With the terribly long winter finally coming to an end and summer upon us, there’s one treat on every Londoner’s mind: ice cream. There’s nothing quite like the joy of a summer’s first sundae or cone, but with so many options across the city, one could have decision-induced brain freeze.
This summer, refuse to settle for the same old chain ice cream spots, especially ones that offer “vanilla ones” rather than actual vanilla ice cream. Look beyond the Dairy Queens and the Marble Slabs that find their way into basically every strip mall, and you’ll see that there are a bunch of London-owned joints that serve up some of the best frozen treats in the city.
Whether you’re looking for a modest scoop, an extravagant sundae, or something a little off the beaten track, London has more than enough options to curb your ice cream cravings. From local staples to fresh-faced trendsetters, these parlours and scoop shops are where you need to hit up this summer for a stellar way to keep cool this summer.
Neighbourhood: Carling Heights
1080 Adelaide St. North (map)
Basically every Londoner already knows or immediately needs to learn about Merla Mae. Located on Adelaide St. North between Huron and Cheapside, Merla Mae opened all the way back in 1957 and has been a go-to ever since across every demographic. You’ll run into teens and young adults on dates, retirees enjoying an evening out, and most definitely parents with their kids running around in their Timbits soccer jerseys.
You’ll be transported to the past with the pastel décor as you step in through the garage door they treat as an entrance. Only a few tables line the right wall and a couple of umbrella-covered tables outdoors, so grab a spot if you can, as they can be pretty hard to come by at peak hours, which seems to feel like every hour that they’re open.
Even after over 50 years in business, Merla Mae could be one of London’s perpetually busiest spots in London during the summer. There’s almost always a line due to their small staff and only two order windows. However, some people appreciate the wait as they look over the massive menu and make their selection.
Merla Mae takes a shotgun approach to their frozen desserts – that is to say they offer an impressively wide spread of options, so at least one of their offerings will satisfy every palate, no matter how picky. Their menu takes up an entire wall, which may seem daunting, but take your time to scan through, and you’ll find your perfect treat. Scoops of hard ice cream or soft serve on a waffle cone, fruity and/or chocolatey sundaes, creamy milkshakes, or sweet slushes, it’s all there for you to enjoy once you finally get up to one of the order windows.
The hardest part of going to Merla Mae is whether to try something new or stick with the sundae that blew your mind last time.
226 Piccadilly St. (map)
Haven’s Creamery is a newcomer to the London scene, nestled just off of the Richmond Row on Piccadilly Street. But don’t let the company’s lack of history concern you, these guys know exactly what they’re doing.
Haven’s only uses local, sustainable ingredients that your first grader would be able to pronounce. No preservatives or enhancers. Their artisanal product comes in almost a dozen flavours, including limited time featured flavours. This week they’ve gone for a lemony fresh theme with their new flavours being Buttermilk Lemon Curd ice cream and Lemonade sweet sorbet, alongside their apparently semi-permanent feature Half-Baked ice cream.
Haven’s storefront feels incredibly modern and trendy. Their storefront sports a clean, minimal aesthetic with warm wood tones and sleek white subway tile. Their menu is a stylishly designed blackboard for easy updating of their featured flavours. All three of these textures act as fantastic backdrops for posing for pictures with your cup or cone that are completely worthy of Instagram.
Despite their popularity, their limited space means they can offer only a few seats in the form of outdoor picnic tables and other improvised seating such as the ledges to their garden. Thankfully, ice cream paired with a cone is incredibly portable so the nearby Victoria Park is an excellent option once your ice cream Instagram photoshoot has concluded.
Even just walking by, the sweet smell of fresh waffle cones, made right in front of the awaiting customers, will coax you in and before you know it, you’ll be getting a double or even triple scoop of any of their enticing flavours in any combination you desire. And just for good measure, you can be sure to grab a pint or a litre of your favourite flavour on the way out from their freezer up front. You can share it with friends or family if you’re so inclined, or hoard it all for yourself. Either way, you’ll definitely enjoy yourself.
When high quality comes at low prices, there’s no complaints to be had… Except maybe for brain freeze from eating too fast.
ROLI POLI ICE CREAM CO.
484 Richmond St. (map)
If the classic scoop just doesn’t do it for you anymore, look no further than Roli Poli Ice Cream Co. This year-old business on Richmond Row offers rolled ice cream, a trend originating in Thailand that has blown up across North America recently.
Rolling the ice cream is a hypnotizing process that Roli Poli will do before your very eyes. They pour the liquid base onto a super-chilled slab which freezes it almost instantly. With quite a bit of elbow grease and a specialized metal spatula, the ice cream is spread and the toppings are incorporated, until finally it’s rolled into tight cylindrical tubes of frozen goodness and placed in a cup with more toppings. It really is something that needs to be seen, words just can’t do it justice.
If the theatricality of it all isn’t enough, flavours such as Apple Pie – vanilla ice cream, apple fritters from our friends at the Fritter Shop, caramel, and cinnamon sugar – or Avo-licious – an interesting sweet application of the avocado – will definitely bring in a crowd. They are always coming up with new flavours and combinations to consistently blow your mind on return visits.
