Where is the best ice cream in Oxford? I’ve been thoroughly researching this question for years. My philosophy is, it’s always the right time for ice cream; and that the more you have, the happier you’ll be. In other words, I’ve eaten a great deal of it to help all of you.
Here’s my roundup of establishments, within the ring road, that focus on ice cream. I’ve also included my recommendations for the best each has to offer. These tasting notes represent my subjective views, occasionally supplemented by input from other ice cream lovers whose opinions I trust.
Just remember, there’s no better treat to boost your mood and no wrong way to enjoy this sweet, frozen dessert. I may prefer a cone with a single scoop of coffee gelato, but if you want a double cup of fruit sorbet, a giant tub of vanilla, or a milkshake with mix-ins – just go for it.
The good news is that Oxford has some outstanding independent producers who can satisfy all these needs.
The best gelato
Italian-inspired gelato sellers currently dominate the scene. I love gelato’s rich, smooth texture, which is due to a slow-churning production method that incorporates less air than you typically get in ice cream. Because it’s served at a slightly warmer temperature, it’s softer on the tongue and imparts a sweeter and more intense taste sensation.
Gelato, additionally, has the visual appeal of soft, creamy mounds that have to be served into your cup or cone using a flat paddle. Luckily, Italy also has a long history of making sorbetti, so these same gelaterias offer the delightful option of sorbet with its light, almost icy texture. It’s usually a refreshing combination of fruit (or fruit puree), sugar, and water, though if you’re lucky a good chocolate sorbet might cross your path.
Here are the Oxford addresses you need to know, starting with what I think of as the ‘big three’.
iScream was Oxford’s first gelateria and is the place to go for the most beautiful overall gelato experience in Oxford. Tucked inside the Covered Market, it features award-winning flavours produced on-site daily, in a space packed with Wicked Chocolate and other sweet treats.
The colourful displays of perfectly-formed gelato and sorbet beckon you in, with whispers that they are artisan, fabulous, and available in triple scoops. With gelato this smooth, don’t bother trying to resist. My thanks go out to Graham, the founder and ‘gelatiere’ of iScream, and also to the organic Guernsey cows in Wiltshire that produce milk and cream that’s churned up into these rich delights.
The traditional flavours are unctuous and well-balanced. A divine coffee incorporates the slight crunch of coffee beans into the perfectly smooth and intensely flavoured base. Stracciatella is a cool, light vanilla packed with chocolate pieces throughout, and the hazelnut is sumptuously smooth and nutty.
The classic Malaga gets the rum-raisin proportions just right, and because it is so delectable I am tempted to get it every time I visit. One of the reasons I don’t is that there is also a changing range of inventive flavour combinations, with some stand-out seasonal fruit options.
My trusty advisors have recommended the persimmon and the apricot as their fruity favourites. My own high point was a dreamy ginger & rhubarb combination, in which the punch of crystallized ginger sweetness took on the tartness of the rhubarb in a rich, rounded base. The fantastically tart red currant sorbet, made with fruit picked from Graham’s own garden, was almost over the top, but not when paired with the sweet chocolate. This is why two scoops can often be your best choice!
Tip: Say yes to the offer of a wafer and relax into the bliss.
Prices: Single £2.80 / Double £3.95 / Triple £4.95
Where: 113 & 114 Covered Market / iscreamoxford.co.uk
Up in Summertown, a tiny vintage food truck from Italy offers stiff competition for the best gelato in Oxford. Lewis, the gelato-maker, serves up cones and cups of amazing flavours that will have you rushing back for more.
The chocolate tangerine is a dense, rich triumph in which the chocolate lingers lovingly on your tongue and in your taste memory. His hazelnut is clearly made from ground nuts that add texture as well as flavour to the rich gelato. While I was somewhat ambivalent about the mango, the passionfruit successfully wowed me by being fruity, tangy and creamy, all at the same time; and the ricotta and cherry was simply fabulous.
Lewis recently posted on Instagram about a cannolo gelato made from fresh ricotta and orange liqueur, with bits of candied orange & dark chocolate folded in. I was wondering whether a gelato could capture the essence of that Sicilian dessert in chilled form, when I realised I could go right over to try it!
Within half an hour, I was there enjoying one of the best gelato flavours I’ve had in recent memory – and I’ve tasted a LOT. Is it better than the ricotta and cherry? I suggest you try both in order to decide.
The downside of the truck is that nothing is on display to tempt you visually. However, there’s usually a surprisingly wide range of flavours listed, and if you sample what sounds good it will likely exceed your expectations.
Tip: Get a cone and stroll up and down while debating whether you need a second one.
Prices: 1-scoop £2.80 / 2-scoops £4.20 / 3-scoops £5.40
Where: Alfonso Gelateria: 270 Banbury Road / alfonsogelateria.com
Back in the town centre, Swoon is another delight, especially if you like your gelato pillowy soft rather than densely rich.
They receive high ratings and have their share of awards for very good reason. Like any reputable gelateria, they churn up new batches every day; they also take their ingredients extremely seriously and source most of them directly from Italy.
I’m especially a fan of their nut-based gelati. The pistachio, based on nuts imported from Sicily, has a natural nuttiness that can’t be beaten; the first time I tried this flavor I was wowed by its depth, which grew and grew as I kept eating.
In their nocciolo, the hazelnut comes through; gently at first, then lingers delightfully as the light creaminess dissolves on your tongue. Bacio (chocolate and hazelnut) is denser and more truffle-y, and definitely top-notch. If you are still looking for something else, check out their black cherry cheesecake or tiramisu gelati, both highly recommended by my sources. Alternatively, they produce a luscious chocolate sorbet.
