It's summertime and of course it's gelato time! Both the Gourmet Traveller and Time Out Sydney, have set out to discover Sydney's best gelaterie (you can read the articles scrolling down or by clicking on the covers to be directed to the articles as published on the magazines' sites).
The scoop on gelato
Is Sydney beating Italy at its own game when it comes to gelato? Maggie Scardfield puts the city's best new frozen confections to the test.
You might not remember your first gelato, but you never forget your favourite. Perhaps it was that first hit of mango and chocolate as a kid at the beach with salty hair and sandy feet, or the brioche buns filled with velvety hazelnut gelato sold by an old man from his cart in the backstreets of Palermo.
Ask people to name their gelato favourites in Sydney and they're likely to mention Bar Italia in Leichhardt, Cremeria de Luca in Five Dock, Pompei's in Bondi and, without fail, Gelato Messina. These are gelaterie of repute. The Palumbo family opened Messina on Victoria Street in Darlinghurst in 2002, and the brand has grown at a rate they could never have imagined: 11 shops around the country and one in Las Vegas, and the hype, collaborations and, yes, those queues continue to grow. Leichhardt's Bar Italia has had a slower, steadier history. The Norton Street restaurant opened in 1952 and made its name with no-frills Italian cooking and a gelato parlour, as important to the restaurant's character as the fading posters on the walls. But there's plenty to say about the new wave of gelatiers in the city, too, each churning magic with milk and air.
In Redfern, Mark Megahey and business partner Sean O'Brien opened Ciccone & Sons last June. Although the former furniture store-turned-gelato parlour has been open less than a year, Megahey had plenty of time to refine his recipes in the 20 years he worked at Bar Italia under the guidance of the restaurant's then-gelatier Oris Scandura. "We turned it into a true gelato factory," he says.
You're more likely to find flavours such as pear and riesling or crème brûlée with Laphroaig single malt than you are straight pistachio at Ciccone & Sons. The shop's name is a playful reference to Madonna, and phasing out anything generic (whether that's ingredients or too much of any one thing) is the name of the game. The produce is new-school, too: Sungold Jersey milk from Victoria's Warrnambool, say, with Pepe Saya buttermilk and mascarpone, and coffee from Di Pacci Coffee Co in Marrickville. "We aim for minimal waste in our process, so we often help our local grocer by using fruit at the end of its best shelf life," says O'Brien. And when the cold-pressed juices from Rainy Lane in Newtown are nearing their expiry date, Ciccone snaps them up and turns them into the likes of chilli, cucumber and pineapple sorbetto. Rainy Lane is already using offcuts from Black Star Pastry's watermelons, too, so it's a collaborative operation.
The shop is modest and welcoming. A vintage cash register sits alongside cakes and biscotti made by O'Brien; the menu is scrawled on a wall-mounted roll of brown paper; and hand-stitched bunting decorates the walls. "We built the space so we would feel comfortable here and our customers would feel welcome," says Megahey. "Most of the shop fittings have been part of our home at some stage."
Ciccone & Sons supplies exclusive flavours to neighbouring bars including The Bearded Tit (a dark rum and orange flavour, for instance, to complement their Not Quite So Old Fashioned cocktail), and customers are getting involved in devising new flavours. "We had a customer who got a smoker and so he>
offered to smoke almonds for us," says Megahey. The result is at once peat, smoke and fire on ice. Pass the bacon.
Megahey's one-time gelato-making partner at Bar Italia, Franco Riservato, has also opened his own shop - Gelato Franco in Marrickville. With business partner Shane Pollard and the help of his mother, Donata, Riservato focuses on a denser, more Sicilian-style gelato - "the kind my family likes to make and eat", he says. While Gelato Franco has a similar low-key vibe to Ciccone & Sons, it offers a more traditional line-up of flavours.
The colour of the all-natural pistachio is surprisingly pale - but the taste is vivid. Kept raw for sweetness, the smashed purple and green nuts form waves of crunch and chewiness between feather-light folds of milky gelato. It's a similar story for the taffy-like roasted-hazelnut flavour that reveals a fresh crust of ground nuts with each bite. Gelato Franco's tiramisù flavour is a revelation: the base is made using Sicilian Marsala and a chocolate sponge that Riservato sources from Mezzapica Cakes in Leichhardt. Nothing tastes artificial - you could be eating a piece of cake at Nonna's.
