To survive in this city, one needs a little sparkle. I am aware how frequently I wax lyrical about how fantastic my home town of London is but let’s be honest, like most large capital cities, it has a flip side that isn’t at all pretty. London is crowded, like can’t-walk-in-a-straight-line-down-a-street crowded, pockets of the city are strewn with litter, there are no free seats on the tube even at 3am and you pretty much have to be related to royalty to have any prospect of owning home in this place.
Many become disillusioned and many leave but for those of us choosing (or needing) to stay, seeing the sparkle is the key to surviving this crazy chaotic city of mine. For some, that might be the glittering reflections of the skyscrapers along the Thames and uncovering the history behind the architectural wonders that lie above us. For others, it might involve digging into their wallets to dabble in the city’s thrilling dining scene or maximising on the endless opportunities for retail therapy.
And once in a blue (or neon green) moon, it might just involve slurping on glow in the dark soft serve and carving out a mouthful of daffodil ice cream.
This was exactly how I found my sparkle in the city, one murky Monday evening a couple of months ago. Bad friends judge you for the choices you make and good friends embrace you despite them and reach out to you to when a relevant opportunity arises.
That was how a text message landed in my inbox from a lovely friend, which read along the lines of “I saw this and thought of you. Would you be interested in going to “Scoop, A Wonderful Ice Cream World?”
“Ermm yes. Obviously,” I thought to myself and replied within seconds with absolutely no idea what it actually involved.
In my head, I suppose I assumed it was some kind of ice cream market stall set-up, a handful of fold away tables, a gingham tablecloth and a few scoops of something or the other.
Sometimes it pays to have mediocre expectations (or to have no clue what you are in for) because our evening at the Bompas and Parr pop up ice cream event at the British Museum of Food turned out to be so much more than this; a brief but intriguing immersive foodie museum experience that is compulsory attending for all ice cream addicts in this city and beyond.
The exhibition location was a small, inconspicuous building around Kings Cross. We may have easily walked past it had it not been for the giant ice cream cone imagery in the window which was something of a giveaway.
We started off with a brief video outlining the history of ice cream before stepping inside a freezer and reading about how ice was transported between continents in the pre-electricity days. I worry my ice cream will become incontinent even on the ten minute walk between home and the supermarket but it would appear the ice cream maestros of yesteryear were more resourceful in finding successful techniques to maintain ice in solid form across thousands of miles.
The room of penny lickers that followed shortly afterwards soon pinned a nail in the coffin over any desire I may have had to return to the ice cream stalls of centuries gone by.
Turns out that these tiny quasi-conical serving glasses that were the utensil of choice for serving ice cream in London acquired their peculiar name after they were sold for a penny, licked by the customer to completion, handed back to the vendor and sold on to the next person to purchase and consume. Is it any wonder that infectious diseases were so rife back then and sure enough, when the in incidence of illnesses like TB started to rise rapidly, the future of the penny licker lay in jeopardy and that really was the end of these miniature sundae cups.
As little glass dishes, they are quite endearing but certain practices from centuries gone by are best left in the past!
I was quite excited to learn that we would be having an opportunity to briefly make our own ice cream the old-fashioned way with no gadgets and no freezers.
Cream was meddled together with ice, a metal cup, some flavourings – oh and some biceps which is all where it all went wrong for me. I’m never one to shy away from experimenting with flavours so I persuaded Pumpkin (a perpetual play-it-safe-with-vanilla sort) to let me throw in some fennel. He didn’t love our final product and nor did our friends but I certainly wasn’t about to admit that I should have kept it classic.
“You have to shake for 3 minutes,” our ice cream teacher instructed (is there a cooler job than that by the way? Terrible pun intended.) And the more you shake, the more frozen it will become.” 25 seconds in and a few feeble attempts at sloshing the container upside down, I meekly handed it over to an unimpressed Pumpkin, letting down feminists everywhere with my sub-par performance.
But let’s be honest, I wasn’t here for the 2 tablespoons of vanilla and fennel homemade ice cream was I? What exactly was with this glow in the dark lark?
My impatience would soon meet its end but first, it was time to mix business with pleasure – convention normally warns people off such pairings but on this occasion, the results were fascinating, entertaining and came as something of a surprise.
In health care, EEGs (electro-encephalograms) are used to monitor electrical activity in the brain, for example in patients with suspected epilepsy. During this curious exhibit, world-renowned ice cream brand, Ben and Jerry’s, were collaborating with the exhibition to monitor the brain activity of visitors on an EEG machine, captured live as they tucked into a scoop of the latest addition to the Ben and Jerry’s range, a new low calorie ice cream flavour. Now I’m not at all one to toot my own trumpet but I really thought I’d come up trumps on this one – it is well known in my circles that there are few who feel as genuinely excited about ice cream as I do!
Much to my surprise, however, it looks like we either had a bigger ice cream addict in our midst that day or perhaps it’s reflective of my inclination towards the more standard high calorie options, who knows?! In any case, the jolts of light on the EEG machine clearly didn’t rise as high when monitoring my brain response as compared to the gentleman ahead. Sorry, ice cream – I’ve cheated on you over the years with cookies, cakes and other bakes – I guess I’ve finally been busted.
In a room full of ice cream memorabilia and paraphernalia, we had fun plying with the largest sprinkles dispenser possibly in the world before we finally got our soft serve with its glow in the dark drizzle. One thing led to another and I now present my freakiest blog photo to date – I hope my happy, ice-cream filled face in the dark with iridescent white eyes and teeth won’t scare you all off…
Our experience ended with an opportunity to either eat one final ice cream or purchase some ice cream related souvenirs from the gift shop. We may have succumbed to the former and declined the latter but the charming, coffee table book of ice cream vans and shops from around the country was exactly the kind of kooky purchase that is right up my alley.
The final ice creams available to purchase came in range of flavours that used to commonly be made in the past and while we were tempted and we paid, it would have been a nice gesture if one scoop had been included in the ticket price itself, since the previous little servings we had tasted during the experience were miniature samples only & particularly when they were selling for £4 a pop! But after a belly full of sugar, everyone was in far too good a mood to complain.
Continuing in my endeavours to try eccentric flavors, I ordered a scoop of daffodil, which generated a fair bit of interest from my Instagram following the next day but having already dabbled in flavours like rose, lavender and violet in the past, the time seemed right to add daffodil to my repertoire. My companions chose marmalade toast and cucumber mint (not both together though – that would be too weird even for a quirky little exhibition like this!)
Have you ever been to a foodie museum or exhibition?