[UK] The Chin Chin Laboratorists

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Chin Chin Laboratorists on Urbanspoon

Ever thought of having your cup of ice cream in a laboratory decorated with glass beakers, pipettes, distillation equipment and a 185 litre tanker of liquid nitrogen? If the setting of a chemistry lab is still not enough to keep you interested, then the chance to watch how fresh ice cream is being made in front of you is definitely well worth the visit.

With only 4 base flavours to choose from, Vanilla, Valrhona Chocolate and two speciality ice creams which apparently are only being offered as and when available. Run by the owners themselves, they are indeed what one might call 'unconventional traditionalists'.

It took us a few moments to figure out that there were only 4 types of ice cream on offer and the specialities certainly looked well tempting. After some deliberation since we had just downed two massive sized exotic burgers from Game On, we went for the cigar smoked caramel ice cream and watermelon chocolate chip sorbet.

So, the process began! He would first pour in liquid contents of the ingredients into a blender which as shown in the preceding picture, from a glass beaker of fresh watermelon juice and conical flask of caramel milk smoked with Cuban cigars.

Following which, he would put on his gloves and get ready to release the liquid nitrogen! My first experience at witnessing molecular gastronomy, and what better way than to witness my own ice cream being prepared!

Briefly and not trying to sound too much like a chemistry nerd, liquid nitrogen is quite simply nitrogen in a liquid state at an extremely low temperature, which is produced industrially by fractional distillation of liquid air. At atmospheric pressure like our surrounding, it boils at -196.7 degrees celsius and is a cryogenic fluid which can cause rapid freezing on contact with any living tissue, which you can imagine frostbites. This explains the need to wear thick gloves releasing the nitrogen gas from the tanker.

Liquid nitrogen boils immediately on contact with a warmer object, enveloping it in insulating nitrogen gas, which is the Leidenfrost effect. This vapour layer helps keep the liquid from boiling rapidly, preventing it from molecular mass loss.

After being transported in glass beakers and poured into the blenders, a temperature check had to be carried out to ensure that a prime of around -22 degrees celsius was maintained while the blending of the liquid nitrogen and fluid contents of the ice cream went on.

Revoking my little chemistry knowledge that still remained at the back of my head, I soon realised that liquid nitrogen ice cream is not simply a matter of marketing gimmick. Due to the very fast transformation of matter, pesky ice was unable to crystalize during the freezing process, resulting in a very smooth and rich ice cream. The liquid nitrogen when poured into a flavoured creme anglaise base consisting of milk, egg yolks and sugar, then churned for a controlled period of time resulted in the end product where the 'cream' got 'iced'.

The professional and focused looking gentleman in the pictures then explained that you could not have the mixture in the blender/mixer for an extended period of time for excessive mixing would create too much air within the ice cream and hence ruining it.

The coolest part when he prepared the 'Watermelon Chocolate Chip Sorbet' was halfway through the blending, he poured in thick chocolate syrup which upon mixing, formed into small chocolate chip bits!

It was almost ready to be served. at £3.95 per cup, you also get to choose either a topping or a sauce to go along with your ice cream. Choices ranged from green tea peanut brittle to their own grilled white chocolate and not forgetting the very rich and fresh raspberry sauce!

Cigar Smoked Caramel with Green Tea Peanut Brittle

This was definitely one of the best ice cream I had ever tasted in my entire life. The texture of the ice cream was flawless and impeccably smooth and rich. Not only did the unique name draw interest, it was very interesting how a peppery, smokey aftertaste developed down your throat. This could probably be owed to the milk being smoked with Cuban cigars. If you looked closely enough, there were specks of sea salt crystals which were later being sprinkled atop the ice cream. The last I tasted salted ice cream was at 'The Daily Scoop' in Singapore, but this featured speciality would walk over easily.

If the ice cream was not enough to blow you away, the crisp peanut brittle certainly did the job for me. Sprinkled with mocha powder onto a caramelized block, it delivered the much desired texture variation when tasted together with the smooth ice cream.

This was certainly the most orgasmic and mind-blowing ice cream tasted yet.

Verdict: 9.5/10

Watermelon Chocolate Chip Sorbet with Hazelnuts

Being dairy free, this sorbet had a texture comparable to that of snow. The chocolate chips transformed into somewhat chocolate 'seeds' that provided a 'bitsy' texture to the smooth sorbet. This was enhanced by the chopped roasted hazelnut toppings, which give it a stronger flavour. On hindsight, this was in fact the first time trying exotic watermelon sorbet and I would definitely had not thought of trying it in UK of all places! This would have been the perfect refreshing summer treat, only that the Sun was hiding somewhere behind the clouds and the rain would not stop battering. 

Verdict: 9.0/10

With the rain still going on outside, and the curiosity to try their remaining ice cream, I decided to go for another flavour, though by then I was severely limited by stomach space. Of the 4 on offer, I had to compromise and skipped the vanilla ice cream (Pondicherry Vanilla - caramelized unrefined cane sugar and rare Indian vanilla pods. God, dont that sound so exotic itself?) and went for the Valrhona Chocolate ice cream.

The best part about this ice cream was that during the preparation process, replica of the above illustrated procedures, the vapour that was emitted contained a mild waft of cocoa aroma. That was enough to get my tastebuds titillated before I even got to trying it!

Valrhona Chocolate Ice Cream with grilled white chocolate chunks and extra serving of fresh raspberry sauce (Coeur De Guanaja 80%)

Whenever we asked for recommendations on which topping to best accompany our ice cream, the raspberry sauce never failed to be a suggestion so we thought to give it a try as a separate sauce at £0.45 more. Additional toppings came at the same price too.

Fans of chocolate should be familiar with how Valrhona chocolate tastes, and this was pretty much in line with our expectations. It was almost like a dense, rich and fudgy ganache (whipped frosting made with semi-sweet chocolates) though it was a more 'chocolatey' taste than creamy. The raspberry sauce did better than it sounded and looked and it seemingly cut through the dark chocolate with a mildly sweet and sourish aftertaste. With emphasis by the serving lady that the white chocolate were all hand-grilled themselves, it would take a fool to give it a miss. It was slightly dry unlike how they usually melt in your mouths, which gave that 'crunchy and chewy' texture to the smooth ice cream. On the whole, it scored surprisingly well despite us being overloaded with food (and you know how judgements usually falter when you are experimenting new food on a full stomach) I would highly recommend my combination of topping and sauce to any chocolate lovers out there looking for a sinful indulgence! The only downside was that I was expecting a rather bitter-rich chocolate but this was unfortunately not so. It was nothing too serious to fault though, just a personal preference.

Verdict: 8.5/10  

They also have pre-packed mini-marshmallows, popping candies in test-tubes and packets of the served toppings for sale. If you looked into the background of the picture above, you would have noticed that the owners were experimenting with a new concoction! How I envy the Camdenites for their luxury to try new specialities ice cream which go on offer weekly!

These were but excerpts of articles with recommendations on this boutique ice cream parlour, though personally I find it more relevant to regard it as a science laboratory. Whatever it is, the underlying undeniable statement is that with or without the accolades, they serve very impressive ice cream. It was so good that we have decided to return to Camden Town for it during our next trip to London.

The Chin Chin Laboratorists
49-50 Camden Lock Market Place
London, NW1 8AF

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