Consistency, Riservato says, is about the "one store, one gelato-maker" rule. Customers can watch the gelato being made through a window to the kitchen, each flavour churned and piled into vertical Cattabriga batch-freezers. "At Bar Italia the kitchen was down the road so you couldn't see the magic," he says. "Making gelato is such a beautiful art, so I love that we can share it with people in the new store."
Another Marrickville player of note, Pagoto Gelato & Waffle House, was opened by Arthur Skouras and Chris Felemegas in February last year on the corner of Marrickville and Victoria roads. Subtlety is not the intention here. Outside, the walls are covered with a brightly painted mural, while inside, MTV blares from a flat-screen television above the display counters. Pagoto serves a Willy Wonka-esque mix of flavours piled high with toppings and sauces (Hubba Bubba; red velvet and white chocolate; burnt-caramel slice) and an extensive menu of shakes and waffles.
Among the sugar hits, many flavours draw on the owners' Greek heritage: watermelon and feta, the resin-like mastiha, and galaktoboureko among them. "At any given time we have 32 flavours," says Skouras. "We try to rotate weekly. Some specials include white chocolate ricotta and cannoli, and ouzo." The ouzo flavour is strong enough to preclude eating and driving, but the baklava is Pagoto at its best: crisp flakes of filo, nibs of crushed nuts, and a heavenly deeply honeyed base.
With a similar more-is-more approach, the cases at La Mamma del Gelato Anita are filled with towers of extravagantly topped and sauced gelato. Born in Israel and now a very successful chain, the company was founded by Anita "Mama" Avital - and the two Sydney stores (in Chippendale and, more recently, Bondi Beach) are the first to open in Australia. The brand quickly cemented its following thanks to a separate frozen yoghurt station with unlimited toppings that include everything from caramelised pecans and chocolate pearls to jelly beans. Even late on Sunday afternoons, the brasserie-styled shop at Chippendale is packed with shoppers enjoying Mecca coffee and the rich and gooey Cookieman (a vanilla base spliced with Nutella, meringue and Italian biscotti - a must-try).
The world's best is at home in Sydney, too. When John and Wendy Crowl opened Cow and the Moon café and gelataria on Enmore Road in 2011, they hadn't planned on taking out a world title - but that they did in 2014 when they won the Gelato World Tour championship in Rimini. The winning flavour, Mandorla Affogato, combines caramelised almonds and single-origin coffee in a salted-caramel sauce on a Madagascan vanilla-bean base. It lives up to its reputation, the gelato is as light as silk, and the hints of caramel perfectly chewy and bittersweet. Even 18 months after the award the queues for the affogato - as well as other flavours such as Single-Origin Latte, Passionfruit Crème and the saucy Cherrymania - still snake out the door and down Enmore Road.
There's action beyond the inner south and west, too, in the form of Coppetta on Old South Head Road in Vaucluse. Husband and wife team Michael and Deborah Cthurmer run two cafés on the strip, Bazaar Deli and Grumpy Baker, and sandwiched in between them is their hole-in-the-wall gelato shop, opened last August. The gelato style here comes off a little icy, but the flavours, most of Middle Eastern inspiration and all made on site, are well-considered nonetheless.
A sprightly watermelon and mint sorbet, speckled with green, is wonderfully refreshing, "It complements our free-spirited beachy lifestyle," says Deborah. The richer (albeit more crumbly) gingerbread packs a solid ginger hit, while other flavours include Turkish delight, toasted marshmallow, lavender honey crème brûlée, and a heady pistachio and rosewater.
RivaReno is a far bigger operation. Founded in Milan in 2005, the gelato chain arrived in Australia in February 2013 when Sydney entrepreneur Kieran Tosolini opened his Darlinghurst shop after trying the gelato in Italy. "Usually you don't associate chains with such high quality," he says. "I thought to myself, if they can replicate such amazing quality in different locations, then maybe I can bring that same taste and texture to Sydney."
