Not much is certain about 2021 except the fact that it's an excellent time to be selling and eating gelato.
It really is the ultimate al fresco food. It's delicious. It's inexpensive. Chances are you won't have to travel too far to find a decent scoop. And it's very democratic – everyone young and old can take part in an iced treat. Plus, no one's hanging around for hours at a time for gelato. They get in, get out, and enjoy the results with very little contact.
And it's become a vehicle for some exciting new projects for top Sydney chefs.
If 2020 was the year of collaboration, perhaps 2021 is to be the year of collaborative disruption. Sean O'Brien, co-owner of Redfern-based gelateria Ciccone & Sons, believes the nature of collaboration between hospitality businesses is beginning to change.
Restaurants don't look at gelato as just another cog in the supply chain any more – they want to run custom flavours on their dessert menus, name-checking the gelateria they've worked with, the way they might have with good sourdough a decade ago.
We're pretty fussy with what we do and so when someone does something really special with it, we're really proud of itSean O'Brien
"I think that the people we're dealing with understand that sometimes you can bring a product in that is better than what you can do in-house," says O'Brien. "We're pretty fussy with what we do, and when someone does something really special with it, we're really proud of that."
When it comes to experiencing these collaborations in the flesh, hordes of Sydneysiders have ticked Continental Deli/Ciccone & Sons' Neapoli-tin (three flavours of gelato, tinned) off their dining bucket lists. The new box to check is the more challenging fish fat gelato at Josh Niland's Fish Butchery.
"We've done a few products for Josh," says O'Brien. "One of the first was a take on the restaurant's brownie dessert with cod fat caramel on top. We used our salt caramel gelato, reproduced his fish fat caramel and ran that through [the gelato] as a ribbon.
"But the second project, which took a little bit longer to get off the ground, is a gelato stick. We used cod fat with caramelised white chocolate to make choc chips with a caramel-based gelato, then we coated those sticks in a chocolate made with the fish fat, so it was kind of like a fish Magnum. You're eating ice-cream, but it has a real fishy saltiness to it."
It's worth noting here that one person's complex flavour profile is another person's fish milkshake. And while they love to take on exciting projects such as these, back in the Ciccone & Sons gelateria, it's all about the simple joys of jersey milk, honeycomb and the ice-cream sundaes of childhood dreams.
Newtown gelato store Mapo has worked in collaboration with other small food businesses from the day it opened in 2019. Owner-maker Matteo Pochintesta works with Pepe Saya butter to make his salted caramel gelato and has recently collaborated with food personality Magdalena Roze to make a special edition Oomite-flavoured gelato.
(Oomite, for the players at home, is a dense Vegemite-like spread made by Roze.) Mapo have also just released a "beerimisu" with local craft brewers Grifter – all the flavours of a tiramisu, with the heft of the beer company's oat milk stout.
On the other end of the scale, gelato heavyweight Messina has been working with chefs since it opened its first store in Darlinghurst in 2002. Back then, it supplied the likes of chefs Christine Manfield, then of Paramount, Potts Point, and Danny Russo (L'Unico, Balmain).
During 2020, it worked with Firedoor chef Lennox Hastie and cookbook author Elizabeth Hewson, making custom gelatos for Hastie's restaurant store. It even made a range of Neapolitan gelato-inspired gin with local distillers Archie Rose. Now it has shifted focus to chocolate.
Set to be distributed by specialty food suppliers Two Providores from February, the idea for Messina chocolate was borne of shipping chocolate from around the world for their gelato production, but not being too clear on where the cocoa for that chocolate was coming from. It now buys Fairtrade cocoa from Ecuador, working with chefs to make something unique for each restaurant.
"We've been in preliminary talks with Lennox Hastie, who wants to be involved in the actual process to smoke the beans in his oven and make a caramelised milk chocolate," says Messina production manager-chef Donato Toce.
"We're going to collaborate with Alex Prichard at Icebergs to make bon bons with native flavours, and Ross Lusted from Woodcut is also very keen to do something. I've gotta say, it's given me a new lease on life."
Here's where to find Sydney's best gelato.
Tiramisu gelato at Bar Italia. Photo: Edwina Pickles
If you loved the restaurant, which has been a Norton Street staple since 1952, growing up, chances are it still holds a special place in your heart today. There's no need to dine in to order a scoop. It still operates its dedicated gelato bar out the front of the restaurant. Can't decide between the classic pistachio or the zuppa inglese? Order both. Minor caloric regrets for maximum flavour and joy. Plus, it's been the training ground for some of the city's best gelato-makers, who have gone on to open their own stores, including Mark Megahey at Ciccone & Sons and Franco Riservato at Gelato Franco.
Hot tip: tiramisu
Where: 169-171 Norton Street, Leichhardt, baritalia.net.au
A whole new generation is enjoying the gelato at Ciccone and Sons. Photo: David Li Photography
Ciccone and Sons
When Sean O'Brien and Mark Megahey first opened in Redfern in 2016 there were very few neighbourhood children who frequented the store. Now, with the changing and growing community, a whole new generation is enjoying their gelato. Here, it's small-batch, hyper-seasonal (no year-round strawberry, folks) and made in vintage churners. The pair are also passionate amaro collectors and run $10 cocktail specials on Sundays. With six seats under current restrictions, they might well be running Sydney's smallest bar/ice-cream social.
