Hands up who likes to eat a hand-made chocolate in the middle of a heatwave? No, me either. Thankfully, not only does Venchi (pronounced: Ven-key) in Covent Garden make exquisite chocolates, they make delightful gelato which is rather handy when the mercury is topping 35 on British thermometers. The store opened, rather unwittingly, on the first day of the Olympic Games in 2012 but this Italian-stalwart has over a century of expertise. The brand began life in Turin and is the go-to place for gelato in the country, even Giorgio Armani has licensed Venchi to provide his luxury retail brand with the production and distribution worldwide of Armani Dolci – his line of chocolates, ice creams and panettone.
Gelato has less fat than conventional ice cream because it uses more milk than cream, and Venchi uses no eggs either. It’s denser too because it’s churned at a slower speed, introducing less air into the base.
Now I mentioned the gelato but they’ve also got a cafe which has to be the coolest place in the capital, it’s brick, in a basement and is kept cool by the massive freezers in the next room where the Laboratory and the gelato magic happens.
Escape here for a coffee when it gets all too much with the heat, buskers and tourists and I promise you’ll not be sorry. It’s not surprising that the wrapped chocolates are kept here with the hand-made chocolates kept upstairs – next to the gelato.
All gelato is made on-site, daily, with natural ingredients which include Piedmont hazelnuts, 75% cocoa from the best plantations the world has to offers and is made with milk and not egg. Great for those who are on gluten-free diets, not so good for the nut allergists as the machine churns all flavours.
Egle Stravinskate is the woman in charge of the store and the chief Gelato maker and head of quality control. She tells me this is the busiest they’ve been – ever – and is loving the challenges that come with it. It’s a far cry from her former job as a manager at Starbucks, it’s hands-on here and it’s clear she has a passion for creating the very best ice cream she can. “I’m here for the customers.”, she tells me and I absolutely believe her when she says that. I watch as she carefully weighs out the ingredients, taking care to be absolutely exact, ensuring there’s really nothing wasted in any part of the process.
She takes me through the process and whips up a batch of cappuccino gelato – it’s being scooped out into cups and cones in under forty minutes.
She starts by weighing out the liquid 2½ litres of milk and ½ litre of cream and mixing it with the gelato mix base flavour – this makes 3½ kgs gelato. There’s no great demand for sugar-free ice cream here – the hazelnut, pistachio and milk chocolate gelato do not have cream added so if you’re watching your waistline these might be the flavours for you.
The mix then gets added to the gelato machine where it’s heated to 78 degrees and the pasteurisation process takes place.
Once the heated mix is pasteurised the liquid is poured into the freezer churn. Very soon the hot liquid is churned and turned into something resembling gelato.
It’s not long before the churning process is complete and the gelato is ready for
the serving tray and the blast freezer.
Egle then ensures that every last bit of gelato is removed from the freezing drum.
The ice cream is then removed after about twenty minutes and put straight in the store freezer.
Their best-sellers right now are Cour di Cacoa, Hazelnut, Bruto Ma Buono, Strawberry (Italian Strawberries of course) and Pistachio.
I get to taste a few of the other flavours and I have to say that the chocolate sorbet is my absolute favourite. The strawberry gelato comes a very close second made from frozen strawberry pulp imported from Italy, a much sweeter flavour than the regular strawberry flavour which wouldn’t normally be anywhere in my top ten.
Whilst it’s not immediately obvious it’s an ice cream shop, until you peer into the window, keep an eye out for it if you love quality gelato.
You can find out more about Venchi here.
18 Market Buildings, Covent Garden, London
Here’s a very quick caramel ice cream which needs only 2 ingredients and serves approximately 4-6 people.
600ml single cream
340g jar of dulce de leche
Whisk up the cream until you get soft peaks, fold the caramel into the cream and pour into a metal container. Cover, freeze for 3-4 hours until firm.