Roli Poli offers three different bases depending on your preference or dietary restrictions: cream, yogurt, or coconut milk. Or perhaps your dietary restriction is simple pickiness and rolling up ice cream goes against your values. In which case, Roli Poli offers classic hard scooped ice cream in a variety of flavours. Whether you’re lactose intolerant, fully vegan, or stuck in your ways, Roli Poli has got you covered.
For a bit of a twist on the old ice cream formula, Roli Poli Ice Cream Co. is a trendy, fascinating spot to still fill that cold and sweet craving.
LONDON ICE CREAM COMPANY
43 Baseline Rd W. (map)
So local, they put the city in their name, London Ice Cream Company began in 1994 and has grown to incredibly heights since then. Their mission statement is to make ice cream “the way it used to be” and they don’t mince their words. On their website, they state “We do not make Ice Milk or Frozen Desserts. We make Ice Cream.”
London Ice Cream Company offers over 120 flavours including award winners such as Moosetracks and Peanut Butter Mudpuddle. Interestingly, their highest selling flavour is none of their award winners, or even classics such as vanilla or chocolate: it’s mango. The sweet and fruity flavour has gained popularity rapidly over the last couple of years and shot straight to the top of their best seller ranking.
Their local roots haven’t limited their distribution though, as London Ice Cream Company produces and ships ice cream across the country. You can find them in scoop shops, restaurants, and retail food stores from coast to coast. For Londoners, the most direct source of their ice cream is straight from the storefront attached to their factory on Baseline Road just west of Wharncliffe. The bright pink walls and picnic tables should tip you off that you’re in the right spot.
London Ice Cream Company also distributes their product under the name New Wave Ice Cream to their various outlets, but it’s the same fantastic product so don’t hold back and grab a pint or two for an upcoming barbeque, pool party, or movie marathon.
DOUBLE DECKER ICE CREAM
Neighbourhood: Old East Village
900 King St. (map)
Winning the unofficial award for most unique ice cream venue in London, Double Decker Ice Cream is served out of exactly what the name implies: a double decker bus parked on Wellington Road. The bright red decommissioned British bus is hard to miss when you drive by, acting as the only advertising done by the company.
From the bus, you’ll be served Shaw’s ice cream, a dairy based out of St. Thomas that just celebrated its 70th anniversary in business. They proudly boast that their ice cream’s first ingredient is 100% Canadian cream, always fresh. For their anniversary, they have introduced a few throwback flavours like Cherry Vanilla – a 1950’s style classic – and Saturday Morning Cartoons – a blast from the past that “tastes like that sweet milk rippled with a golden graham cereal swirl.”
Other spectacular offerings include cones, sundaes, and ice cream sandwiches – where you can pick both the flavour of the ice cream and the cookie flavour. For example, for total cookie overload, you could go for the Double Stuffed Cookie ice cream sandwiched between classic chocolate chip cookies.
Double Decker is a great place to bring your kids, with rock bottom prices and plentiful options, you won’t be breaking the bank to give your family a great summer treat. You could even bring a pint of your favourite flavour home for under $10. Plus the big red bus is a great spectacle for the kids.
For a completely original experience, nothing parallels purchasing delicious ice cream from the side of a double decker bus.
Throughout the summer, there are plenty of festivals held in Victoria Park that have entire rows dedicated to food and desserts. Whether you get a scoop on top of your funnel cake, or in some other crazy concoction, there are plenty of opportunities to grab some ice cream. Sunfest is coming up at the beginning of July, so head down and keep an eye out for an extra special cone or sundae on those festival weekends.
Although technically speaking, Chil offers no ice cream, frozen yogurt could be considered close enough by the common person. Chil is a pay-by-weight frozen yogurt spot just off of Richmond Row on Hymen Street. Their variety of flavours and toppings is so expansive, it borders on entrapment, where most people will end up piling on more than they had anticipated and pay the consequences. For the absolute beast of a dessert though, it’s more than worth it.
Make sure to look around downtown until you find one of their many coupons strewn around every bulletin board and lamp pole. You could end up getting a great deal on your fro yo.
Taylor Sue’s Cups and Cones:
Found in the Covent Garden Market in the heart of downtown, Taylor Sue’s Cups and Cones serves up more than just their titular cups and cones of ice cream. They also offer other frozen delicacies such as frozen yogurt, slush, and smoothies. For a bit less guilt, you can feel safe in the knowledge that this ice cream is healthy, as they can add protein, whey, and other healthy nutrients upon request.
The Scoop is a classic scoop shop with a couple locations in London – one on Hyde Park and another on Wellington. Like Double Decker, the Scoop offers Shaw’s Creamery to great praise from the local community. Despite being barely more than a shed, the Scoop will often have a line down the steps full of people just waiting for a classic cone. While it might not be something to travel miles for, it’s a popular spot among locals if you’re in the area.