Hot tip: chocolate or jersey milk
Where: 195 Regent Street, Redfern, cicconeandsons.com.au
Cow and the Moon
Upper Enmore Road didn't know what hit it when these guys set up shop in 2011. They started offering 26 flavours of sorbetti and gelati and then won the World's Best Gelato title with their almond affogato flavour at the Gelato World Tour in Rimini, Italy, in 2014. That award-winning flavour is still available six years on, along with the likes of orange poppyseed, Turkish delight and after-dinner mint, for lovers of Roses assorted creams.
Hot tip: roasted coconut
Where: 181 Enmore Road, Enmore, cowandthemoon.com.au
Cremeria de Luca
Gelato might be the main game here, but did you know you can also order sweet arancini? Yup, those deep-fried rice balls you've come to know and love as an aperitivo snack come filled with Nutella here. There is also a soft, sweet bun filled with gelato, which is somewhere between an ice-cream sandwich and an ice-cream burger. Classicist at heart? Maybe a lemon granita is more your speed. Here, the Sicilian-style flavoured ice shavings are topped with sweet cream. And for the truly delicate and pure, a simple scoop of rose petal gelato. BYO straw hat before finding a weeping willow to recline under.
Hot tip: cinnamon (and it's vegan!)
Where: 84 Ramsay Road, Five Dock, cremeria-deluca.com
Franco Riservato's Marrickville store. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
With its green wood-panelled walls and collection of vintage etched mirrors, the interior of the Franco Riservato's Marrickville store looks like someone's very cosy lounge room, only it serves way better dessert. Order house-made biscotti alongside your small-batch antique-machine-churned pistachio or stracciatella (choc chip), or try fresh mango sorbetti. The flavours are concentrated, and the gelato itself has that dense, creamy consistency that speaks of a product that's been made slowly by hand.
Hot tip: toasted hazelnut or pistachio
Where: 281 Marrickville Road, Marrickville
This little shop off a Chatswood side street offers big flavours and gondolier-inspired decor (owner Luca Zanini is originally from Venice) with a pretty interesting point of difference: a vertical gelato machine (the only one in Sydney) that makes a tiny six litres per churn. So while there are fixed points on the menu (chocolate-lychee, blood orange-choc chip!), the small batches gives the ex-chef room to experiment. Pass the macadamia panna cotta.
Hot tip: plum, pine nut and raisin
Where: Shop 2, 77 Archer Street, Chatswood, gelateriagondola.com.au
The gelateria that stole the hearts of so many Sydneysiders way back in 2002, when Nick Palumbo opened the first store in Darlinghurst, is now an Australian institution, with locations around the country. Messina has always been about pushing the envelope flavour-wise, especially when ex-A Tavola chef Donato Toce joined the team and started running a weekly board of specials (prune and armagnac, and white chocolate gelato with peanut caramel crunch and chocolate fudge are two of the most recent). On top of the specials, there are also 35 regular flavours including a vegan, nut-free, dairy-free, egg-free and alcohol-free range. Something, as they say in the funny pages, for everyone.
Hot tip: dulce de leche
Where: Stores around Sydney, gelatomessina.com
Ask about the specials at Toscana Naturale Gelateria. Photo: Supplied
Toscana Gelateria Naturale
A modest Bankstown shopfront belies the not-so modest skills of gelato-makers scooping the likes of locally grown prickly pear sorbet and vegan coconut with fresh cherry sauce. You'll find all the classics (fior di latte, stracciatella and pistachio) but the specials such as fig, balsamic and mascarpone are where it's at.
Hot tip: ricotta and cinnamon
Where: 103 Denman Road, Georges Hall
Get the scoop from Mapo. Photo: Rein Photography
Cult favourite and beloved among Sydney chefs, architect-turned-gelato-maker Matteo Pochintesta's tiny Newtown store churns gelato daily. Like most savvy gelaterias now, there is a range of vegan options marked out on the menu, as well as the best-selling fior di latte, 75 per cent Bolivian chocolate and the unbeatable raw honey, which you can pimp by topping with a drizzle of fresh honey, straight off the honeycomb. Want to keep it light and fruity? Try the kiwi sorbetto.
Hot tip: Pepe Saya butter sea salt caramel
Where: 123 King Street, Newtown, maponewtown.com
Amalfi lemon gelato. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Ormeggio at the Spit
Hot ticket for all those lovers of fine-dining gelato: Alessandro Pavoni and head chef Victor Moya now offer a gelato experience at the bar at Ormeggio, and you don't need to order a full meal beforehand to enjoy it. Rock up, order a little grappa or amaro, and a cannolo with house-made pistachio gelato. Or try the lychee sorbet with plum-flavoured marshmallows and caramelised violet.
Hot tip: Amalfi lemon gelato with Italian meringue
Where: D'Albora Marinas, Spit Road, Mosman, ormeggio.com.au