Lin Tan and I go hunting for the finest gelato in Melbourne.
Joyce: When you think about ‘Italian culture’ in Melbourne, you think Carlton. Hence, the perfect place to start our, ‘In The Search For The Perfect Gelato’? – Lygon Street.
So what makes a perfect gelato? In our view – small batches, taste, texture and colour. Gelati-making is an artisanal industry, so the gelati must be made daily on the premises, not in a huge manufacturing plant. It must be made with fresh ingredients, especially fresh fruit, and not with the pre-packaged mixture often used in high-volume manufactured gelati, which leaves a distinct, powdery aftertaste. It must be smooth on the tongue, not granular or icy. Finally, it must look natural and not be heightened with fluorescent food colouring. Putting our sugar tolerance to the test and waistlines on the line, we rallied ourselves through four gelaterias over the course of two hours.
Lin: Between us, 10 scoops of ice cream, 19 different flavours, and 2 bambino gelati. I now have enough dairy in my system to fill up a cow.
Brunetti, 194-204 Faraday St
Joyce: Brunetti is a Carlton institution, a bustling hub of Little Italy in an expansive café, which includes a small gelati counter. The range of flavours is relatively traditional, with a 50/50 balance of dairy flavours and fruit flavours….plus one unusual flavour: ‘Energy’. Always one to try the most curious item on the menu, I asked for a small tub of it. The server behind the counter looked at me in a slightly bemused fashion before suggesting that I tasted it first – because it was made out of energy drinks. Urgh! Some flavours should never make it into a gelati cabinet, and a liquid mix of chemicals in an aluminium can is one of them.
Other than the energy gelato, the server informed me that all the other flavours were made with fresh ingredients. To test out his claim, I decided on my favourite fruit flavour: passionfruit. It had just the right balance of sweetness and tartness, and contained passionfruit pips to highlight the fact that fruit was involved. The only gripe – the gelato was markedly fluorescent. It looked like passionfruit, tasted like passionfruit – there was no need to make it glow in the dark.
Lin: There were people everywhere; inside and outside like moths to the flame, hovering over the cake, coffee, and gelati counters of Brunetti’s. And you can see the attraction too. Dressed head to toe in all things sweet, Brunetti’s is a one-stop shop for anyone with a sweet tooth, but perhaps not so for someone with fussy tastebuds. Scratch below the surface and Brunetti sticks out like an over-commercialised thumb, more concerned with quantity than quality.
My first spoonful of nougat gelati was great, insomuch as nougat gelati is supposed to taste like nougat. However, by the time I got to my third spoonful, the intense sugariness overpowered flavour, and I feared losing my teeth. Gelato had hint of powderiness and though teeth are still in tact, sickening feel punctuated the experience. (Side note: no condiments or crunchy treats embedded in nougat gelato).
Casa del Gelato, 163 Lygon St Carlton
Joyce: Casa del Gelato is the longest standing gelateria in Melbourne with 56 flavours of gelati on offer.
Daunted by the choice, I asked for the house specialty and was directed to the baci (chocolate and hazelnut) and in the fruit flavours, the mango, passionfruit, strawberry or watermelon. I wish I’d done my research before choosing, because the owner, Ottorino Pace, has won an international award for his mango and passionfruit gelato. In blissful ignorance, I selected a tub of baci, strawberry and watermelon.
The baci was creamy and full of chocolately goodness studded with hazelnut pieces. The strawberry was bright and fresh on the tongue – a real winner. The disappointment came in the watermelon – the best way to describe it was a sort of fluffy watermelon juice marshmallow. Very odd. To be honest, I think you’d be better off eating a slice of watermelon.
Lin: The best way to tackle 56 flavours is to have as many tasters as possible. In Casa del Gelato that means no more than two. How generous. With that in mind, I chose carefully, i.e. curious flavours that wouldn’t make the cut in my cup.
