Gelato Messina: Over-the-top ice cream Down Under

The morning after Christmas, K and I headed to Boston’s Logan International Airport to begin our long journey to Australia. Most of the Australian-side of my family could not attend our wedding last August, so we planned this trip to celebrate with them. When K’s parents heard about the plans, they offered to accompany us… After all, it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere 🙂

Our trip began in my father’s hometown of Melbourne. The four of us spent several days visiting family and exploring the city itself. One of the highlights was wandering around the Royal Botanic Gardens. I can’t believe it took me so long to discover this urban oasis.

Botanical GardensOn Sunday, my Aunt Kathy put on a lovely afternoon barbeque for everyone who could make it. It was so special to introduce my in-laws to my extended family and family friends. As anticipated, everyone got along swimmingly!

IMG_6558Before we headed off to Sydney to experience their New Year’s Eve celebrations, I made sure to schedule some time with my dear friend Rangi. While she’d attended our wedding in Seattle and Kathy’s barbeque, I always try to soak up as much time with Rangi as humanly possible. We’ve been friends ever since my grandma introduced me to the “lovely gal” next door over 15 years ago. Rangi and I hit it off immediately and continued our friendship as pen pals. Remember when people used to have “pen pals” instead of “Facebook friends”? Oh, how I miss those glitter pens and stickers…

On our last night in Melbourne, Rangi picked the four of us up from our hotel and drove over to a popular new restaurant, Epocha, where we devoured an incredibly tasty (and gluten-free friendly) meal.

2014-12-29 22.57.32-1 copyAs we polished off dessert at Epocha, Rangi informed us that the night was not yet over. So we piled into her car and headed to the hipster neighborhood of Fitzroy. Our destination? Gelato Messina. The wildly-popular chain started in Sydney (where it has six stores and a devoted following) and  opened its first Melbourne location in 2013. Gelato Messina focuses on all-natural ingredients, and the gelato is made in-house daily.

I apologize in advance for the less-than-stellar photographs. It was quite dark!IMG_6819 IMG_6820Gelato Messina eludes easy classifications. Its décor reminded me both of classy European cafés and trendy Manhattan nightclubs. On this warm evening, the lights were turned low and the music cranked loud. And the long lines after 10pm on a weeknight were impressive.

IMG_6822On any given night, Gelato Messina Fitzroy has over 40 flavors of gelato and sorbetto. In addition, there are 5 weekly specials — often the most wacky or seasonal flavors. Each gelato is displayed behind a lovely, curved glass gelati case. Several of the flavors were common — Vanilla, Choc Mint, Coffee, Gianduia, Mango, etc. —  but most were not. Some examples:

  • Coconut & Lychee – coconut milk gelato with lychee fruit
  • Banana Split – caramel and banana gelato with peanuts and whipped cream
  • Pear & Rhubarb – pear gelato with poached spiced rhubarb
  • Salted Coconut and Mango Salsa (vegan sorbet!)

I regret not taking photos of the stunning gelati cakes on display at Messina. There were many to choose from, and I thought the prices (most around 45 USD) were reasonable for such works of art. Here’s an example from their website:

Understandably, we had a difficult time deciding what to order. The guys decided to opt out, claiming they were “full.” But we all know that I don’t have such willpower. I did, however, limit myself to one flavor, choosing a single-scoop of one of the weekly specials: Christmas Pudding. I’ve missed the classic Aussie treat since going gluten-free, but Messina’s version was clearly marked as not containing gluten. I couldn’t pass it up! My mother-in-law chose Caramelised White Chocolate while Rangi went with Apple Pie. (Side note: apple pie is highly unusual in Australia. Rangi first tried it at my parent’s house in MA just last last year!)

Our three single-scoops came to about $10 USD, which I thought was pretty good.

IMG_6823

L to R: Apple Pie, Caramelised White Chocolate, Christmas Pudding

The verdict? This is my type of gelato! All three scoops were thick and creamy, frozen to just the right temperature. My Christmas Pudding tasted exactly as it was advertised: “brandy, candied fruit, and brown sugar gelato.” First to hit my taste buds was the deep, molasses-like flavor of brown sugar, but the aftertaste was strong brandy. Not for the faint of heart! Unlike the classic dessert, the candied fruit in this gelato was shaved into tiny bits. This made for a smooth, yet slightly interesting, texture.  My mother-in-law  thoroughly enjoyed her Caramelised White Chocolate. I stole a bite, and it definitely had a more complex  flavor than traditional white chocolate ice cream. Rangi’s Apple Pie was the real show-stopper. It was all the goodness of homemade spiced apple pie à la mode in a single scoop of gelato. Gelato Messina’s apple gelato is mixed with real apple pie! I took a tiny bite, carefully avoiding the chunks of pie crust (which Rangi confirmed were buttery and crunchy, but not gluten-free!). The apple gelato was sweet and heavily spiked with cinnamon, and the bits of apple from the pie were soft and delicious.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by Gelato Messina. In my opinion, this gelato is worth the hype!

