Friday, September 30, 2011

Chin Chin Labs – Indulging in Nitro Ice Cream

Chin Chin Labs – 49-50 Camden Lock Place, Camden Town London
07885 604 284

While on my 2 week business travel in Europe, one sometimes resorts to reading such things as in-flight magazines. And in this particular one, British Airways’, Highlife Magazine I found some valuable food tid-bits - the first one being about a nitro ice cream shop called Chin Chin Labs.

Seeing the likes of molecular gastronomy only on shows such as
Top Chef, I was intrigued to learn I could actually experience it during my stay. Looking up the address of this place, I think it may have been pure luck or just good karma, but it turned out to be an 8 minute walk from work. “What are the chances?!,” I thought to myself.

It didn’t take me long to find some work friends to accompany me – actually they were on their way to this place already. I definitely had luck on my side…

Located in Camden Town, London’s equivalent to our East Village if you will, Chin Chin labs is situated on a bustling street corridor, packed with lots of independent eateries and even a street food market just a few steps away. It’s an adventure just to explore the latter, and there’s plenty of nice places to sit outside and enjoy food al fresco, which we did.

The actual ice cream shop is small and naturally, due to its uniqueness, there’s a line out the door. Not a huge, huge line, but still, people flock to see what’s going on. “Where in the world are those clouds of steam coming from?!,” they probably wonder.

The shop is small and quaint and looks partly like a science lab, hence its clever name. I’m not entirely sure where “Chin Chin” comes in, but right as I made my way to the counter to give my order, I recognized the man mixing the ice cream bases and pouring in the nebulous liquid nitrogen, from the in-flight magazine. Ahrash Akbari-Kalhur, Chin-Chin’s owner rules this peculiar ice cream kingdom. He’s welcoming and engaging, explaining the process of freezing the ice cream, how it’s made, why liquid nitrogen and so forth. Even though the shop was busy, I felt like I could ask him anything.

Nitro Ice Cream:

There are 2 staple flavors you can always find at Chin-Chin Labs, including Valhrona Chocolate and Madagascar Vanilla. However, Ahrash also adds a flavor of the week, and this week’s was fizzy concord grape. After Ahrash mixes the base in a Kitchen Aid, he then puts on his giant Nitro goggles and mixes in the liquid Nitrogen, soon after showing you on the spot how quickly the liquid base takes on its ice cream texture.

After the mixing, come the fun toppings, and you get 1 sauce (chocolate, salted caramel or fresh raspberry) and then an additional topping of funky fixins such as grilled white chocolate bits, caramelized pretzels, honeycomb, caramelized bacon (that’s a special) and so forth.

Automatically gravitating to the chocolate base, I wasn’t sorry I chose it. It was a dark chocolate that wasn’t made with cream, but just with the purest form of cocoa. The texture was divine and a perfect mix of creamy yet also firm. It delicately melted on your tongue, producing wonderful sensations of the most intense chocolate flavor. The raspberry sauce cut the richness and the grilled white chocolate, which was crunchy, added an interesting juxtaposition of texture. I can safely say that it’s the most unique ice cream experience I’ve had to date. Fact.

Service and Cost:

As I already mentioned, Ahrash was friendly, engaging, and truly showcased ice cream making as an art form. It was obvious how passionate he is about science and gastronomy, yet his approachable attitude makes him the perfect host – not always what you think of when you put science into the equation.

Costs are expensive but so worth every pence. I repeat…it’s more than ice cream, it’s an experience! For my small cup of nitro deliciousness, I paid 4 Pounds, which is equivalent to almost $6.

3 Scientifically Significant Mmmms

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