“Internet famous” Corner Cone pipped our interest with their soft-serve crowned with a Biscoff cookie. Could it be… speculoos-flavored soft-serve!? No, in reality the caramel-hued swirls are either Thai iced tea or coffee flavor. We scored the latter on our visit, which tasted coffee enough, but milky and weak, like waiting room coffee.
A more robust black sesame flavor yielded concrete grey soft-serve coiled into a perfect turd-like shape. It’s decorated with accoutrements that make it look like an elephant. Felt a bit of a tit eating this as an adult.
Verdict: One for the kiddos, but fine if you’re in the area and need a fix.
Specializing in ‘Turkish ice cream’ known for its oddly stretchy qualities, Hakiki also serves ice creams set in the shapes of teddies and puppies that you must maul and decapitate with little plastic spoons before they melt into oblivion. Worse still, they taste piss poor.
Verdict: Not for animal lovers, nor ice cream lovers.
Italian gelato big shots Grom opened to much media attention and wait lines in Shanghai this January, and who can deny it takes big cojones to open an ice cream shop in winter? There was no line on my visit, but the shop was still doing a brisk trade.
I tried four of Grom’s 18 flavors: the signature ‘Crema di Grom’ (pastry cream gelato, chocolate chips, Meliga cookies), dark chocolate sorbet, pistachio gelato and pear sorbet. Quality ingredients are at play here; you can really taste the freshness of a pear in the sorbet, the nutty toastiness in their pistachio.
But one factor unites them: they are very, very sweet. Like, you’ll-need-a-glass-of-water-after-that sweet.
Verdict: Good traditional gelato, but needs to dial down the sugar by 25%.
I’ll cut to the chase on this one: Luneurs’ salted caramel ice cream was by a long way the best ice cream sampled during this mission. Preposterously creamy with a pronounced caramel flavor, crunchy chunks of caramel and delicate flakes of sea salt, it has a buttery feeling that I didn’t know I wanted in an ice cream, but now urgently require.
The other three flavors at Luneurs are more than just a footnote, too. Notably, the apricot thyme sorbet has a refreshing balance that Grom’s sorbet does not. I ate the strawberry sorbet with one of their freshly-baked croissants, like a jam.
Verdict: Luneurs’ salted caramel has done the impossible: unseated Gracie’s Chocolate Malt Sea Salt ice cream as my favorite in Shanghai. It is THAT GOOD.
Operating as a convenient little gelato window on busy Fumin Lu, UnCono has all the obvious flavors covered with some interesting curveballs, too. Pear Williams with cream cheese, anyone?
The latter proved unmemorable, but UnCono’s seaweed flavor (milk ice cream with dried Japanese seaweed sheets and white chocolate covered rice puffs) is a delicious surprise for those willing to stray the trodden path. Ultimately however, a properly strong espresso gelato proved their forte.
Verdict: A decent addition to the area.
The quality ice cream option that North Wanghangdu Lu definitely doesn’t require; Verona S. Gelato is one of the few places that constantly churns their gelato to produce a silky, ice crystal-free texture.
Verdict: Good, but not 20-minute cab to an obsolete mall basement good.
Pioneering cones are order of the day at STH Chimney. Instead of the usual waffle, cones here are made from chimney-like coils of puff pastry, and, more interestingly still, baked onsite throughout the day.
The result is an out-the-oven fresh, crunchy pastry – like a very firm croissant – that is a fabulous counterpart to soft-serve ice cream. At your behest they will add toppings such as matcha KitKats, Ferrero Rocher, Malteasers, pretzels, peanut butter, and Nutella.
Verdict: One of the few genuinely interesting ice cream innovations, return-worthy.
Mom or Dad ever let you put Magic Shell chocolate sauce on your ice cream? This is like that, but with more flavors and soft-serve instead.
Verdict: not as exciting as Magic Shell.
An elaborate process whereby plain vanilla ice cream bar on a stick is dunked in liquid nitrogen, then your choice of fruit puree, and into the freezing liquid nitrogen again before being doused with sprinkles. Produces a decent, clean-tasting fruit and milk combo.
Verdict: Not worth the 10-minutes it takes the extremely polite young shop worker takes to make it. He really needs to be working at a better ice cream shop.
Essentially, a -20 Celsius steel sheet freezes unremarkable-tasting ice cream mixture upon contact, onto which toppings are sprinkled and scraped into scrolls with a windshield wiper-like device. They’ll add any flavor you like as long as you bring it with you, but being a bar, they suggest beer and wine (!), along with more conventional offerings like Taiwan pineapple cake.
Verdict: Looks like more fun to make than it is to eat.
Honorary mention: Lawson’s Double Salted Egg Yolk Ice Cream
Social media was set ablaze by the unveiling of Lawson’s boldest break into the arena of convenience store ice cream since their legendary 5rmb soft serve cones. The Shuang Huang Dan (双黄蛋) sees a white ice cream bar with two spheres of salted egg yolk ice cream that taste sweet, salty, milky, and very eggy. Ours had previously melted, and frozen again.
Verdict: The terminus of the salted egg yolk flavor trend. Stick to Lawson’s soft-serve.
All ice cream shops in Shanghai in our directory here.