When I was growing up, ice cream flavours comprised an uncompromising trio: vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.
If you were lucky, you got all three in a block of Wall’s ‘Neapolitan’. Cornettos were a generation away but oh how we celebrated the arrival of the Fab in 1967!
It was my weekly treat until I ditched it for a new favourite, the strawberry Mivvi, an innovation of icy white gunk coated with sweet red glue.
However, flavour-wise, we were still in vanilla territory. And, with this month’s extreme hot weather, I’d be yawning with boredom after a day or two of those 50-year-old offerings had I not paid a visit to an extraordinary London ice-cream parlour.
Soy sauce ice cream (left) was delightfully moreish. Right: Worcestershire Sauce is another of the wackier ice cream flavours sold by Anya Hindmarch’s London shop
Opened as a pop-up by the playfully inventive handbag designer, Anya Hindmarch, I can only describe the flavours on sale at The Ice Cream Project as familiarly unfamiliar.
Each has been made with food brands that sit in every larder across the land.
Yes, prepare yourself for Heinz Tomato Ketchup ice cream and another made with PG Tips. Then there is also mayonnaise flavour, Lea & Perrins, HP Sauce, Kikkoman Soy Sauce, baked beans and Salad Cream (both Heinz).
The ‘sweet icon’ list includes Kellogg’s Coco Pops and Frosties, Lyle’s Golden Syrup, Bird’s Custard and Polo — a mint sorbet with ‘smashed’ Polo mints.
The wait to get into Anya Hindmarch’s trendy ice cream shop is over an hour (file image)
I know. Much as I love creativity and innovation in food, I rather dread the next attention-grabbing ‘twist’ on a classic. And while we have all welcomed new flavours such as salted caramel, the Ice Cream Project menu ought likely to be a step too far.
But here’s the shock: HP Sauce ice cream is absolutely delicious. Toffee coloured, it has notes of windfall apple and caramel with a tiny bittersweet tang of malt vinegar. It is interesting in the right way — because it is innovation that succeeds.
Hindmarch loves a twist on the familiar, making ‘everyday things in an extraordinary way’. Her concept is much like the thinking behind Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans series in 1962. The pop artist also saw the beauty in modern culture and put two fingers up to the snobs who said otherwise.
Following the surprise delectability of the HP Sauce ice cream, I confidently tried the rest. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce flavour had a tomato sorbet base and sang Bloody Mary.
Heinz Tomato Ketchup flavoured ice cream was fruity and tart, contrary to my expectations
Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce flavour had a tomato sorbet base and sang Bloody Mary
Kikkoman Soy Sauce had a slightly meaty overtone but was delightfully moreish. Heinz Tomato Ketchup was fruity and tart; Polo mint especially refreshing.
The Kellogg’s cereal types were predictably good (the children in the shop loved them) and Bird’s Custard ridiculously rich.
Of the 14 flavours, I only disliked two: Heinz baked beans and Mayonnaise. The baked bean ice cream had actual whole baked beans dispersed in it (‘One of your five-a-day!’). Biting on one of these nearly dislodged a crown.
Meanwhile, the mayonnaise was simply too offbeat, rich and sour at the same time.
Anya Hindmarch’s Ice Cream Project has been developed with a Devon ice-cream manufacturer Granny Gothards.
Her parlour is situated along with her shops and eponymous cafe in Pont Street, Belgravia, where she holds regular pop-up events. And it’s already causing a stir on social media.
When I visited last week, a queue of more than 50 young people sweltered in the heat outside. Inside, two enthusiastic staff were scooping mixtures of flavours into pots costing £3.50.
Ketchup flavour was not among the pair I disliked: Heinz baked beans and mayonnaise
All the flavours are available in 500ml tubs at £10. One shopper bought a cool 18 pots.
Now, Hindmarch’s concept may raise eyebrows but you must remember, ice cream has been an ever-changing invention.
It is not only one of the greatest and most loved discoveries in the world of food, it is also one of the oldest. If you reflect that we have only had electric refrigerators since 1870 and continuous automatic freezing was invented in 1926 — less than 100 years ago — it is astonishing that ice cream has a more than 2,000-year history.
The first recorded sweet frozen desserts were made circa 550BC using clean virgin snow and ice cut from the high mountains of Europe and the Middle East, transported in hay-insulated carts to the lowland cities where they were stored in similarly wadded ice houses.
In Persia, now Iran, the ice was mixed with fruit syrups to make sharbat, an early version of sorbet — only available to the richest ruling classes who could afford to obtain the ice.
People have been making cold treats for more than 2,000 years – but this is a new twist
New versions of sweet ices were developed by the Greeks and the Romans, including those made by mixing ice with alcohol. But it was not until the 4th century that it was discovered that if you placed a bowl of cream over a tub of ice mixed with salt, it created an endothermic effect, freezing the contents of the bowl.
If you own a simple electric ice cream churn that sits in a pre-frozen tub, it is very little changed from this ancient method.
The French, Italians, British and Americans made ice cream commercially available in shops in the 19th century — flavoured with a vast choice of fruit, flower waters, coffee, nuts, candied fruits and chocolate.
Every glacier, gelateria and ice cream parlour competed heavily to outdo the competition, prompting some incredible creativity.
Certainly, Anya Hindmarch’s shocking inventions are by no means the first.
Baked Alaska, created in 1867, has been attributed to various chefs including Antoine Alciatore of the New Orleans restaurant, Antoine. Cooks found that the egg whites in meringue spread over a dome of ice cream are a poor conductor of heat, so the pudding could be caramelised in the oven without melting the contents.
The Italian Futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti released a manifesto in the 1930s with recipes intending to upend Italian food traditions, suggesting ‘simultaneous ice cream’. The resulting combination of vanilla and onion was pronounced revolting.
Tomato Ketchup flavour is the latest innovation in a long history of wacky ice cream invention
We witnessed the popularity of brown bread ice cream in the 1970s and black pepper ice cream in the 1990s. And who can forget Heston Blumenthal’s notorious bacon and egg ice cream, served at his restaurant the Fat Duck in the 2000s?
Made by boiling crisp bacon with milk, combining it with scrambled egg, sieving it to make a smooth cream then frozen — it certainly made headlines.
It was, he said at the time, the restaurant’s ‘most controversial dish’. Blumenthal would also serve a version of the Twister lolly, made with smoked salmon and avocado.
Hindmarch’s new ice age succeeds, not least because humour and scrumptiousness are carried together in one dollop. But also because her innovation inspires.
After my visit to The Ice Cream Project, I concocted a frozen ice- cream ‘breakfast’, with a scoop each of Hindmarch’s Quaker Oats, Lyle’s Golden Syrup and PG Tips ice creams. It was, of course, Fab.