Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gelato Diaries: The Sequel

GPOY: my gelato face

Three weeks ago, I went on holiday to Florence and Rome with my best friend Tara, who now lives and works in Dubai. We wanted to go somewhere before the tourist season got into full swing, and we both love Italy so a compromise was easy. Of course, the first thing I set about doing as soon as I'd booked my ticket was to search out the best gelato places in Florence, and Rome.

We had three full days in Florence, with one and a half days in Rome. I had read that Florence is the gelato capital of Italy, (and as such, the world!). The rest of the itinerary could wait - as I applied myself to the task of sourcing the best gelateria to visit while we there. Thanks to my wonderful friend Tara who patiently accompanied me on my quest.

I only got to four gelateria in the end, and I have ranked these in terms of my favourites.

Vestri Cioccolato D Autore
Borgo degli Albizi, 11 50122 Firenze

Picture this - a warm breeze on your face as you stand in a typical Florentine alleyway, uncertainly contemplating this cramped chocolate shop. We stepped inside and admittedly it was a little chaotic looking, the gelato counter was nowhere to be seen on first glance. The gelato counter is selective - they must only do certain flavours on certain days, as you are given a small menu card to choose from. The gelato is stored deep inside silver steel containers, and somehow this excites me more than the colourful pillows of gelato we see in many of the other typical gelateria. It's like you are being made privy to something sacred, a taste of something heavenly stored inside a gilded shrine. I had a coppa of Florentine vanilla and dark chocolate infused with Sicilian oranges. A Roman friend of mine advised me that you judge a gelateria based on how good it's basic flavours taste. I don't think there are any words to accurately describe the gelato here, I didn't want it to end. It was like I had come home and tasted vanilla for the first time, it was truly a transformative ice-cream experience that was incomparable to any that had come before it. The chocolate was rich with the subtle tang of the orange coming through, not cloying like you imagine Terrys Chocolate in ice-cream form to be.

It was so good that I had to go back immediately after, after shyly asking Tara if she wanted to try it again because I was sure that unless I was to return to Florence one day, I would never experience that euphoria again. To my sheer joy, they offered affrogato. In the winter months you can buy cioccolata calda, which is hot chocolate, but not just any hot chocolate, Italian hot chocolate, darling. So I had a generous scoop of vanilla ice-cream with toasted almonds, and rich hot chocolate poured over the top, filling my cup to brim. Heaven, heaven, heaven. If I was proposed to with a cup of this, I'd accept right away.

Gelateria dei Neri
Via dei Neri, 22, 50122 Firenze

This was the first gelateria we called into, after a long day of exerting my optical senses musing over art in the Uffizi; I wanted to give my mouth an equally deserving sensory experience. This cosy gelateria has framed photographs adorning the walls, showing 'Gelateria dei Neri' cartons chilling out in locations around the world, a bit like that garden gnome in Amélie. They had a fine selection of chocolate ice cream here, you had 8 size options to choose from, which is quite common in Italian gelateria. I had pistachio and dark chocolate, both wonderful, the dark chocolate was particularly rich, the sort of flavour that lingers in your mouth afterward, in the best possible way.

Gelateria La Carraia
Via dei Benci, 24, 50122 Firenze

Having spent our first two nights in Florence, north of the River Arno, we went Southside to visit Palazzo Pitti. La Carraia is conveniently located beside the Ponte alla Carraia. I found this particular store the most reasonably priced of all the gelateria we visited, and the best value for money. I wasn't keen on the green and yellow colour scheme, but as we ate our gelato on a bench outside, a painter and decorator van pulled up outside and the man in the car disembarked to take a photo of the interior. If only most of my thoughts came to fruition as conveniently. Here I had the pistachio and hazelnut, both satisfying, I particularly liked the nuttiness of the hazelnut, it would be delicious with a dark chocolate.

Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40 00186 Rome, Italy

In my 'research', a few sources described this place as touristy. When we arrived in the early afternoon, this place was very busy. It is probably the largest gelateria I've been to, with a very elegant, wood paneled, old fashioned interior with a wealth of gelato flavours to choose from, I reckon there were at least 40. I expect this place gets a very high turnover of customers, as there was a very specific system in place - you paid for your gelato at a till inside the door, and presented your receipt at the counter when you made your gelato selection, after fighting your way through dozens of other customers. I got chocolate and pistachio con panna (with fresh cream), and I am sorry to say that it was the least memorable of all the Italian gelato I've had. The chocolate was strangely bland and in my disappointment I found the pistachio forgettable. I'd recommend going to the GROM around the corner, it's part of a chain - but they serve delicious, organic gelato.

I also found this retro (circa 2001) 'Gelato Tour' of Italy, with film photographs to illustrate the piece! Instagram is great in that in lets the user share the experience right away.