicker chairs surrounded by a thicket of palm trees and served by decorous waiters in white shirtsleeves, vests and bow ties. At the register customers collect their favourite flavours in cups, cones or in Ciro’s renowned conograffa: a cone modelled on the typical Neapolitan graffa, a fluffy but still deep-fried cousin of the doughnut.
Born in ancient Rome as an icy dessert, gelato turned creamy during the Renaissance when it became a regular on the dinner tables of the well-to-do. Ice cream around the world descended from this Italian forebear but rather than the cream used abroad, Italian gelato is still made from milk. Neapolitans, however, favour an extra touch of indulgence. “Gelato in Naples is richer than in the north of Italy,” says De Martino, who adds a bit of cream to the traditional recipe. “We like things to be more intense here,” he says, his face broadening into a smile.
“The moment you hand someone a cone of gelato, it doesn’t matter what age they are, what their gender is, where they’re from or what their political affiliation is – everybody is happy.”
The Australian love of ice cream is rooted in the waves of postwar Italian immigrants who bolstered the nation’s then-dusty pantry with an appreciation for fresh pasta, crisp pizza and, of course, a creamy gelato. Despite being a fitness-focused bunch, Sydneysiders – already arguably the world’s most discerning diners – have a definite soft spot for the cold stuff.
Ice-cream enthusiasts Alice Storey and Georgi Larby became pals over pudding. “We met at a dinner party at Alice’s sister’s place; Alice had made zuccotto [a semi-frozen, Florentine, brandy-soaked affair],” says Larby. “We’ve been firm friends ever since.”
Storey, a chef and food stylist by trade, oversees production, while Larby, who studied hotel management and business, runs operations. The pair, both Tasmanians, came upon the idea of high-end “icy poles” (the Aussie term for lollies) when Storey was working as a food stylist. “Every Australian remembers lemonade icy poles so we thought we’d try and replicate childhood flavours.”
Using unpasturised pressed raw juices made from seasonal fruit, including watermelon, strawberry, pineapple and coconut, the friends began to experiment at home. It took three years to develop the Pure Pops range. “We didn’t want to be trend-based,” says Storey. “The flavours we launched with are a reflection of what we liked to eat as kids: a slice of watermelon on a hot day, a chocolate Paddle Pop,” she says. “We both like strong, punchy flavours,” adds Larby. “The stronger the flavour, the better it works when frozen.”
They peddled their first batch at Bondi Farmers Market and the business found an instant following. They soon expanded to Sydney’s second most famous shoreline, the quieter Manly Beach, where the business is still based.
“We had to find a shared kitchen, teach ourselves about packaging, wholesale, distribution, even van maintenance,” says Storey. Investing in a Brazilian-made lolly machine, the pair has been able to increase volume well beyond the early days of their home kitchens. They now supply beach kiosks, cafés and grocers in New South Wales and Queensland with a range of nine flavours.
Building the business has been a family affair. “My 88-year-old grandma put the stickers on our blank packaging in the early days,” says Storey. “Georgi’s dad did the deliveries, our brother and sisters have manned the stall at the markets and our partners have worked more than the odd shift driving the van.” These days the women employ a growing staff of 11.
“Our favourite thing about being in the ice-cream business is the people we meet,” says Larby. “We know our customers by their favourite flavour rather than their name. We’ve given babies their first ice cream in their pram and now, as kids, they run right up to the van.”