If you Google ‘best gelato in Australia’, chances are that Gelato Messina is on the list. Established in Sydney in 2002 by a family with Sicilian roots, the highly successful ice-cream chain has stores all over the country, including in Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne. It was the latter, tucked in a corner of Melbourne’s bohemian/hipster neighbourhood of Fitzroy, that I visited recently on a press trip.
We got there at a good time, as there wasn’t much of a queue. There were several tables on the sidewalk where customers were enjoying their cold treats on a warm autumn afternoon.
There’s the cardinal rule of enticing one’s senses of sight and smell at food establishments – and Gelato Messina definitely had the first one down pat. As soon we stepped into the airy store, we were greeted by delightfully vivid mounds of gelati in all hues and shades, as well as towering cones of wafer sticking out like a magnificent countertop crown. Benches and beanbags lined the brick wall, left deliberately unfinished for a rustic, bohemian look.
A wonderfully messy playground of sweet and chocolate-y dreams. They have a whopping 40 flavours available, with five weekly rotating specials.
The glass case next to the ice-cream counter houses Gelato Messina’s signature items – gelato cakes – perfect for special events and celebrations. There’s the quirkily named Dr Evil’s Magic Mushroom (background), sure to be a hit with the kids (and the kids at heart!).
Made to look like a toadstool, the top dome is filled with dark chocolate gelato, peanut cookies and dulce de leche, topped with layers of vanilla cream, chocolate sponge, a red ganache and white chocolate buttons for the ‘spots’. Meanwhile, the ‘grass’ is crushed biscuit, white chocolate and almond praline and popping candy.
Evil indeed, for the waistline.
Another bestseller is their Hazelnut Zucotto (foreground), the brand’s first gelato cake which features hazelnut and gianduia gelato encased in a frangelico-soaked hazelnut sponge and cream/finished with mirror glaze (for that shiny smooth appearance).
We got behind the counter for some backstage action, where a kitchen staff was busy whipping up ingredients for a limited edition gelato cake. This involved dipping a beater into hot caramel sugar and whipping it around to create glossy, gossamer-like sugar webs; as fine as spun thread. It was a tedious process, but I understand now why people keep coming back to Messina – it’s their commitment for fresh ingredients and making as much as possible in-house. When you control the ingredients and how they’re made, you also control the end flavours to ensure that everything is top quality.
Messina Melbourne’s head chef, Michelangelo Vinci
is as dreamy as his desserts oh cough ahem i mean ahem.
Well, as they say, the proof is in the pudding (or in this case, the ice-cream) so we had to sample a couple of flavours. I love dairy, so I went for their dairy flavours (which are low in fat, coz they use less cream). We couldn’t try all 40, but my favourites were the Tiramisu, which was delightfully fluffy thanks to the egg, marsala and mascarpone, with lady finger biscuits soaked in espresso coffee, as well as the Vanilla which also had eggs, organic Tahitian vanilla bean and fresh milk for an awesomely creamy texture. Thick, rich and not overly sweet.
Adventurous souls can find some unusual pairings, like the coconut + lychee, poached figs in marsala and yoghurt caramel. The sorbet range offers flavours like salted coconut and mango salsa, blood orange, lemon and strawberry.
GELATO MESSINA (Fitzroy branch)
237 Smith St Fitzroy, VIC 3065
Business hours: Sun- Thurs (12pm – 11pm), Fri-Sat (12PM – 1130PM) – for those late night ice cream cravings!