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The Best Gelato Cafes For Cooling Down In This Heat

We check out two artisanal gelato spots for discerning hipsters, and a character-themed one that will delight the kids. (A version of this story first appeared in Issue 1352, Sept 15, 2016.)


1. Butterknife Folk

238 RIVER VALLEY RD, S238296. TEL: 6734-7855.

Open daily except Mon. Tues-Sun, midnight-8pm. Last orders at closing. 
www.butterknifefolk.com.


“Sometimes, in the F&B world, it feels like you’re being attacked from all over and the only defense you have is a butter knife!” explains Ingrid Lim, Butterknife Folk’s pastry chef and co-owner, of the moniker behind her patisserie and gelato shop in River Valley. The bubbly 29-year-old studied pastry at Ferrandi School of Culinary Arts in Paris and also worked at patisserie Antoinette in Singapore. Joining her in ‘battle’ is Jack Chan, who runs operations. The former colleagues turned business partners used to work together in another F&B establishment (which they prefer not to mention), where they fantasised about turning Ingrid’s talent with sweets and Jack’s F&B know-how into a business. The result is this shophouse patisserie with its stripped-down industrial look and cute drawings of happy coffee cups and pastries on the walls. There’s a fun, friendly vibe here, so it’s a pity it’s mostly takeaway, with only four chairs for dining in.

ON THE MENU: The main attraction here: 16 flavours of house-made gelato churned in an Italian gelato machine. There are also French-style mousse-based cakes that can be made-to-order.

THE GELATO:


Yoghurt Berry $5 a scoop; $8 double (8 DAYS PICK!)

The gelato here is generally smooth and rich, if a bit too sweet. But we like this Greek yoghurt number for its richness and tartness. Its flavours are intensified by lashings of pureed blueberries, blackcurrants, blackberries and raspberries. 


Strawberry Basil $5 a scoop; $8 double 

This creamy strawberry gelato is saved from being ordinary by a whisper of earthy basil, and a bright, fruity hit.

Sesame Praline $5 per scoop; $8 double (8 DAYS PICK!)

Churned with ground caramelised white sesame seeds, fresh milk and cream for a lovely burst of nuttiness, then topped with a sprinkling of yet more seeds. A rich, toasty treat.

BOTTOM LINE: Tasty if slightly run-of-the-mill gelato. However, the delightfully delicate cakes here are worth pre-ordering for a party, too. $


2. Birds Of Paradise

63 EAST COAST RD, THE RED HOUSE, S428776. TEL: 9678-6092.

Open daily noon-10pm, Sat-Sun noon-10.30pm. Last orders at closing. www.facebook.com/bopgelato


You stroll into Birds of Paradise looking for gelato, but you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled upon an upmarket florist with hipster vibes. The shop is thickly scented with herbs because of the thyme-infused waffle cones freshly made on-site. The decor is achingly minimalist chic with a gentle pastel theme and lovely floral mural (perfect for Instagram shots), which sort of gels with the botanical-themed gelato here. If Muji x Sofia Coppola had a frozen dessert wing, this would be it. The compact parlour is in the shophouse adjoining Red House, which once housed the iconic Katong Bakery. It’s opened by former engineer, Edwin Lim, 35, and a bunch of silent partners. Edwin has translated his engineering know-how into the art of making gelato. "I had a pretty life-changing ice cream experience in Australia about 10 years ago. It was a combination of the weather, the comfy space and the quality of the dessert,” he shares. “After that, I’ve always dreamed of opening my own ice cream business”. Over the past decade, he’s been experimenting at home and visiting ice cream shops around the world, trying to land internships. He finally managed to get a brief one-week stint at a famous Australian gelateria (he won’t disclose which one). That internship, as well as a gelato-making course by Carpigiani Gelato University via At-Sunrice in Singapore, gave him enough confidence to finally launch his own place. Edwin has a thing for flora and fauna (hence the shop’s moniker, a nod to both a flamboyant bird and type of plant). That’s why a lot of the gelato here is flavoured with fresh herbs, spices and fruit. Of course, such a stylish space with artisanal gelato wouldn't stay quiet: we had to struggle to get our orders taken among the American-accented millennials thronging the gelato counter. Take note that it’s strictly takeaway at this smallish store, with only a standing bar by the window if you wanna savour your sweets indoors. 

Freshly made thyme-infused cones fill the shop with the fragrance of herbs. 

ON THE MENU: Nine flavours of gelato, all served in tasteful recyclable cardboard cups or thyme cones. Think classy, feminine offerings, like white chrysanthemum, lemongrass and basil. For more conventional picks, there’re also flavours like hazelnut. The frozen treats might not look like much in various shades of pale pastel, but we find the gelato here well-balanced, with clean yet strong flavours and a thick, rich body, what Edwin says is the result of tireless tinkering with the gelato base made with fresh whole milk.

