Summer, school holidays, perfect time to eat lots of ice-cream, yes? There are some that say any time is a good time to eat ice-cream but I’m not one of them. Yes, despite my love of all things sweet I am not a fan of frozen stuff that makes my teeth hurt and my temples throb. So of course it fell to me to test and write about not one but two new ice-cream parlours that have recently opened in Oxford.
First up is I-Scream, a corner unit in the Covered Market, handily located in what should now be known as Sod The Diet Alley, just up from Ben’s Cookies and MooMoo’s Milkshakes. I-Scream, sharing its unit with Wicked chocolates, opened last month and is already doing very well with its selection of real gelato and an excellent selection of chocolates. I did a sneaky walk-by which included a cup of coffee ice-cream before going back a few days later to meet the owners. Graham explained how, when on holiday in Tuscany he’d had an epiphany and decided that one day he would open his own gelateria.
Fast forward a few years and after much researching of machines, methods and flavours Oxford has a proper Italian gelateria. Everything is made on site with completely natural ingredients and complete traceability. A herd of organically farmed Guernsey cows provide the milk and cream used, and Graham explained that actually his ice-cream is relatively healthy as the milk is unhomogenised, meaning the fat particles are larger and pass through the body easier without lingering! That works for me.
Regular flavours include the already mentioned coffee, chocolate, salted caramel (sweet but with a decent kick of salt), vanilla, hazelnut (nocciola) and stracciatella along with many more including seasonal flavours.
For me the winners are the sorbets. Both the raspberry and the mango are rich, refreshing and smooth, so smooth it’s hard to believe they don’t contain any dairy. I’d happily eat the raspberry with some fresh mint and crushed meringue dust.
All the gelato are available as scoops in a cup, waffle cones or a larger tub to take home, with prices starting at £2.80. You can buy to walk and eat, or perch on one of their customised milk churns whilst perusing the slowly revolving chiller of hand made chocolates! A great selection of artisan chocolates is available with some well known names as well as some others for you to discover. And in winter, they’ll be serving cups of pure hot chocolate to entice you in. A cool addition to the Covered Market (pun intended!)
Also just opened is Sundaes Gelateria on Cowley Road, joining the currently closed for a refit Indulge Dessert Parlour and Temptations Dessert Parlour. One has to wonder a) how much ice-cream does Cowley Road need and b) did they get all that black and pink decor on sale?! But, onto the ice-cream.
Summer holidays, it’s raining and the kids are bored so in an attempt to kill two birds with one stone we decided to take all our kids for ice-cream and then let them review it! What could possibly go wrong?! Well, five kids, three adults and a shedload of sugar for a start!
We sat at one of the long bench seats, positioned a mile away from the table and every time one of us leant forward the bench would tilt, catapulting the other person forward. Balancing precariously, we perused the thick black and pink laminated menu which consists of sundaes, waffles and crepes but you can also order scoops of various flavours of ice-cream in a cup or cone as well as a selection of cakes. Eventually Jacqui ordered for her and her two boys, followed by me with my three and Peter on his own.
The staff were clearly unexcited to be there and ordering various dishes is never fun when the server has a limited command of English. Some pointing ensued and we returned to our tilty seats.
Whilst waiting for food we had a good look around. It’s decorated and feels like an English version of an American diner. Lots of booths, shiny red seating, MTV playing on the TV. Unfortunately the staff are definitely not American diner style! Curt, stompy and slow would be downplaying it. You’d expect cheery “How y’all doing today?” with fixed smiles but that is absolutely not the case.
First to arrive was the strawberry and chocolate pancakes £5.00, as ordered by Jacqui. Her boys plunged right in, literally as they’re only 4 and 2! When asked if they were enjoying it, the youngest offered a muffled “Yuh” and that was pretty much their full review! Oddly, her banoffee waffle didn’t arrive until everyone else had got their food and we’d asked for hers twice.
Next up was the Marshmallow Cloud waffle, £5.50 A waffle drizzled with melted milk chocolate, pink and white marshmallows and sprinkles. Even for a 16 year old this was too much sugar and he left half of it.
A Minty Magic sundae, £5.95 and a Cookie Passion sundae, £5.95 arrived for the other two kids who got stuck right in. Minty Magic consisted of mint choc chip, chocolate and vanilla scoops – all okay but nothing amazing according to the eater. Cookie Passion was good except for the vanilla which wasn’t good apparently. Both agreed the whole thing was too big for them, got bored and it was too messy!
All the dishes arrived separately and interspersed were our drinks, also arriving one at a time. We asked three times for a glass of tap water and when it did arrive, it was plonked down somewhat ferociously! My double espresso caused some confusion – “a double espresso please” “Small or large?” “well, a double espresso.” “Yes, small or large?” “”Oh god, large I guess!” and was okay although a fair bit of coffee grains at the bottom of the cup.
My waffles with strawberries and maple syrup came with a scoop of ice-cream £4.50.The waffle was flaccid and bland, it needed a few more minutes to give that slight crust instead of making the entire dish feel like it was designed to be a hospital pud. Strawberries were as you’d expect and the maple syrup was the generic catering crap, rather than authentic Canadian liquid gold.
Peter ordered the Toffee Fudge Frenzy, containing toffee, caramel and vanilla ice-cream £6.95. I just realised this was seven quid and am actually gobsmacked!
All the “gelato” here is really just average ice-cream, full of weird flavourings and crammed with sugar. It’s certainly not deserving of being called gelato! If you want ice-cream, you’d be far better off taste and wallet wise buying a tub of Ben and Jerry’s. We tried all the flavours that we ordered and found an oddly powdery taste, a synthetic residue and agreed it was just a generic taste.
Two of us ordered milkshakes, one chocolate and one white choc with extra brownie but both arrived as normal chocolate. We’d given up by then. A tall glass with an arty swish of chocolate sauce down the sides didn’t compensate for a heavy and bland drink.
And then, Jacqui’s banoffee waffle arrived! Again, a floppy waffle topped with banana and a nondescript toffee sauce.
Throughout all this, there was the inevitable mess. One would assume that having an ice-cream parlour, you’d know there would be a lot of kids and drips and splodges so would plan accordingly. Not here. Their napkins are one ply squares, thinner than the loo roll you used to have at school! Applied to a drip of liquid they shrivel up and die. Luckily we were prepared and utilised half a pack of wet wipes instead.
The eating area is pretty clean but a visit to the bathrooms showed sticky floors and a word of caution – don’t look inside the cheap Dyson wannabe hand dryers!
So, if you want lurid, artificial ice-creams with grumpy staff, you’ll love Sundaes. But, if you want real gelato served by happy, passionate staff head to I-Scream!