Heston Blumenthal is famous for snail porridge. He’s famous for meat fruits. But he’s probably most famous for egg and bacon icecream. He even made it on this season of Australia’s MasterChef. And the way he makes the icecream, by churning it with liquid nitrogen and basically snap freezing it, featured as a key technique in one of the MasterChef elimination challenges (ba-bye Noelene).
Two Fridays ago I went to N2 Extreme Gelato, a new gelataria on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy which uses the liquid nitrogen technique to make its icecream. I was excited to go (hell, it’s icecream after all) but spurious that it would be any better than normal icecream. N2 is a funky little astro-turfed shop which was full of people despite it being a cold winter night in Melbourne. A blackboard displays the flavours of the week. I was with three other people and between us we tried Black Lava Salted Caramel (my choice), Crème Brulee (by far the most popular order amongst the crowd), Sour Cream Chocolate and, wait for it, Blue Cheese!
A really chatty woman took our order and then you wait around to the right of the counter where you can watch the “gelartists” make the icecream by getting a beaker of flavoured custard from the right churner, tipping it into the bowl of a professional series MixMaster and then adding a smidge of liquid nitrogen. The result is that a huge amount of white vapour pours out of the top of the Mixmaster bowls, like something out of a Harry Potter film. It looks pretty awesome! It definitely gets you excited to get your hands on a tub of it. The wait is not too bad. We waited maybe 5 minutes for our first order. They mixed up the Blue Cheese order and tried to give us Spam and Mustard instead. When we pointed out our order was wrong, it was quickly addressed without complaint and we had all four flavours within about 10 to 15 minutes. There’s an area in the back with packing crates and atsro-turf where you can sit or stand and eat.
Tubs are $6 each. They only do one flavour per tub, so there is only one price option. Flavours change regularly and are posted on their website and Instagram. While the flavour list is relatively small (about ten including limited edition flavours), it feels like a fair bit of work has gone into perfecting each flavour. All four flavours we had were really well done. I even ate a bit of the blue cheese one, despite my dislike for anything blue and/or mouldy! It was pretty subtle, not really my thing, but definitely edible. The crème brulee was awesome, complete with blow torched caramelised top. And my black salted caramel was delicious, sweet, very caramelly and had just enough black lava salt sprinkled on top. Above all, it was the texture of the ice-cream that really stood out and makes me keen for a return trip to N2. It is so soft! Ice-cream is soft, I know that, but this is a whole new level of softness. It is like soft serve but with the intensity of flavour and richness of real ice-cream.
N2 also has a counterpart in Sydney, where the business started. My guess is that N2 will be expanding into a chain in the not too distant future. While this is “hot” (or very cold!) right now, I think it is a fad that is likely to last, since the product is actually superior, rather than just being fashionable. It’s not a must-do, but for gelato aficionados, this is a new and quite big step forward in production methods in Australia that is well worth a try…or two.