“ Europe's first nitro ice-cream parlour „
The first time I visited my cousin in ol' London town he suggested we go to Camden Market to take in the experience, have something to eat and do a bit of shopping - pick up a bargain or two - and I couldn't wait (fully expecting to bump in to Amy Winehouse). I started Google-ing things to do in Camden and came across a couple of news stories about this weird and wonderful 'Nitro' Ice Cream parlour called Chin Chin laboratories. My cousin said he'd heard about them too in local press and we decided to go visit the shop.
Chin Chin is situated on Camden Lock Place, diagonally opposite Gilgamesh. It looks like a traditional sweet shoppe at the front, and even has old fashioned bump-your-bum-on-the-seat wooden rope swings for customers to enjoy the sunshine from. When you go inside though, it's like you've happened upon a science experiment, cold, stainless steel surfaces, wire mesh shelving and Ahrash and his wife Nyisha decked out in lab coats and safety goggles. You can't help feeling super-cool and as if you're part of something very exciting. There are big vats of liquid nitrogen bubbling behind the counter and three retro food mixers waiting to be filled with ice cream.
Ahrash puts on his cryo gloves and he starts the show - first, following extensive informative explanations of, he asks you to choose your flavour. Valrhona Chocolate is a firm feature on the menu but is accompanied by various flavours of the week - last time I went it was Queen of Puddings in celebration of the Royal Wedding and this week it's BBQ Pineapple! He then takes a jug of custardy liquid ice cream and pours it in to the pastel coloured stainless steel food mixer and subsequently it gets really exciting as he dispenses a jug of liquid nitrogen from the big vats and ethereal wisps of fog begin to stream out of the jug, over his hands, through the safety screen at the counter and fizzle out just as they reach you. It's like you've stepped on the set of Stars in their Eyes...
As he pours in the liquid nitrogen and blends the ice cream, he explains that the liquid nitrogen boils and bubbles at an incomprehensible temperature of -196°C, he also explains that by freezing the ice cream instantly it prevents coarse ice crystals from forming which can spoil the taste of the ice cream. Once he's done freezing, he tests the ice cream using a temperature probe and then he shows you the results. Finally he scoops the ice cream in to a small tub and that's Ahrash's part in the show complete.
You move to the next counter to see his wife Nyisha who explains all about the toppings and sauces they offer which are displayed in test tubes and varying sizes of glass beakers. The toppings range from shards of cracked Violet Sugar to 'Burnt' White Chocolate pieces, Chopped Nuts and gold-covered Popping Candy and look every bit Willy Wonker as they should - your eyes are guaranteed to widen. They also have a delicious range of sauces including thick, gooey Salted Caramel and fresh Rasberry Coulis to choose from. Once you've pondered and made the difficult decision you hand over your £3.95 and in return you get your tub of ice cream and a cute medicine spoon (think 5ml, Tixylix spoon) to eat it with at the little wrought iron tables adorned with single bud vases - from Science lab back to picnic area (or you can enjoy the ice cream on the aforementioned swings outside!).
The liquid nitrogen idea may seem a bit of a gimmick to begin with, but honestly, it makes the ice cream smooth and the absence of the ice crystals you will notice next time you revert to 'normal' ice cream really makes for a smooth and creamy eat. The toppings combined with the sauce and ice cream make for a taste explosion in every mouthful - it's absolutely worth £3.95 and though it seems a small portion, it's enough to fill you up and make your teeth ache ever-so-slightly!
I've visited a few times now and I am still amazed that the husband and wife team maintain their enthusiasm. They must serve hundreds of customers each week and now, almost a year after my first visit; they are still energetic and passionate about their creations. They still explain all about their toppings and the science behind it all with absolutely no monotony, still finding extra interesting facts to drop in to the display. It's always impeccably clean - in fact clinical - and they are always welcoming ready to tell you all about their latest flavour creation. I honestly recommend everyone to visit Chin Chin laboratories at least once in their lifetime as a special, exciting, educational, geeky-but-cool treat.
But, beware, you may become addicted.