Last Sunday my friend and I decided to check out the London Gelato Festival (courtesy of not only a TimeOut recommendation but also several of my friend’s Instragram feeds).
It was mid-afternoon when we arrived at Spitafields market. We were immediately at a loss as to where to go to find the highly publicised ‘festival’. There appeared to be no signposts or directions, and the market seller we asked along the way also had no clue where the event was taking place. I was starting to wonder whether there even was a festival going on. Perhaps we had missed it.
Granted Spitafields isn’t massive so it would have only really taken 10 minutes of wandering about to find it, but surely that’s 10 minutes that could be put to better use enjoying tasty gelato.
Salonee and I eventually ran into a couple holding gelato ‘cups’. I use the term cups loosely here as what they actually appeared to be were tiny vessels in which one would struggle to fit anything bigger than a ping pong ball, and at £3.50 a ‘cup’, I felt somewhat short changed. The helpful pair kindly pointed us in the right direction at which point three beige camper vans came into view…
Encompassing these vans were hoards of people whom I can only assume had only really half understood the definition of a ‘queue’. Yes I realise how quintessentially British that sounds but there was no order whatsoever! Most people seemed to have no idea what was going on. I overheard several asking one another where it was they needed to go and how the process worked in actually procuring the gelato they had all come to try. There were no flyers with instructions on where to buy the gelato from or even any general information on the various flavours on offer. Instead you stood in a ‘queue’ (again I use the term loosely here) of about 20-30 people, got to the front, and were informed that you were actually in the line to buy the coupons which would then enable you to stand in the other ‘queues’ to actually purchase your gelato. A handy sign was available at the front of this queue however;
1 cup = £3.50
1 gelato festival card = 5 cups + 1 additional cup if you vote for your favourite flavour = £19.99
At this point we decided to make a few enquiries, the first being; “Could you perhaps tell us how this all works?”. The Italian vendor, who didn’t seem to speak much English, simply pointed to the ‘self-explanatory’ sign beside him.
Our next query pertained to the flavours on offer at the festival. The staff member pointed to the TV screens displayed at the front of the various queues nearby and informed us that this is where the flavours would be shown. Worryingly, four of the six TV screens were switched off. Did this mean these flavours had run out? Why were there people still queueing up in the lines in front of these screens? Perhaps these were ‘surprise’ flavours? So many questions remained unanswered! Unfortunately our time with the vendor appeared to be up. We were hastily ushered aside by the people behind us in the queue eager to purchase their coupons.
As the TV screens only seemed to be listing a total of 2 flavours at this van and 3 at the other, Salonee and I decided to split up and tackle the queues separately. We’d bought 2 coupons each, which would equate to 4 ‘cups’ of gelato. We agreed I’d queue for the 2 flavours at this van; dark chocolate and ‘vanilla, brown sugar and cream’, or as I overheard one buyer state ‘basically just vanilla then’. Meanwhile Salonee went over to the other van to explore some of the more exotic flavours we’d seen patrons walking around holding; a dark yellow-coloured flavour which appeared to be mango. Although we couldn’t be sure…due to the lack of working TV screens, signs, or menu of any sort.
In the end I did manage to get hold of the two obscure flavours; chocolate and vanilla.
Waiting for Salonee to arrive with her gelato ‘cup’ quickly turned into a sticky situation however, due to the warm weather we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in London as of late.
We thought it best not to overwhelm ourselves (or indeed our stomachs) with all 4 gelato flavours at once. Thus as Salonee returned, our duo became a rather colourful, albeit somewhat messy, trio.
“So is this the mango flavour?” I asked Salonee.
“It was the fruit flavour” she replied despondently. I couldn’t really blame her lack of enthusiasm, the ‘queues’ for the other van were even more ghastly than those for the chocolate and vanilla flavours. In fact the lack of organisation seemed not only to be irritating the potential customers, but also the regular Spitafields market sellers. I witnessed this first hand as a frustrated market stall vendor angrily instructed us to queue further away from the stalls so they “could actually get on with their work!”
Despite being rather full after 3 gelato cups (both having had lunch not too long beforehand), we still had one coupon to spare and at £3.50 a pop, we didn’t really want it to go to waste. After a short while (allowing for digestion), Salonee decided to brave the queues once again and try out another one of the 2 flavours they had on offer; chocolate and mint or the intriguing ‘Black Pearl of London‘ which could have had black pudding in it for all we knew! Again, the lack of descriptions here proved most handy.
We opted for the mysterious flavour…
The cherry (or in this case blueberry) on top was the pleasant surprise of the inclusion of a biscuit wafer. Although this small saving grace didn’t quite make up for the lack of organisation and general chaos of the experience. What did the highly speculated ‘Black Pearl of London’ taste of you ask…vanilla mostly, with very subtle undertone of Chai spices.
All in all the experience was rather underwhelming and much too chaotic for a hot Sunday afternoon, which would have preferably been spent lazily dozing off in the sun at a BBQ somewhere.