London’s soft serve revolution

So long, Mr Whippy – a new club of extra-cool soft-serve ice creams are in town, with flavours inspired by Filipino street food, regional Italian produce and Sri Lanka’s powerhouse ingredients

Words by Louella Berryman

london soft serve
Balham's Milk Cafe puts creative flavours first in its soft-serve ice cream offering

Frozen dessert crazes are nothing new. From 2016’s I Tim Pad (Thai rolled ice cream) trend, to the more recent mania for mochi ice cream, with obsessives of the Japanese frozen treat trawling the shelves for boxes of the UK’s answer, Little Moons. These ice cream styles are indicative of the larger move towards visually exciting ice cream and desserts, fuelled by social media apps like Instagram and TikTok. Scroll on the #icecream tag on their feeds and you’ll see endless gimmicky toppings, with super-sweet ingredients like Nutella and Lotus Biscoff biscuits the star.

Indeed, demand for unique styles of ice cream has increased in the UK in recent years, with 53 per cent of those shopping for luxury ice cream seeking out innovative flavours, according to a report by The Grocer. Since the introduction of salted caramel to the dessert menu canon, flavour experimentation in the ice-cream sphere has continued to boom. The salty-sweet flavour challenged traditional tastes and encouraged a new wave of popular ice creams: chocolate and chilli, cereal milk, and olive oil scoops aren’t uncommon on even the least inventive London menus these days. In fact, some eateries have made their way into the truly bizarre – just this month, fashion designer Anya Hindmarch launched her pop-up The Ice Cream Project (which is now coming to a close) in Belgravia, making unexpected flavours like HP Sauce, Polo Mints, and Heinz Tomato Ketchup into sell-out successes.

For the six artisan soft serves on this list, fun equals flavour, and there’s no compromise on great taste in favour of cool colours or unusual combinations. From complex sweetness in cashew and kithul at Soft & Swirly to comforting toasted croissant at Big Jo, these are the innovative soft serves to seek out in London.

Six innovative London soft serves to try

soft n swirly

Soft & Swirly at Rambutan, Borough

New to Borough Market, Rambutan is easy to spot with its bright-yellow and hot-pink frontage. The Sri Lankan restaurant will open in October, but in the meantime, a soft-serve hatch has been serving ice cream inspired by the flavours of the South Asian island into waffle cones all summer long. Flavours change weekly and range from cinnamon and tamarind with mouth-wateringly zesty lime curd to fruitier serves like watermelon and hibiscus.

big jo soft serve

Big Jo, Finsbury Park

Big Jo doesn’t do things by halves. The north London bakery and café has its own flour mill and grain silo and takes the provenance and sustainability of its produce very seriously indeed. It comes as no surprise that the same level of thoughtfulness goes into its soft-serve ice cream, too. There’s a bakery-related theme when it comes to flavours – with a cereal-milk-esque toasted croissant soft serve on the summer rotation, as well as muscovado sugar and classic vanilla.

milk cafe soft serve

Milk Café, Balham

Australian daytime spot Milk’s panko-fried red snapper sandwich (a fun gourmet take on a Filet-O-Fish) made it a south London favourite with the brunch crowd, and now it’s getting in on the soft serve game. With a base made from cream from Northiam Dairy in Essex, and flavours like jasmine with puffed barley horlicks krispies and shio koji caramel, or peppermint with Aussie ‘musk stick’ candies and sherbet dipped French cherries, it’s hard for an ice cream fiend to ignore Milk’s offering.


gelupo soft serve

Gelupo, Soho

Gelupo has long been on most Londoners’ ice-cream radars, but the new hyper-regional range of ice-cream flavours from the gelateria are garnering attention anew. Chef-patron Jacob Kenedy (also of Bocca di Lupo) has developed flavours named after regions in Italy, inspired by the produce and cuisine of each area. Fans of citrus will revel in the Amalfi gelato, made with lemon-zest custard and almond sorbet, and taste adventurers are well-served too with The Liguria – a combination of basil, mascarpone and pine nuts.

happy endings

The Hatch at Goddard & Gibbs

Fun flavours and tongue-in-cheek names are de rigueur for Happy Endings, with ice-cream sandwiches like the ‘Naughty One’, a miso salted caramel and Guinness cake sandwich, on restaurant menus all over London – but a new Shoreditch pop-up from the dessert supplier puts scoops at the centre of attention. Soft-serve seekers can choose from mango sorbet, raspberry ripple or peach melba for their cone, or a twist of both in what owner Terri Mercieca hopes will emulate the nostalgic experience of eating ice cream as a child, and deliciously kitsch sundaes like ‘Float Your Boat’ – complete with whipped cream and sprinkles – are on offer too.


Mamasons’ Dirty Ice Cream, Chinatown

It’s not every day you’ll see towering cones of bright-purple ice cream being sold on a London street corner, but then again, Mamasons Dirty Ice Cream is the only Filipino ice-cream parlour and bakery in the city. An old-school Italian gelato churner is used to recreate the large steel pot used by street vendors in the Philippines. The result is purple-hued ice cream for their signature ube (purple-yam ice cream), although other flavours include black buko – a blend of coconut and activated charcoal – and turon, which is inspired by a popular jackfruit-and-plantain snack that goes by the same name and is served with heavenly dulce de leche.