Ice Cream Special: Kitty Travers at La Grotta Ices & Gelupo

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Gelupo cherry and fresh mint
Gelupo cherry and fresh mintPhotography by Neil Wissink

As the sunshine continues, The Hunger brings us an ice cream special featuring Kitty Travers of La Grotta Ices in Dockley Road and Covent Garden's all-natural Gelupo...

Kitty Travers has travelled the world in search of inspiring ice cream. Spending time in France, Italy, Brazil, Spain, and the USA, she’s tasted everything from the most delicate of ices to the richest dairy cream, and brought her knowledge back to the UK to create her perfect London blends. Locally-sourced ingredients and seasonality are her starting point, and the rest is a combination of skill and imagination, with her particular predilection leaning to the fruity. “I love fruits,” she tells us with a slightly mischievous smile. “I just love them, and I want my ice cream to taste like a whole giant fruit in a cone.”

Visiting the La Grotta Ices takeaway window in Dockley Road – a courtyard near Maltby Street market where producers including The Butchery, Coleman Coffee Roasters, and Kernel Brewery have set up shop – we enjoy the flavours of the day, luscious strawberry and red currant, and deep and dark blackberries and cream. This is where, every Saturday, Travers dispenses cones, choc ices, and tubs to take home, with current combinations including Earl Grey, prune, and novello orange sorbet, Gooseberry almond nougat choc ice, peaches, crème fraîche, and tarragon, and a rhubarb meringue semifreddo.

Travers, who describes her ice cream as a bit of a hybrid – not quite as light as gelato, not quite as rich as American Superpremium – first found inspiration 13 years ago in an unexpected place. “When I was working in Cannes for a summer there was this amazing ice cream shop I used to go to for breakfast every day,” she reminisces. “It was small and dark with green leather and smoked glass everywhere, and they made these amazing ice creams of very French flavours like poppy seed or calisson and fresh cherries, served in parfait glasses – and I thought, I’d love it if something like this existed back in London.” So she took an ice cream making course in Versailles, before setting off on her quest to create quality ice cream with London-specific flavours.

"I want my ice cream to taste like a whole giant fruit in a cone"

At the moment Dockley Road is the only place where you can regularly find La Grotta, though Travers is hoping to soon establish an outlet in Hackney. She also has plans to up her production in the coming year, and recently spent time with a friend’s grandmother in Salvador who used to run an ice cream factory in the 70s, hoping to pick up some tips.

Greatly inspired by Italy’s regional approach, Travers tells us she’s relieved to see that the trend for “big shiny mountains of ice cream” has started to pass, with many gelaterias now returning to using pozzetti, the traditional wells for storing gelato, which allows it to keep better without artificial ingredients and stabilisers. One such place is Gelupo in Covent Garden, which has been churning out delicately-balanced, all-natural gelato for the last three years. Run by the same people responsible for Boca Di Lupo, one of London’s most loved Italian restaurants, Gelupo’s seating area has a good-naturedly shambolic feel to it – like any proper gelateria that sees a lot of traffic. The flavours are mixed with a careful hand, meaning they’re big and bold, but not cloying. Some are distinctly Italian, including the gelo di melone, inspired by a traditional watermelon, jasmine, and cinnamon dessert, or blood orange from Calabria, and the ricotta with chocolate and black pepper. Other combinations are more akin to cocktails, like the kiwi, gin, and elderflower, and the cherry and Sambuca. What sets Gelupo’s gelati apart is not only the flavours, but the variations in texture, which are done to reflect the original ingredients used, rather than being smoothed out into a homogeneous swirl. The gelalti is also kept at a comparatively high temperature, meaning it is wonderfully acquiescing all the way through. As with La Grotta, Gelupo is bringing tradition to the fore, but with a contemporary sensibility that favours natural, agile flavours and a welcome lightness of touch.

Text by Ananda Pellerin