The Stats:
Gelato Messina
Multiple locations – 6 in Sydney, and 1 in Melbourne
(I visited the Melbourne store in Fitzroy)
http://www.gelatomessina.com/

Manly Wharf’s Gelatissimo

Apologies on the lack of posting lately. Between the engagement, work, and travel, my ice-cream writing has taken a back seat. But don’t you worry… I’ve still been eating my fair share of it!

Now, where were we? Oh yes… Australia.

As you know from the last post, the fiancé (K) and I traveled to Australia a few weeks ago. We spent most of our time in Melbourne, where my sister is studying abroad and my dad’s side of the family lives. Melbourne is a gorgeous city – lots of greenery, beautiful architecture, and a peaceful river running through downtown. But if I were to ever move to Australia, I’d probably choose to live in Sydney. Not only is it the biggest city in the country, but Sydney is one of the nicest metropolises I’ve ever seen. It has the intense energy of New York City, the cleanliness of Singapore, and the urban beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Best of all, K shares my fascination with Sydney and is more than happy to visit whenever we’re in Australia. So before we headed back to the States, K and I spent an action-packed 24 hours in Sydney.

While most of my family members live in Melbourne, a few have migrated to Sydney over the years. My dad’s dearest cousin married a Sydney businessman and raised four awesome boys in the area. She and three of her sons now live in the town of Manly, a quaint beach town in Sydney’s North Beaches. K and I made plans to meet her and one of her sons for dinner in Manly. Traveling to Manly Beach involves a 30-minute ferry ride from Sydney’s main ferry terminal – and this has to be one of the coolest ferry rides ever! Sydney’s ferry terminal is located right near the Sydney Opera House, and you get awesome views of the stunning building from the water!

After a fun (and choppy!) ride across the Harbor, the ferry arrives at Manly Wharf. We had an hour to kill before dinner, so K and I stopped at a great German beer garden before walking along Manly Beach. When dinnertime rolled around, we walked for ten minutes or so before spotting the Thai restaurant my cousin had chosen.

We had a great time catching up with family and sharing delicious Thai curries. But it was getting late, so K and I walked back to Manly Wharf to catch a ferry back to Sydney. The ferry terminal was pretty quiet on a Thursday evening after rush hour, but many of the food and magazine vendors were still open. I had spotted a gelato kiosk on our way in earlier, and I was happy to see it was still open at 9pm!

Gelatissimo in situated right in the center of the ferry terminal building. While surveying their extensive gelato offerings, I suddenly realized that I had an appetite for dessert ;). Italian-based Gelatissimo is an international chain, with locations in Italy, Malaysia, Kuwait, Singapore, the Philippines, and Australia. Gelatissimo serves all the quintessential flavors you’d find in an Italian gelateria, such as Pistachio, Amarena (dark cherry), Panna Cotta, Tiramisu, and Bacio (chocolate-hazelnut). But tonight, I was drawn to several unusual flavors. The Ricotta, Pear & Walnut sounded great… if you like ricotta cheese (which I don’t). The colorful Passion-Fruit sorbet looked quite tempting. But in the end, I decided on two flavors I’d never seen before: Saffron Risotto and Carmelised Fig. While living abroad in Spain, I developed an appreciation for saffron’s deep and slightly-bitter flavor. And figs are one of my favorite “grown-up” foods. I loathed Fig Newtons as a kid (too healthy-tasting for dessert), but now you’ll catch find me eating Trader Joe’s Fig Butter by the spoonful.

 I wasn’t sure whether the two flavors would clash, but I took a chance and ordered a two-scoop cup.

The verdict? So disappointing. I had such high expectations for these flavors, but I was sadly unimpressed by both. Had you not told me what I was eating, I wouldn’t have known there was any saffron or figs in this gelato. The Saffron Risotto was sweet but bland, and the texture was disappointing. Ever since that amazing tapioca gelato in Rio de Janeiro, I’ve been on the hunt for texture-intense flavors. Risotto gelato is a great idea, but it was poorly executed at Gelatissimo. There were a mere few grains of rice in my entire scoop. Likewise, the Carmelised Fig flavor was underwhelming and lacked the crunch of fig seeds. To top everything off, Gelatissimo is quite pricey (almost $7 for a pretty small cup). But don’t worry; this ice-cream disappointment didn’t ruin my night. The ferry ride back to Sydney with its stunning views was enough to put a smile back on my face 🙂

The Stats:
Gelatissimo
Manly Wharf Shopping Centre, Kiosk 2
Manly, New South Wales 2095
Australia
http://www.gelatissimo.com.au

A Sweet Excursion to the Yarra Valley

Last week was like a dream. I took the week off from work to travel to Australia, got engaged on the way, saw dozens of family members, partied in Melbourne with my little sister on her 20th birthday, and ate plenty of ice cream.

