49-50 Camden Lock PlaceLondon NW1 8AF www.chinchinlabs.com
‘Liquid nitrogen isn’t just a gimmick” says Ahrash Akbari-Kalhur as he pushes his safety goggles back onto his head with a gloved hand. ‘Chin Chin is all about flavour: we just want to make delicious ice cream.”
London’s first liquid nitrogen ice cream parlour has arrived at Camden Lock market, run by Nyisha Weber and her husband Ahrash. This 21st century Mr and Mrs Whippy do not have conventional culinary training; Ahrash taught himself the art of pastry from recipe books, and the couple researched for a year and a half by visiting restaurants throughout Europe before they opened up shop.
The Chin Chin lab is designed by up and coming design team Shai Akram and Andrew Haythornthwaite. Decorated with glass beakers, pipettes, distillation equipment and – of course – a 185 litre tanker of liquid nitrogen, the room looks more like a chemistry lab than an ice cream parlour. ‘It was quite hard to find a landlord who would let us have that,” says Ahrash, gesturing towards the tank of cryogenic liquid, ‘because not all building managers are keen on having such a potentially dangerous substance on site”.
If you’re wondering why Ahrash and Nyisha would risk frostbite for ice cream, the reason is because liquid nitrogen makes smoother, better ice cream. Pesky ice crystals do not form during the freezing process, simply because there isn’t time: minus 196.7 degree liquid nitrogen is poured into a flavoured crème anglaise base (milk, egg yolks and sugar), churned for a few seconds in a mixer and the cream is literally ‘iced’ instantly. When Ahrash begins making ice cream, dry ice billows across the counter, bubbling out of the mixer and sending a ripple of excitement through the crowd of customers gathered in the doorway – and they haven’t even tried the ice cream yet!
Chin Chin only offer 3 base flavours – vanilla, chocolate and a special – as they want to keep life simple for customers. ‘We’re unconventional traditionalists, really” says Nyisha: ‘We create traditional flavours using unusual methods.” Customers add a sauce to their ice cream – salted caramel, raspberry or berry coulis – and then a topping, including salty roasted peanuts, violet marshmallows, pistachio and rose sugar shards or heather honeycomb. Sat on the swings outside the parlour, the high science melts away, as customers enjoy the simplicity of good, rich ice cream. The vanilla ice cream is speckled with Madagascan vanilla seeds, whilst the chocolate ice cream is dense with 66% coca Valrhona chocolate from France.
Ahrash and Nyisha’s enthusiasm for ice cream is as impressive as the liquid nitrogen they work with; the couple can hardly contain their excitement as they reel off plans for the future. They hope Chin Chin will become a kind of experimental boutique for all things sweet and surreal. One thing is for sure, gimmick or not, Chin Chin makes undisputedly delicious ice cream.