As regular readers may know, I'm a bit of a Heston nut. Heston, being Heston Blumenthal; the chef extraordinaire of the three Michelin starred Fat Duck Restaurant, who has been feeding me with television brilliance since 2006. I have always been amazed by how meticulous and persistent he was when perfecting his recipes and how he not only thought well outside of the box, but sought inspiration from the most unexpected. Until the day when I visit London again and dine at the Fat Duck, I continue to live vicariously off his TV shows, by reading his recipes and tasting the inspired fruits of his culinary labours. Liquid nitrogen ice cream is one of those simplistic and yet cunningly genius aspects of his iconic repertoire - almost instant, smooth and creamy ice cream? Why not?
Having watched many east cost friends rave and banter on about the brilliance of N2 Extreme Gelato, I was just waiting for a Perth store or something very similar to pop up. After having recently just visited the Melbourne branch of N2 (review to come soon!), I can see why it's taken off. N2 has really managed to capture the showmanship of creating liquid nitrogen ice cream and has done Heston proud by coming up with some crazy flavours like Haemoglobin (Watermelon & Beetroot), Pretzella (Nutella and Pretzel) and even Beer! Nice Cream Labs has a rather similar set up but on a seemingly manageable two man scale, tucked into the boarder of the fruit and veggie section of the Fremantle Markets.
As far as pricing goes, it's pretty steep considering what's on offer. A small portion starts off priced at $5.40, with an extra 60c per topping and an extra 50c if you want it in a waffle cone. We decided to go for a medium serve, which was $6.90 each and included two toppings. A large serve with 3 toppings for $8.90 is also available, as well as a large take home tub for $12.90, also including 3 toppings. In comparison, N2 gives you a single tub that guarantees that you won't need a 2nd scoop for $6 (true, I was absolutely stuffed afterwards!)
Personally, I think a little leeway must be given here, as Nice Cream Labs definitely have a lot less real estate to work with at their market stall in comparison to N2's established stores. However having said that, there's only so much oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over the wisps of residual liquid nitrogen that one can do. Even with two "scientists" and two mixers on board, there was a lengthy 20 minute wait for both cups of ice cream.
Another aspect that I was disappointed with, was that Nice Cream Labs operated on one single creme anglaise base for all of their flavour offerings, which included Chocolate, Salted Caramel, Passionfruit, Coffee, Mint, Strawberry and the flavour of the week, Vanilla and Macadamia. After tasting a sample of their Salted Caramel, I decided against it - although it is very liquid nitrogen creamy, I like my salted caramel alarmingly punchy and this was definitely lacklustre, borderline tasteless.
Whilst I returned from a short turn around the cheese section of the Fremantle Markets, I noticed that the vanilla and macadamia was made by combining the creme anglaise with some Queen Vanilla Bean paste. Considering that we paid almost $7, I was expecting that the flavour bases would have been prepared individually and made with fresh ingredients beforehand. Even after the small scoopful of Oreo cookies and Malteaser chocolates were mixed in, like the Salted Caramel sample, the advertised flavours did not make an impression beyond being really sweet ice cream.
My heart sank after seeing a bunch of slightly wilted Mint leaves cascade into the mixer; for a creme anglaise to carry a substantial amount of flavour, herbs and other ingredient bases are usually added in the simmering process. Adding the mint leaves along with the liquid nitrogen allowed the core flavour of the ice cream to be lost amongst the soft, syrupy strawberries and sour, popping Wonka's Nerds. It was a poor way to execute a Mint flavoured ice cream - the only redeeming factor was the inclusion of Nerds on our part, which helped to counter the excessive sweetness of the ice cream and give it some delightful crunch.
I can't help but make the comparison with what I experienced at N2. In Melbourne, I got a generous baseball sized serving of rich, salty sweet goodness that left me in a rather severe ice cream coma afterwards. The black flecks are actually sprinklings of black salt, which I saw on the tables of a few cafes in Melbourne too. N2 have done a fantastic job of not only creating great, ever changing flavours but as they showcase on their website and through their social networks, a lot of behind the scenes preparation goes into creating their unique flavour bases. At Nice Cream Labs, everything felt compartmentalised for the sake of convenience and yielding a high profit margin. Charging 60c for a few sweets that would cost you maybe about 5c at your local pick and mix is bound to leave your customers feeling ripped off. Beyond the lab coats and smokey Kitchen Aids, they hadn't managed to capture the quirkyness and fun that N2 have achieved with not only their product and their store fit out, but their overall presentation and vibe. It would be interesting to see where liquid nitrogen ice cream heads in Perth - if N2 gravitates over from the east, I already foresee a massive hype to follow. However, if Nice Cream Labs wishes to retain the market now and in the future, they're going to need to pull their socks up and start delivering some originality.
To browse my Instagram posts from Melbourne, including my visit to N2, search #MelbWhitMe on Instagram or click here!