Every Roman has a favourite gelateria, and can spend hours arguing the merits of their local haunt. In the last few years, the debate has gathered momentum as gourmet gelaterias have sprung all over Rome, with a focus on natural production methods and the provenance of ingredients (pistachios from Bronte in Sicily, lemons from Amalfi, hazelnuts from the Langhe in Piemonte).
There are still plenty of places serving up bland gelato, so follow these golden rules – or head to one of the tried-and-tested places below for a first-class cone.
• Avoid places where the gelato is displayed in fluffy, whipped mounds unappetizingly overflowing their tubs. The volume is achieved by artificial thickeners.
• Run a mile from ice cream in lurid colours: there’s no surer sign that chemicals have been involved in their production. Banana should be off-white, pistachio pale green, mint white with a hint of green.
A long queue is always a good sign, and Gelateria del Teatro (Via dei Coronari 65) is permanently mobbed by hungry Romans. There are always some surprises in the daily-changing list (concocted in the laboratorio in the back): dark chocolate with Nero d’Avola wine, say, or fennel and caramelized almonds. Scenically sited next to an old theatre, it’s also the perfect place for that obligatory “Here’s me in Rome with an ice cream” snap – sit on the theatre’s crumbling stone steps and tuck in.
Must-tries garden sage and raspberry; ricotta with cherries
Rome’s recent gelateria renaissance is largely thanks to master gelataioClaudio Torcè (ilgelatodiclaudiotorce.com), who led the movement towards all-natural gelato a few years ago, and now sells his sensational ice cream from seven locations across Rome. With a hundred flavours, running the gamut from savoury (celery, gorgonzola) to sweet (blueberries and cream, apple strudel) and with much in between, you could arguably have a full meal here and leave very happy.
Must-tries black sesame; pear and cinnamon
Florence’s top gelateria now has a branch in Rome. Carapina is owned by gelato pioneer Simone Bonini, whose recipes include booze-infused ice cream – the cream of whiskey flavour almost works in lieu of a post-dinner drink – and cheese flavours (parmesan is popular). Bonini’s insistence on premium-quality ingredients ensures the ice cream is fresh, creamy and delicious (and justifies the higher-than-average prices). Unusually for a gelateria, there are tables here, so you can take the weight off and give this gourmet gelato the attention it deserves.
Must-tries nero assoluto (chocolate sorbet); Vin Santo
At Come Il Latte two-thirds of each scoop is cream, which accounts for the wonderfully silky end product. The shop is cute as a button, with gushing chocolate fountains and floor-to-ceiling milk bottles (the name means “Like Milk”). If you were once the sort of kid who smothered their ice cream in sauces and sprinkles, this is the place for you: toppings are a big deal here, with white or dark melted chocolate poured inside your cone or on top, plus flavoured whipped cream and a chocolate-dipped cookie for dunking.
Must-tries caramel with pink Himalayan salt; pineapple and basil
Relative newbie Otaleg (gelato spelled backwards) is owned by Marco Radicioni, who was trained by Claudio Torcè, no less, which explains the creative flavour pairings and gourmet ingredients (there are four different pistachios: from Sicily, Turkey, Iran and California). Unusually, the laboratorio is out front, rather than hidden away in a back room, so you can watch the magic as it happens. Otaleg is out of the centre in southwestern Rome, but worth the trek for gelato pilgrims: if Michelin awarded stars to gelaterias, this place would be first in line.
Must-tries zabaione with Marsala; white chocolate, liquorice and mint
With plenty of tempting flavours you won’t find elsewhere (zibibbo wine, or dried fig and almond), Gelateria dei Gracchi has a loyal following. Ingredients are always fresh, and every season brings its own special flavour – if you’re in Rome in winter, persimmon is a must-try (cold weather be damned). It’s apparently Anthony Bourdain’s favourite gelateria – and who are we to argue?
Must-tries pistachio; cubano (dark chocolate with rum)
As a teenager, Maria Agnese Spagnuolo, founder of Roman mini-chain Fatamorgana, came across a dog-eared book of gelato recipes at a market, picked it up on a whim, and worked through many of the 214 recipes at home. Fast forward to 2003 and the opening of her first gelateria, which soon became known for its emphasis on healthy recipes, with gluten-free gelato, all-natural methods and experimental recipes drawing on herbs and spices. Head to the branch at Piazza degli Zingari 5, in the atmospheric Monti district, and wander the cobbled alleys with cone in hand.
Must-tries pear, port and elderberry; panacea (ginseng, almond milk and mint)