On Friday night I experienced a childhood dream come true – ice cream for dinner. There was no messing about with eating your greens first, it was 6 courses of ice cream, one after the other, each paired with an alcoholic drink.
As part of Manchester Food and Drink Festival 2015, ice cream guru Claire Kelsey, of Ginger’s Comfort Emporium, teamed up with Bakeorama’s Charlotte O’Toole (also responsible for the fantastic cakes at Home Sweet Home) and Jackie Kearney from the Hungry Gecko, to create an experimental banquet, made entirely of ice cream.
The meal was served in the festival hub in Albert Square, which had been decked out in pretty lights for the occasion. The tables were dressed with ice cream themed flower arrangements and our places had clearly been set for a feast.
We were welcomed with Gin and Tonic ice pop Aperitifs. All I ever learned about Gin, I quickly forgot one holiday in Benidorm so it’s not my favourite drink, but the ice pop was light and fragrant. It made for a delicious introduction as we found our seats, took our first glimpse at the menu and learned that, in a break from tradition, our cutlery had been laid from inside to out. The aim was to get to the plastic spoon in time for the dessert course – children’s parties, jelly and ice cream immediately came to mind.
Once everyone was settled it was straight on to the Olive course. Olive Oil ice cream, served with raspberry coulis and a black olive chocolate flake sounded curious but worked amazingly well, once you got over the strangeness of it. Grapefruit laced Fever Tree Gin and Tonic was served as an accompaniment.
Next up was the spice course. Baked Alaska with flavours of chai spices and a pistachio base made this a surprisingly filling, and tasty dish. It was the kind of treat you could imagine serving up at Christmas, with a dessert wine on the side.
The savoury course was honey and gorgonzola ice cream with candied mushrooms and walnut praline, served with sweet toast and a Wainwright Golden Ale. It was the closest you could get to cheese and biscuits with ice cream. I wasn’t so keen on this course and I’m surprised cheese flavoured ice cream has become a thing – I accidentally ordered it during my GCSE French oral exam, thinking I was asking for strawberry. I guess nowadays I would have sounded less ridiculous.
The dessert course was, for me, the highlight of the evening. A massive bowl of Vimto jelly trifle, topped with party rings, space invaders, flumps and Haribo, served with cake and ice cream, a candle and a rainbow. Although the other dishes hadn’t been too sweet, I think everyone in the room hit a sugar high with this dish. The Black Cow vodka and tonic did help to cut through the sweetness. I gave it my best shot but disappointingly didn’t have room for seconds.
And, for every good child who finishes their dinner comes the chance to play. The final course of blackberry, rosemary and sage sorbet was marked as a DIY palate cleanser. We were each given a cardboard cup, a spoon, small pots of blackberry and rosemary and sage syrup, and a bowl of dry ice. We had to pour the syrups in to the cup, spoon in the dry ice chips and stir to reach the right consistency. We got a little over excited with the dry ice and it wasn’t long before our plate looked like a science experiment gone wrong, as pink syrup bubbled everywhere (a problem that, for some reason, no-one else seemed to have). Persistence paid off in the end and we did manage to create a sorbet. The rosemary and sage flavours were too strong for me, as was the Cloudwater Brewery NZ Hopfen Weisse. It would have been a disappointing end if it hadn’t been so much fun to make.
I had expected that 6 courses of ice cream would leave me with a sugar crash and hunger pangs, but the banquet was filling, and not as heavy on the sweet treats as anticipated. This experiment, unlike our sorbet, was a huge success. It’s an experience I’d urge you to try if you ever get the chance – just be careful with the dry ice.
Ginger’s Comfort Emporium, ice cream van can often be found at foodie markets and festivals all over Manchester. She’s even been known to pay a visit to Levy Market. If you haven’t sampled her unique ice cream flavours, you need to correct that as soon as possible.