THE GELATO:


Basil from $4.70 a scoop; add $1 for thyme cone (8 DAYS PICK!)

Milky gelato mix is steeped with heaps of fresh sweet basil for several hours. The result is this lovely minty-hued number with a good hit of nuttiness and pepperiness from the herb. It’s got enough sweetness in the cream to make it work, and goes beautifully with the crisp, lightly herbaceous thyme waffle cone.

White Chrysanthemum from $4.70 a scoop; add $1 for thyme cone        

It sounds bizarre but this works. There’s a distinct, floral flavour (think a delicate chrysanthemum milk tea) that’s milder than the grassy chrysanthemum drinks served at Chinese restaurants. Another odd touch that works: crunchy bits of cacao nibs (cocoa beans) that add a pleasant bittersweetness, but aren't so chocolatey that they overpower the flowery notes.

Double scoop of Raspberry and Lychee and Spiced Pear gelato
 
Raspberry and Lychee from $4.70 a scoop; add $1 for thyme cone       

For something more familiar, this is an elegant, well-balanced pairing of zingy raspberries with fragrant lychee in a smooth, milk-spiked gelato. Yummy.


Pandan from $4.70 a scoop; add $1 for thyme cone (8 DAYS PICK!)         

We were pleasantly surprised at how potent the pandan flavour in this is, almost like a frosty pandan kueh. Bunches of leaves are soaked in the milk gelato base for hours to impart their scent, then blended to extract the lemak juices.

BOTTOM LINE: Delicious artisanal gelato with the dense, creamy mouthfeel of the Italian classic, but updated with intriguing botanical flavours. Worth the trip to the east (and the long wait). We just wish there were seats here. $


3. Eyescream & Friends

TWO OUTLETS INCLUDING #B1-42 COMPASS ONE, 1 SENGKANG SQUARE, S545078. TEL: 6376-2862.

Open daily 10am-10pm. Last orders at closing. www.facebook.com/eyescreamandfriendssg


We pick the day Compass One mall, formerly known as Compass Point, reopens after extensive renovations to visit this gelato export from Barcelona (they also have an outlet at Wisma). And thus the mostly teenaged crowd at this quirky gelato takeaway stand is insane. Mounds of shaved gelato, inspired by the Taiwanese shaved snow ice dessert, are topped with two candied eyes to look like ice cream muppets (in case you were wondering, yes, that’s how the name ‘Eyescream’ came about). It’s kinda adorable. Spanish owner, Joad Lopez, 36, says he got the idea while on a trip to Taiwan, and in 2012, with his business partner, opened the flagship store in Barcelona. Joad says the cutesy angle came about by accident: “We were fooling around with the ice cream one day and two candies got stuck on top, and that was it”. In the sea of basement food stalls, this place stands out for its sharp mod look and hulking but sleek white gelato-shaving machines.

Adorable candied eyes that are used to top off mounds of shaved gelato, giving Eyescream & Friends' gelato that quirky look. 

ON THE MENU: Frozen blocks of seven flavours of gelato, made on-site from natural ingredients, get the Taiwanese shaved ice treatment: they’re lodged in the maws of the machines, which spin them around, shaving off soft snow flake-like sheets of gelato. You can get the gelato (eyes always included) on its own in a cup, or a “complete pack” with two toppings (think nuts, candy and sauces) in a nifty takeout box for $6.90. The flavours here are hit-or-miss, but we like the texture of the dessert. Unlike Taiwanese snow ice, these flakes are denser and almost chewy because of its higher fat content, and it also boasts a stronger milkiness.

THE GELATO:

Cheesecake $4.90 cup; $6.90 complete pack (8 DAYS PICK!)

This has a subtle creaminess and lemony tang. We have ours with a jammy forest berries sauce and crumbled caramelised biscuits. These iced shavings, though fudgey and dense, melt faster than regular gelato. So they go from cute muppet to soggy splat quite quickly. Oh, and the eyes? Basically nondescript, sugary orbs.

Mango $4.90 cup; $6.90 complete pack  

This gelato looks more off-white than yellow. And its fruity flavour is correspondingly light, though at least it’s not overly sweet as some mango ice creams tend to be.

Chocolate $4.90 cup; $6.90 complete pack          

A straightforward, if again too lightweight milk chocolate gelato with a touch of hazelnut. Almost like a watered down Ferrero Rocher. The white chocolate sauce we pair with this is a tad too sweet, too.


Wild Berry $4.90 cup; $6.90 complete pack               


A yoghurt-based gelato, with a grape candy-like quality. A tad too sugary and kiddy-tasting for our liking.

BOTTOM LINE: Instagram-worthy gelato with a few tasty flavours. But it's more good for a giggle than worth the actual calories. $


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