796 High St Thornbury, VIC 3071
|Opening hours||Sun-Thu 1pm-10pm; Fri-Sat 1pm-11pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
There's an easy way to tell if summer has hit. I look towards the end of my arm. If I see an ice-cream at the end of it, yep, it's summer. And this particular summer, if I glance towards my feet I'll very likely find that they're placed on the retro orange tiles at Kenny Lover, a bright, quirky, creative new ice-creamery.
So who's joining me for a soy sauce ice-cream cone with a side of hot fries? It becomes clear very quickly that Kenny Lover isn't your regular gelato joint. You can get a scoop of lemon, pistachio or strawberry but the traditional flavours are lures to draw you – licketty split – towards the wacky stuff. I suggest you show no resistance.
There's popcorn and caramel fudge (so far, so approachable); toasted rice, coconut and mango (enough tropicana nostalgia to be an easy win plus a pinch of savoury oddness), kalamata olive and white chocolate (a weird but wonderful waltz between salt and sweet, tangy and smooth); Davidson plum and ginger (a tart taste of Australia with a zesty suggestion of plum pudding). My favourite is the watermelon and olive oil, a summer salad that eats savoury one bite, sweet the next, every lick vital and refreshing.
Each of these places is spirited and fun, making it easy to imagine the enthusiastic conversations that brought Kenny Lover to fruition. One such discussion was the name, sprouting from a meandering chat group that probably includes enough monikers to rename every cafe in Melbourne.
Chef Mike Baker is an ice-cream obsessive and co-owner at Henry Sugar. Trained as a pastry chef, he's worked the dessert stations in questing Spanish restaurants Alkimia and El Celler De Can Roca.
At Henry Sugar he's always experimented with ice-cream. Some of the successes have come to Kenny Lover. The failures – don't ask him about duck liver ice-cream – are banished.
The soy sauce ice-cream came about when Baker was riffing on salted caramel. At Henry Sugar, it shared the plate with chocolate mousse and candied pumpkin seeds. In a Kenny Lover cup or cone, rounded savoury notes balance the sweetness of the ice-cream base.
There's a particular delight in boozy flavours: yuzu-and-sake ice-cream is tart and dry and beer sorbet delivers puckery sourness, even the "aahhh" of a well-earned thirst slaked. With less than 1 per cent alcohol, you're unlikely to trouble a breathalyser unless you eat buckets of it but maybe steer the kids towards fudge.
Fermented sodas are a feature at Henry Sugar and are utilised here in spiders, that happy-kid combo of ice-cream and carbonated drink. I had the tart-creamy rhubarb soda with coconut ice-cream: while it fizzed and frothed, I smiled and slurped my way to the bottom of the cup.
And the hot chips? They're a nod to the outlier custom of dipping chips into shakes or soft-serve at fast food restaurants: clashing sweet-salty, hot-cold combinations have hit fine dining restaurants in the past decade or two but, really, McDonald's was there first.
The fries and freewheeling flavours aren't the only point of difference. Kenny Lover also has orange banquettes and a loungy feel that distinguishes it from wipe-clean ice-cream salons. It's comfy and cheffy and there's change from $10: Kenny, I think I love you.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)