One of my favorite days was spent exploring the Yarra Valley, a famous wine growing region located about an hour outside of Melbourne. My sister, fiance (SO weird to say that!), and I took the train out to the Yarra Valley early on Tuesday morning. One of my aunts lives in the Valley with her family, and she took the day off to play tour guide. The Yarra Valley is a beautiful place, with rolling hills and dozens of small family-owned vineyards dotting the landscape – similar to what I imagine Napa Valley was like back in the day. We tried dozens of wines at Yering Station, sampled cheeses at the Yarra Valley Dairy, and enjoyed beer and cider at Coldstream Brewery.

But the best stop of the day was the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery! The business just opened in December, but my aunt knew it was the perfect place to take us for lunch and dessert. You can imagine my excitement as we drove up the immaculately-manicured driveway and walked towards the architect-designed warehouse.

Walking through the doors at the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery is like stepping into a sophisticated version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The smell of chocolate permeates the colorful open store. We were immediately invited to samples of milk, dark and white chocolate, which I enjoyed while taking everything in.

The store is mostly dedicated to chocolate, with ice cream taking up just a small section towards the back. Most of the walls and counters are stocked with homemade truffles and beautifully-packaged chocolates. The left-hand wall is actually a glass window that looks into the chocolate-making kitchen, where three chocolateries were hard at work on this Tuesday morning.

My cousin was waiting for us in the store’s little cafe, which has a patio with stunning views of the Yarra Valley. The plan was to have lunch here; the cafe serves light but gourmet fare – including pizza, paninis and salads. I appreciated that the menu called out all vegan and gluten-free options. We all ordered something different, and I went with the Vegetable Fritatta with a garden salad. It was a bit more expensive than your average lunch ($18), but it was a lovely and memorable meal. Moreover, restaurant meals in Australia are generally more pricey than in the US – partially because tip/service fee is built into the food and drink prices.

Despite our satisfying lunch, we all ordered dessert. It’s simply unacceptable to visit Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery without having something sweet. Besides the chocolates and truffles in the store, the cafe also serves fancy dessert waffles, sundaes, tarts, and gorgeous hot chocolates. While I was tempted by the gluten-free brownie sundae, I couldn’t not try the homemade ice cream.

Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery’s ice cream is made fresh on-site every day, and they prides themselves on using only high-quality ingredients. This Tuesday, there were 12 different flavor options – which is actually fewer than I’m used to! Luckily, everything sounded good. Most flavors were traditional, such as Cookies & Cream and Mint Chocolate Chip. But there were a couple more interesting ones, like Peach Mango and Honeycomb. Also, the two sorbets looked great in the display case. The Dark Chocolate looked rich and, well, dark! And the Wild Berry was a beautiful purple color and was studded with berry seeds (always a good sign!).

After a bit of hemming and hawing, I decided on a two-scoop cup with both Honeycomb and the Dark Chocolate sorbet. The flavor combination was an ode to my all-time favorite Australian candy, Violet Crumble. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of eating one, it’s a candy bar with a crunchy, honeycomb toffee center covered in a thin layer of chocolate. My sisters and I would eagerly look for Violet Crumble bars in any package coming from an Australian relative. While I’ve encountered Violet Crumbles in a few specialty stores in the US over the years, they still retain a big novelty factor for me. Since honeycomb isn’t a common ice cream flavor in the States, I had to pounce on this opportunity. Luckily, Ava thought the combo was a great idea – and she agreed to split the massive portion and hefty price (almost $6) with me.

The verdict? As you can see, the folks at Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery certainly don’t skimp on portions. And given that the ice cream and sorbet had an almost gelato-like consistency, it was served at the perfect temperature and didn’t melt before we could finish it. True to their promise, both flavors were rich and flavorful – proof of the high-quality ingredients used. While I expected Honeycomb to be my favorite, the Dark Chocolate sorbet was the star of this combo. It was one of the best chocolate sorbets I’ve had; incredibly rich (but not too sweet) chocolate flavor and a velvety-smooth texture unlike many other ice-y sorbets. The Honeycomb ice cream had that caramel-honey flavor I love. However, there were just two big chunks of honeycomb candy in the scoop, whereas I’d hoped for many small bites throughout. Still, the ice cream was a winner – especially when paired with the Dark Chocolate sorbet. These flavors complemented each other well; the sorbet was so rich that a milder flavor was needed to balance it out. Even still, my sister and I barely finished this cup. Overall, however, Yarra Valley’s ice cream flavors are not nearly as exotic as their chocolate candy and truffle flavors. I’d love to challenge Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery to focus a little more attention on their ice cream business. If they start to put as much TLC into their frozen concoctions as their chocolate candy, this stuff would be hard to beat.

All in the family.

The Stats:
Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery
35 Old Healesville Road
Yarra Glenn, Victoria 3775
Australia
http://www.yvci.com.au