Where to find the world's most imaginative ice cream

by CAITLIN ZAINO·
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Ice cream. Quite simply, it’s a holiday essential. And if you’re on the lookout for something more inspired than a predictable scoop of vanilla this year, there’s no lack of ice cream hotspots from which to choose – from London to Sydney, and Los Angeles to Tokyo, the world is full of innovators intent on infusing their cups and cones with unusual tastes. Go on, treat yourself!

London

Chin Chin Labs by Paul Richards (image courtesy of Chin Chin Labs)

Chin Chin Labs by Paul Richards (image courtesy of Chin Chin Labs)

London oozes culinary creativity and it isn’t restricted to formal dining tables. Down a cobblestoned street in Camden, North London, you’ll find Europe’s first liquid nitrogen ice cream bar, Chin Chin Laboratorists (chinchinlabs.com).

Magic happens daily at this quaint shop. Sporting white lab coats and science-class goggles, ice cream makers pour liquid nitrogen into a mixer where flavoured cream is churned. Beneath the cover of clouds of white gas, a dense, custard-like ice cream forms instantaneously. On a par with their inventive techniques are the changing flavours, which range from cigar-smoked salted caramel to Wimbledon-inspired, hay-infused strawberry.

California

Whether you’re in Los Angeles, San Francisco or somewhere in between, a plethora of playful ice cream parlours dot the California coast in an ode to its endless summer.

Sprinkles Ice Cream (image courtesy of Sprinkles Ice Cream)

Sprinkles Ice Cream (image courtesy of Sprinkles Ice Cream)

At Sprinkles Ice Cream (www.sprinklesicecream.com) in Beverly Hills, cereal and candy-infused ice creams are generously scooped into ruby-red velvet waffle cones or sandwiched between freshly baked cupcake tops. Macarons take the place of cupcakes or traditional cookies in the ice cream sandwich at another LA favourite, MILK (www.themilkshop.com). This typically delicate French treat is super-sized and ice cream, in flavours like Thai ice tea, replaces the conventional light meringue filling.

Humphry Slocombe (image courtesy of Frankeny Images)

Humphry Slocombe (image courtesy of Frankeny Images)

But when it comes to boundary-pushing tastes, few Californians can beat San Francisco-based Humphry Slocombe (humphryslocombe.com), which boasts beet, foie gras and cheese ice cream, among other imaginative varieties. Their prosciutto ice cream, studded with salted pig steeped in milk with fennel seeds and black pepper, is a local favourite.

Puerto Rico

The Caribbean is a guarantee of pounding heat and lingering sun, making it the perfect place to pick up an ice cream-a-day habit. In Lares, Puerto Rico, a small mountain town in the central west of the country, family-run parlour Heladería Lares dishes out more than 50 pilgrimage-worthy flavours a day.

Though the famed shop has been around since 1958, its approach to ice cream is anything but antiquated. With a nod to local culinary traditions, it whips up ice creams in flavours like sweet potato and cinnamon, rice and beans, rice pudding, corn, and even codfish. The shop is unassuming, but Heladería Lares’ innovative twist on Latin American cuisine and local culture make it a must-stop ice cream spot.

Tokyo

Perhaps no other city flips traditional ideas upside down quite like Tokyo. If beet ice cream blew your mind then consider squid ink, charcoal, wasabi, cactus and eel flavoured varieties, all of which find their way into Tokyo’s cartons, cups and cones.

At Ice Cream City in Namja Town, an indoor theme park in the the Sunshine City shopping complex in Ikebukuro, Toshima, you'll find a veritable museum of funky ice cream, not to mention kiosks fitted with countless soft-serve machines and rooms kitted out with wall-to-wall freezers, serving every flavour and texture of the stuff imaginable (even, dare we say it, raw horse meat).

Those with a sweet tooth should visit Nana’s Green Tea (www.nanaha.com) at Tokyo’s Sky Tree. This popular cafe employs a contemporary approach to traditional Japanese tastes, serving powdered green tea ice cream topped with red bean paste, frozen matcha lattes and green tea parfaits.

Sydney

Imaginative takes on ice cream, gelatos and popsicles are to be found throughout Sydney’s patisseries, independent parlours and roving carts from Bondi Beach to the hipster spots of Surry Hills.

Gelato Messina (image courtesy of Gelato Messina)

Gelato Messina (image courtesy of Gelato Messina)

At Gelato Messina (www.gelatomessina.com), home-made, all-natural gelatos take the cake – er, cone. That’s not too surprising, considering that this Darlinghurst parlour dedicates an entire team to reconceptualising sweets. The result is a dessert like the Royale w’ Cheese: a frosted ‘cheeseburger’ made of chocolate crackle gelato on a financier bun with white chocolate gelato and apricot gelée, compressed cucumber, a white chocolate slice, and raspberry sauce.

The city’s equivalent of Willy Wonka – pâtissier Adriano Zumbo (adrianozumbo.com) – has also joined the ranks of Sydney’s ice cream obsessives. Whether it’s fresh pineapple and ginger ice cream or ice cream sandwiches coated in popping candy, all of Zumbo’s frozen treats have lashings of creativity.