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26 June 2007

Scoop

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Had I not had heavy boots today I would not have decided that comfort food was necessary for lunch, which meant I would not have walked down a street I rarely walk down, which would have meant I would not have found Scoop. But I did and my heavy boots became light flip flops as I realised I that the best ice-cream in the UK is nestling in a side-street in Covent Garden, not a stones throw from the front door of my office.

And yes, what Scoop serves is gelato rather than ice-cream: it has less fat (cream) than traditional, read American, ice-cream; it also has less air beaten into it and uses more egg yolks. The upshot is a very creamy, thick, silky smooth consistency that when done well is heavenly. This stuff is heavenly.

I tried two flavours: Fior di Latte and Amaretto di Saronno. Fior di Latte forms the base of most of Scoop's ice-creams and is in effect an ice-creamed mozzarella or burrata. After I oohed and ahhed over the lactic creaminess of it all, Matteo Pantani, the shop's owner and evangelical gelato maker, without a word simply passed me a spoon laden with the Amaretto di Saronno gelato. The sweet alcohol was tempered by the milky cream and complemented by the warming, nutty aftertaste of almonds. This stuff is truly exceptional.

Despite English not being his first language, Matteo was keen to talk and I was desperate to listen. It turns out he has been making gelato in Italy for the last few years. I didn't quite get to the bottom of why he came here, but thankfully he did. He reckons the UK artisanal ice-cream market is pretty immature. He may have a point, although it is June, 10°C and pissing with rain. There might be a connection. Then again, the likes of Marine Ices (which up until lunchtime today was my favourite ice-cream available in the UK) have been going since 1947 so there must be some sort of market. I also think that when elevated to a culinary speciality, rather another being yet another dessert pumped with chemicals, there is no reason ice-cream should not be taken a bit more seriously over here. Scoop might just be in the vanguard.

Despite his bravura, Matteo is clearly no fool and is hedging his bets a bit. For all his gelatic (Is there such a word? - Ed.) zeal, he has hired a pastry chef to churn out dinky little pasticceria and it looks from the website that they are planning on bigging up coffee and hot chocolate as well. This all seems very canny and I can't help wonder why it has taken so long for someone to come up with the idea. Furthermore, and not that Matteo is paying me - but if you're reading this, I'll accept bribery in the form of tubs of gelati - they have introduced the rather clever idea of styrofoam containers. Which, rather than the crappy cardboard versions so often given out by ice-cream shops in the UK, keeps the ice-cream cool and means large quantities can be transported home without melting. If anyone dares whinge about styrofoam, I'll beat you around the head with your Whole Foods "organic" carrot. As an aside, I hate Whole Foods. I also can't stand AA Gill but please read his article in this week's Sunday Times, he's spot on, so is Charles Campion in the Evening Standard.

Back to Scoop. I strongly urge you to go there and take your time. Chat to Matteo, try the gelati, have a cornetti and if you have no idea what heavy boots are, read Jonathan Safran Foer's very beautiful Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It has nothing to do with gelato or ice-cream, but a lot to do with life and New York.

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Scoop 40 Shorts Gardens, London, WC2H 9AB, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7240 7086 | Mob: +44 (0)7944 779 693

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