This gelataria, which has outlets in Bath and Bristol, occupies a small, bright space on the High Street. The bonus is that they have a couple of tables inside and (in normal times) they also offer a range of other desserts, cookies and gelato cakes that you can have personalized for special occasions.
Tip: If you just don’t feel like leaving home, look for a smaller selection of their top sellers on Deliveroo.
Prices: 1-scoop £3.25 / 2-scoops £4.50 / 3-scoops £5.95
Where: 21 High Street / swoononaspoon.co.uk
Sundaes is a good alternative address to keep in mind for the range of choices they offer. If you are going with a larger group, for example, each of you can order a different type of chilled dessert such as a shake, float, or gelato. They even have crepes, cupcakes and cookies.
The gelato is too sweet for my taste, but a tried-and-tested offering such as Ferrera Rocher provides a comforting combination of super-sugary truffle with a crisp crunch. I recognise a big hit of sugar, along with the bright, cheerful colours, might appeal to others more than me.
Check out the hues of the bright blue bubble gum or ‘Miss Purple’, though I found the latter to taste less of sweet potato (yes, that’s the Miss Purple flavour!) than of sweetness.
Tip: You can sit in one of the booths and chat while you partake of your dessert or coffee.
Prices: Single £2.50 / Double £4.00
Where: 193 Cowley Road / sundaes-gelato.uk/oxford
The best ice cream
Oxford has excellent ice cream available too. There are times you might just want to enjoy the pleasing mouth-feel of ice cream’s thick, heavier scoops, which result from its higher proportion of cream (and thus butterfat) than gelato.
In hot weather, you might appreciate the fact it’s served at a lower temperature than gelato, so it’s cold enough to pleasantly numb your tongue as you eat it. To top it off, it can handle the addition of chunks or substantial pieces of your favourite candies and biscuits when you want to really indulge.
Here’s where you should go…
When it comes to homemade ice cream in Oxford, G&D’s is where to go. In fact, there are three branches, so you’re never too far away from a good scoop.
G&D’s has an extensive range of ice creams and sorbets; there were 65 when I last checked. Each location offers about a dozen at a time, and you can usually see what’s available where, in advance, by checking the ‘Today’s Flavours’ section of their website.
If that’s not enough, customers can petition for new options in-store or online. This variety is a plus, but for me, it’s the strength of the flavours that makes G&D. My favourite is the luxurious Oreo, where every spoonful is a joy of cookies and cream. I can also be tempted by the pure sweet berry of raspberry sorbet; or coffee, smoothly redolent of Kenyan beans. And when it’s time to splurge, they have some fabulously indulgent brownie sundaes. You know, with nuts and whipped cream…
If you’re there at lunchtime, start with something savoury and have a sandwich. The house-made bagels are well worth trying.
Tip: The original branch is George & Davis on Little Clarendon Street, where they still make all the ice cream. You can also find George & Danver on St Aldate’s, and George & Delila on the Cowley Rd.
Prices: 1-scoop £2.75 / 2-scoops £4.75 / 3-scoops £5.25
Where: 104 Cowley Road / gdcafe.com
If you like your ice cream a bit more blended, you might already know about Moo Moos milkshakes in the Covered Market.
This tiny outlet stocks an outstanding variety of add-ins: chocolate bars, sweets, biscuits, cakes, cereals, and even fruit – they’ll combine it all with ice cream. I tend towards the more classic mixes like vanilla with Toblerone or Smarties, but if you want to try out a shake with Liquorice Allsorts, Coco Pops or carrot cake, Moo-moos will help you out. If you like the idea of a blended sundae, ask them for a shake with a chocolate fudge brownie and chocolate syrup.
Tip: Queues can be pretty long, but you’ll end up with a thick, luxurious milkshake in a pretty pink cup, then you can walk around the market while you sip.
Prices: small £2.75 / medium £3.25 / large £3.75
Where: 34/35 covered market / moo-moos.co.uk
The Shake Lab
With the Shake Lab, it’s mainly about location. Let’s face it, being situated inside the Westgate and offering a cold, sweet boost to exhausted shoppers and their companions is genius. I find their ‘no-bull’ shakes pleasant rather than memorable, despite the tantalizing display of chocolatey mix-ins, but they are right there when you need them. I go for the coffee flavour.
Tip: The other bonus is that they do delivery and arrive quickly enough to still have their thick milkshake body intact when they get to your door.
Prices: shakes from £4.50
Where: 204 Westgate / theshakelab.co.uk
And that’s not all – what about the soft-serve ice cream?
It’s generally just a ready-made mix of a single flavour that comes right out of a machine. Still, it can be a tasty treat when you want to feel the freezing-cold cream melt in your mouth, and I’ll end with three quick mentions.
My most recent discovery, and my favourite, is the soft-serve at Colombia Coffee Roasters in Summertown. It’s velvety soft (of course), chill, and vanilla-y. Try it topped with a little chocolate.
The Westgate has two options for you chocolate lovers. Hotel Chocolat offers ‘ice cream of the gods’. This soft-serve incorporates cocoa nibs into vanilla – giving it a slightly grainy texture – and is topped with a milk chocolate shard. Coco Chemistry styles their offering as a ‘signature gelato’ and the blonde gelato features white chocolate with caramel for some extra richness.
Now, over to you…
That’s it for my recommendations, and now I’d love to hear about other suggestions or favourites. Please share your ideas, including for places outside Oxford. My long-term plan is to taste everything out there!