Tosolini trained in Milan for a few months before opening the first RivaReno on Crown Street. Opening so close to gelato veteran Messina was a ballsy move, but Tosolini is confident enough to feature a sign in his window saying "we make it in front of everyone" (a cheeky nod, presumably, to his competition that makes it out the back).
RivaReno makes small batches (as little as 1.5 kilos at a time) and restocks as needed. Unlike many gelatarie in Sydney, there are no display cabinets at RivaReno. All 24 flavours are kept in pozzetti, the covered stainless-steel containers designed to keep gelato fresh. "The pozzetti allow us to keep the gelato at a much warmer temperature of minus nine degrees," he says, in comparison to most other gelato which is served around minus 14 to minus 17. "It makes for far more creaminess than ice."
The Cremino flavour is a perfect example. A white chocolate and hazelnut ganache dances with rich layers of gianduja sauce - it's milky and dense, but doesn't coat the mouth. The dark-green Pistachio Bronte is intensely flavoured and lush. Then there's the sheep's milk ricotta with caramelised figs - it's sweet but never cloying and, even better, you can have it served Palermo-style in a brioche bun from Fratelli Paradiso.>
RivaReno imports a number of ingredients to ensure the quality remains the same as in Italy, including milk from the Stura Valley's high-altitude pastures, hazelnuts from Piedmont, Bronte pistachios, and Sicilian citrus.
Despite what Tosolini considered a slow start, people are warming to RivaReno's charms and he believes they're excited to try something new. Most recently, Tosolini has created flavours for Billy Kwong in Potts Point - a Davidson plum sorbet and a macadamia-nut and a chocolate-chip gelato - and RivaReno will open its second site within the Barangaroo precinct on 1 April.
"Sydney has the perfect climate for most of the year to enjoy gelato," says Franco Riservato of Gelato Franco. With its clement weather and carefree spirit, Sydney is ripe for a gelato revolution, and this latest wave of players, traditionalists and innovators alike, is making the most of it. Get out there and get your taste.
Maggie Scardifield - Australian Gourmet Traveller, February 2016
There are a thousand places to get it – from the gummy, overly saccharine crap, to smooth, silky excellence. Rest assured, though, that these ten are all in the latter category.
Chill Bar: Avalon
‘Chill Bar’ is a bad name (we’ve missed you, the 90s) but the gelato, thankfully, is anything but. It’s made onsite, and our picks are the white chocolate and raspberry, which contains freeze-dried fruit that adds texture and sour respite from the sweet cream, and the strawberry sorbet, which is smooth and light and totally refreshing.
74 Old Barrenjoey Rd, Avalon Beach 2107.
Ciccone and sons: Redfern
Finally: gelato that isn't too sweet! Ciccone and Sons are doing gelato the way it should be made in a hot climate like ours. In India they serve chilled buttermilk as a refreshing drink, and here at Ciccone they know the score. Their buttermilk and passionfruit flavour is possibly the most refreshing iced treat you could imagine – sweet'n'sour and slightly salty. Its creamy too, but not overly so, and tastes like summer in a cup. 195 Regent St, Redfern 2016.
Cow and the Moon: Enmore
The Mandorla Affogato won this gelateria World’s Best Gelato at 2014’s Gelato World Tour in Rimini, Italy. It’s hard to argue with them. From the cream base infused with Madagascar vanilla and smoky Kenyan coffee, to the smashed-up shards of crunchy almond praline and the smooth salted caramel sauce, it’s worth your wait in that queue. 181 Enmore Rd, Enmore 2042.
Cremeria De Luca: Five Dock
On Saturday nights the queues go around the block. If they’re not here for the thick, pudding-like hot chocolate (which you’ve really gotta try), they’re certainly here for the gelato burger: a coupla scoops of house-made gelato (we like the zabaglione flavour, which is rich, eggy and icy-refreshing), a dollop of whipped cream and a slick of Nutella on a buttery brioche bun. 84 Ramsay Rd, Five Dock 2046.
Gelato Franco: Marrickville
Props have to go to the zabaglione gelato, which is our favourite hands down. The ice cream is toned ever so gently with Marsala (Sicilian sherry), with a fine layer of Marsala-soaked sponge strewn over the top. If you like the rich, sweet, almondy taste of Marsala you’re gonna love this. 281 Marrickville Rd, Marrickville 2204.
