I love food. You might have noticed. But I am a healthy eater. I know the major food groups and I try to keep them well balanced in my diet. During the winter it’s not always easy to get the nutrients and vitamins you need and so, today, I decided to put that right.
Ice cream is one of those major food groups and, as such, is critical in any diet. I had neglected it in the last couple of months. My body had sensed the deficiency and I knew I had to act.
I planned my route. I checked the opening times. I was ready. I planned my route. I could easily cover it by foot.
In France it’s pretty common for shops to be closed on a Monday, especially food shops. There’s Sunday opening in France but it’s generally limited to food shops and “cultural” shops e.g. bookshops, record shops etc. and so many open on a Sunday, particularly if there’s lots of passing trade e.g. in touristy areas or where there’s a market but then close on the Monday.
I decided to have a standard flavour in each shop and chose Caramel au Beurre Salé or Salt Butter Caramel because it’s such a great flavour and it’s available pretty much everywhere. I would also have a scoop of something more interesting – whatever looked good or unusual on the menu.
First stop: Amorino. Amorino is a world-wide chain of Italian style ice cream shops. As far as I know, it began in Paris but it is now franchised all over the place. It’s an OK place and I guess it’s like Guinness; if you’re ever somewhere with poor beer then you can generally rely on Guinness for a decent enough pint. But I’ve never had a pint of GREAT Guinness. No, I haven’t been to Ireland. Anyway, Amorino is pretty popular and you won’t get bad ice cream here. It’s not great either, but it does the job. The caramel au beurre salé is a little underpowered here but it made up for that somewhat with the grains of crunch caramel on the top. I also chose a really dark chocolate ice cream with orange and this was much better but lacked a long and deep aftertaste. Not bad though and you’d be pretty happy with it as you walked the streets of Paris.
Bugger. It had started to rain. I was so well prepared that I hadn’t brought my brollie. Never mind. I was sure I’d survive the walk through the Marais to Pozzetto. This is a tiny ice cream café on the Rue du Roi de Sicile in the 4e. There’s another one in the 17e too. This is another popular one and in summer [not on rainy Mondays in March] there’s always a big queue here. Anyway, there was no queue today. Just me. And my carefully laid plan went awry pretty much straightaway. No caramel au beurre salé. Ah well. So I had a scoop of pistachio and a scoop of Marrons Glacés or candied chestnuts. Pistachio is one of those flavours that is a good gauge of an ice cream shop. This one was a good one, sweet but the right degree of nutty earthiness and, thankfully, it wasn’t bright green. It was just green enough. The chestnuts were excellently candied and suitably soft and comforting but it’s not a taste sensation. It’s an ice cream that definitely belongs to the colder months.
Onwards and upwards. Strangely, after four scoops of ice cream, I wasn’t feeling exactly sparky. Luckily it’s not far to Berthillon. The main Berthillon is on the rue Saint-Louis en l’Ile which you will find, quite logically on the Île Saint-Louis. This is the little island in the Seine just south-east from Notre Dame. The main Berthillon is not open on a Monday but there are plenty of other shops nearby selling the same ice creams and without the queues. Not that there were any queues today because it was shut. And it was a rainy Monday afternoon in the middle of March.
Berthillon is the legendary ice cream maker, or glacier as us French people say, in Paris. Their flavours are strongest and most exciting and the ice cream is just, well, fantastic. It’s a reputation that’s well deserved and they don’t rest on their laurels. There’s a great range of flavours and not exactly novelty flavours but adult, authentic flavours. Their sorbets are incredible too. Naturally, I went for the caramel au beurre salé. I love the salty kick of this one and it’s perhaps Berthillon’s defining flavour. The food writer David Lebovitz reckons that this is not as good as Berthillon’s caramel flavour but unfortunately there wasn’t any available today. Damn it. It just means I’ll have to go back. My other flavour was praline, lemon and coriander. This was an excellent flavour, the sharpness of the lemon and the earthiness of the coriander well-placed alongside the more traditional sweet creaminess of the praline. It’s mouthfeel suggested too much guar gum for me but I have no idea of the recipe and can only speculate. It was alightly like those ice creams you get in Turkey where there’s lots of gum to prevent the ice cream from melting too quickly.
I ate my ice cream standing on the Pont de la Tournelle, watching the barges heading inland. And feeling a little queasy. I thought a fourth pot would settle my stomach and no mistake.
I walked along the left bank of the Seine and then cut through to the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Keep following this past Odeon and you’ll soon come to the rue de Seine on your right. And here’s where you find Grom. Grom is an Italian chain from Turin that is, like Amorino, now global. Like Ben and Jerry’s before them, they declare their love of the environment and of quality ingredients and, well, it would be cynical to moan. Here the ice cream is definitely creamy and the caramel lacks caramelly punch but is so creamy that the thought of a big tub of ice cream from here fills me with horror. I also tried the crema di Grom. This is a great [and very rich] eggy ice cream with biscuits and small chocolate pieces. The biscuits obviously offer some texture but they weren’t as satisfying as, say, the sponge you get in the zuppa Inglese flavour ice creams found in many Italian gelateria [I have no idea what the plural is, sorry] but, nonetheless, a fine flavour.
I mulled over going for a fifth pot elsewhere but this was quite clearly a very bad idea. I shambled back to the Boulevard Saint-Germain, trying not to jiggle my aching belly. This was the end of the day’s ice cream gluttony. I would simply have to try the other recommended glaciers some other day.
I have sacrificed myself to ice cream, to exploration and to discovery. And at least I know my ice cream limit now. On the plus side, the two miles of walking will surely have burnt off any calories that were in the ice cream. Wouldn’t it?