First taster was a chilli chocolate gelato. The lingering spiciness of the ice cream was a perfect match to the bold, velvety chocolate flavour. Next, I tried the Christmas pudding gelato, which during consumption, unravelled a flurry of different yet complimenting flavours.
At the end, I chose a scoop of honey crumble ice cream. It certainly tasted like honey but in a boring sort of way. The only saving grace was in the chunks of crumble. Despite my poor choice, the gelataria boasts lovely ice cream, an extensive menu and even a selection of gelato for the lactose intolerant.
Gelatissimo 197 Lygon St
Joyce: On entry, the colourful mountain range of gelati flavours in Gelatissimo provides a visual feast. Unfortunately, the product from this national chain is not really up to scratch.
Nocciola is one of the few words I can say in Italian (along with ‘gelati’) and I’ve never been disappointed with hazelnut gelato. Unfortunately, Gelatissimo’s version is about as bland as gelato can get – the mere hint of hazelnut and utterly forgettable. Hoping to find a redeeming flavour, I asked for a tub of caramelised fig. This had the opposite effect on my taste buds, as it contained a massive hit of teeth-aching sugar, which then petered out into a non-descript creamy nothingness. Frankly, wasted calories.
Lin: As if we hadn’t already eaten enough ice cream, Joyce and I started with a bambino gelato, which is a teeny ice cream cone topped off with a brightly coloured, white chocolate coating. Children will love this. Comes in mango, strawberry, mint chocolate chip and many other flavours.
After our ‘entrée’, I attacked the tiramisu gelato and enjoyed every mouthful of its generous portion – no wasted calories here. The gelato was creamy and flavourful, and like all good ice cream, evoked the satisfying feel of coolness in the summer’s heat. In the midst of my gelato high, the not-so-friendly lady behind the counter shat on my sunshower. Good ice cream, not so good customer service.
Il Dolce Freddo, 116 Lygon St
Joyce: Il Dolce Freddo has Thai owners, which explains its selection of more unexpected Asian flavours including green tea, pandan, coconut and durian.
Lin: Its flavour has been described as ‘rotten meat’, but being Malaysian at heart, durian is regarded as the king of fruit, holding a distinct strand in our DNA. With crazy eyes, I darted straight at it for a taste. Beautiful. A fruit you can taste just from its smell, creamy, smooth durian with its subtle sweetness is a must-try.
Joyce: I thought I’d have a small taste of durian. Strategic error – it smelled foul, it tasted foul and it lingered on my palate like a dead rat. There’s a reason they don’t let you bring durians into enclosed spaces. Not wanting to suffer for my gelato, I decided on a cup of green-on-green gelati – green tea and pandan with coconut. Oh! A revelation. The green tea gelato was incredibly creamy and smooth with the delicate flavours of matcha really singing out without the aid of too much sugar. It matched perfectly with the gentle flavours of pandan and coconut, evoking a sunset stroll on a tropical beach in Thailand. It’s a testament of the quality of the gelati, and despite it being my fourth tub of the day, I could easily have eaten more.
Lin: Always one to save the best for last, I chose my favourite flavour, mint chocolate chip.
Then I ruined it by mixing it with durian.
I thought it’d be a good idea to eat the durian gelato then wash off the lingering stench with mint. Clearly, my plan was flawed. Whilst no doubt delectable on its own, my dear mint chocolate chip smelt like durian, tasted like confused chocolate, and left an aftertaste discernable to no one. But don’t feel bad for me. Unfortunately for Joyce, her efforts to capture a “sunset stroll on a tropical beach” were rudely interrupted by sporadic sniffs of my king of fruit. And for that, I apologise. Despite my bizarre concoction, both ice creams alongside homely décor and topnotch service made Il Dolce Freddo a fine end to our calorific day.
The verdict….Il Dolce Freddo for both of us.
This article originally appeared in Trespass Magazine.
Yesterday we went in search of the perfect mince pies, just in time for Christmas. Tomorrow, read all about our search for the perfect rice paper rolls in Little Saigon.