Gelateria Gondola: Chatswood
The one we fall for most is the Cremino - a classic Sicilian combination of strawberry sorbet with cream, in the form of a Jersey milk gelato (no vanilla needed: this milk gelato is all about the pure, barnyard flavours of the milk itself). It’s topped with chocolate and vivid green pistachios. 2/77 Archer St, Chatswood 2067.
Gelato Messina: numerous locations
From the playful, of-the-zeitgeist flavours (remember ‘The Heisenberg’, replete with a topping of blue crystallised violets?) to all the classics (we can't walk past a scoop of their salted coconut and mango), these guys are still killing it. We salute you, oh godfathers of innovative Sydney gelato. The Star, Darlinghurst, Surry Hills, Rosebury, Bondi, Parramatta, Miranda.
Mrs Jones the Baker: Freshwater
At the back of the store there is a range of fresh gelatos, made on the premises. The flavours change with the seasons but our pick is the cookies and cream, made from vanilla gelato tossed with their own crushed triple-choc cookies.The cookies are crunchy, the ice cream creamy and smooth. 16A Lawrence St, Freshwater 2096.
Grabbing a cone at Pompei’s before wandering down to the beach feels like a Sydney tradition that should never be lost. The pistachio is that classic combination of acidic green and sweet, robust flavour, and the chocolate sorbet (made with Tuscan Amedei chocolate no less) is clean, refreshing and full-bodied. And now that they’re doing house made choc tops, we’re all kinds of excited. 126-130 Roscoe St, Bondi Beach 2026.
RivaReno Gelato: Darlinghurst
RivaReno does gelato the Sicilian way, even making sure to store the gelato in ‘pozzetti’ (covered, stainless steel containers). The lids mean you don't get that sense of the spectacular as you walk in, but they keep the gelato at exactly the right temperature, keeping it silky, luscious and smooth in a way that many other gelatos in Sydney are not. In fact we’re calling it: RivaReno is serving the best gelato in town right now. 280 Crown St, Darlinghurst 2010.
In the first video below, Simone Bonini, a well known Italian gelataio, explains what is il gelato artigianale. In the second and third videos, Vinicio Luzietti, owner of the Cremeria Aurelia in Rome, shows us how he prepares his gelati artigianali: in this case, il sorbetto al limone, in the second video, and il gelato al tè rooibos e cannella, in the third video.
Before the invention of mechanical refrigeration, the actual production process essential to making gelato required ice and, strangely enough, salt! Here is why and how gelato used to be made by using a hand cranked gelato maker:
We know salt gets mixed with the ice in hand-cranked ice cream machines. We see that it gets results, and yes, ice cream is made. But we’ve never quite been able to wrap our heads around it. Why the salt? What is it doing? Is it really necessary? Let’s see if we can get this straight.
Ok, the first concept to wrap our heads around is that the melting and freezing point of any liquid is just about the same. Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but it will also melt any smidgen of a degree above that. Make sense?
The next thing to understand is that ice cream freezes (and melts!) at a lower temperature than water. The sugar and fats in the mix interfere with the formation of ice crystals, and it takes a colder temperature to get the ice cream to really freeze. Therefore, we can’t use straight ice to chill the ice cream base, because the ice will melt before the base gets cold enough.
Salt provides the solution. Similar to sugar, salt affects how water freezes and effectively lowers the freezing/melting point of water. Creating a saltwater slush and packing this around our ice cream base allows us to cool the base enough so that it starts to thicken and freeze before the ice melts completely.
This whole process feels very counter-intuitive to us! We’re looking at a slushy, half-melting saltwater mix and thinking that it can’t possibly be colder than hard ice cubes. But amazingly, it is. And what’s more, it works to make ice cream and has done so for centuries!
At Italia 500 we've been offering Italian courses, in Sydney, since 1995 and one of the most beautiful aspects of learning Italian is that it opens the door to a culture of unrivalled richness and diversity. In this blog we'll be sharing some of our favourite books, movies, places in Italy to visit, music, links to podcasts, information about local and international Italian themed events, and the odd "personal" view, in the hope that it will encourage you to delve further into a culture which continues to inspire us and millions of people all over the world.