Chin Chin Laboratorists: London’s First Liquid Nitrogen Ice-Cream Parlour

A week before Christmas, London was covered in a blanket of snow.

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It seemed the ideal time for… ice-cream!

My friends, Edd, Simon and I decided that’s just what we fancied and met at Camden Town tube station to make our way to the chin chin laboratorists, near the lock.

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The Chin Chin Laboratorists are husband and wife team Ahrash Akbari-Kalhur and Nyisha Weber and their little corner of Camden is Europe’s first liquid nitrogen ice-cream parlour.

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It’s an eccentric place, kitted out like a mad scientist’s chemistry lab with lots of metal pipes and valves, huge cryo tanks with geeky little dials, mixing machines, school-style storage units, naked light bulbs and lots of glass beakers full of strange and wonderful things…

 

So, what is liquid nitro ice-cream?

Usually ice-cream is made by churning a custard or cream base, together with one’s chosen flavouring ingredients, in a very cold bowl for at least 30 minutes, often longer. Whether you use a cheap bowl-in-freezer machine or an expensive one with integrated freezer unit, it takes time. (Cheaper still is using a freezer and repeated mashing with a fork but I don’t much care for the texture of the result, nor the long-winded effort!)

The liquid nitrogen technique is much faster, not to mention somewhat more dramatic! Pour your custard or cream base into a (metal) mixer bowl, switch the mixer on and then pour in liquid nitrogen. Because it’s so very, very cold (-196°C) the liquid nitrogen freezes the base really quickly.

The reason liquid nitrogen forms those impressive clouds, by the way, is that it boils at -77°C (at normal room temperature and pressure) so as soon as it comes out of the cryo tanks, it vaporises to its gaseous state immediately.

But it’s not all about the impressive show – because liquid nitrogen freezes the ice-cream so fast, there is less formation of larger ice crystals that can make ice-cream feel a little grainy. So, the resulting ice-cream feels much smoother.

 

The Show

All three of us chose nutcracker (hazelnut, baileys and a splash of vodka) and settled back to watch Ahrash make our ice-creams. There are usually three flavours to choose from – vanilla and chocolate, plus a special of the day.

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Clearly, Ahrash has a bit of the showman mixed in with his science geek side as he seemed to genuinely enjoy our gleeful reactions, even though he’s done this an awful lot of times, since they opened their doors just a few months ago.

First he poured a liquid ice-cream base into one of the waiting white Kitchen Aid mixers (which look just like my Intergalactic Unicorn). Next, he poured a jug of liquid nitrogen from the 180-litre tanks, dressed in protective gloves and goggles to guard against the effects of the super, super cold chemical. With the liquid nitrogen billowing out of the jug, he poured it into the churning ice-cream mix and let it do its work.

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The liquid nitrogen froze the ice-cream mix super fast and within moments, it was ready.

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Ahrash scooped it out into a waiting cup, sculpting it carefully to make a well on one side, for the sauce and topping.

Cup and customer were then passed along to Nyisha.

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Sauce choices of the day were salted caramel, blueberry or chocolate and the range of toppings included shards of boiled sugar candy, chunks of honeycomb, almonds, hazelnuts, marshmallows…

I went for the rich chocolate sauce with a topping of metallic popping candy rocks! Edd and Simon went for the same ice-cream but opted for salted caramel sauce instead of chocolate.

The Ice-cream

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We all agreed the ice-cream was worth the wait. And it was definitely very, very smooth and creamy and full of flavour, even though it’s significantly lower in fat and sugar than many ice-creams.

I really liked the hazelnut flavour and the rich chocolate sauce and metallic popping candy complimented it beautifully.

And as if this wasn’t treat enough, we could not resist trying the Valrhona hot chocolate which we all agreed was superbly smooth, creamy, rich and indulgent. Very good indeed, actually.

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The Verdict

Liquid nitrogen cuisine is not just for the likes of Blumenthal and Adrià and nor is using liquid nitrogen to create ice-cream all about the drama. We thought the resulting extra-smooth ice-cream excellent.

At £3.95 a tub (including sauce and topping), it may seem a little expensive, but I found it rich enough to be a very satisfying portion and struggled to finish mine.

Don’t wait for summer either! There’s something wonderfully rebellious and hedonistic about making one’s way, gingerly, across snowy pavements in search of a snow-cold scoop of the good stuff!

 

You can find Chin Chin Labs at 49 Camden Lock Place (at ground level, outside and on the railway bridge side).

 

The Safety Bit

I’ve been asked whether it’s dangerous to eat liquid nitrogen ice-cream – firstly, virtually all of the liquid nitrogen will have vaporised to gas and dispersed very quickly, leaving very little, if any, in the ice-cream and secondly, nitrogen is not toxic any way. It would be dangerous to drink it in it’s liquid form (or try and eat a solid block of it) only because of the nasty damage the extremely low temperatures would do.

You might want to try this at home. Although it’s not difficult to get your hands on liquid nitrogen, please take proper safety precautions when using it. It can cause serious injury if you don’t.

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20 Comments to "Chin Chin Laboratorists: London’s First Liquid Nitrogen Ice-Cream Parlour"

  1. Michele AKA 5am Foodie

    Very cool! My son's friend's dad is a physics teacher, and now every year at the friend's birthday party they make liquid nitrogen ice cream – it was so popular the first time it's become a permanent fixture of these parties. But I think I'd get as much enjoyment out of it as the kids do… Looks divine.

    Reply
  2. Donald Edwards

    wow wow wow wow wow wow, I know exactly where I'm going next time I'm in London.. do you think if I asked really nicely they'd let me have a go?

    Reply
  3. azélias kitchen

    Kavey – this will be an interesting trend to watch, seeing how many of these branches pop up over the coming years.

    Looking at the photos of Ahrash very much gives the imagine of boys having fun…and of course some girls too.

    Did you catch the article on Heston opening a medium range priced restaurant in London serving liquid nitrogen ice-cream?

    Reply
  4. Lucy Bridgers

    Great post Kavey, thanks! We live quite close by and I've been meaning to go for a while, especially with our four-year-old who should find it very entertaining.

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  5. Gourmet Chick

    I really want to try this place it sounds totally bonkers. You are a brave woman to eat ice-cream on such a cold day Kavey! Glad you had hot chocolate afterwards to warm you up.

    Reply
  6. Kavey

    Michele, it IS fun isn't it, such a show, doesn't take too long and the result is fabulous ice-cream – what's not to like?! 😉

    Donald, ha, you might visit but not sure you'd be allowed to be a mad scientist! You can only ask, though, right?

    Azelia, yes friends have bookings there, I was a bit slow off the mark so shall sit back and wait… 🙂

    Lucy, do go, am sure your 4 year old would enjoy!

    Gourmet Chick, I think part of what made it feel so fun was the crazy weather outside!

    Reply
  7. Heavenly Housewife

    Anyone who eats ice cream in the winter is my kind of girl! This place sounds great, you get a delicious ice cream AND a bit of a show at the same time. What could be bad?
    *kisses* HH

    Reply
  8. Kathleen

    Brilliant place, thank you, Kavey for taking us there! Over here, Alton Brown has demonstrated how to do this, and I may have a go at it, as I live near a place that sells liquid nitrogen. (Alton Brown, however, did get into some “odd” flavours and highly advocates avocado ice cream {!} crediting it for helping him attain a 7 stone weight loss in the past year.)

    And ice cream consumption in my very cold neck of the woods, as well as in the twin cities of Minneapolis/St.Paul in winter are still high, high, high. (The fat makes excellent insulation, LOL!)

    Reply
  9. miss south

    Loved the place when I went a while back. It was lemon cheesecake as a special and it was amazing.

    Plus Ahrash and Nyisha were very friendly and super helpful and even emailed me some photos to use on the blog with their permission.

    I wish I lived closer and I would treat myelf more often!

    Reply
  10. celia

    Kavey, you always have the most interesting posts! I've never heard of this before. How intriguing that they actually pour the liquid nitrogen into the ice cream custard, rather than just around it. I actually think 4 pounds is a bargain given the show you got to watch! 🙂

    Reply
  11. Sarah, Maison Cupcake

    Fascinating and the flavour combinations sound incredible… I used to have a bit of a liquid nitrogen fixation when I was younger. Always wished I could crawl on the floor in the Top of the Pops studio when they were using it!!!

    Reply
  12. Kavey

    HH, ice-cream in winter feels naughty, maybe because when you ask for it as kids, you're either told not to be silly or stared at with an expression of incredulity! 🙂

    SwedishMeatballs, hope you enjoy it too!

    Kathleen, I think it'd be lots of fun to have a go yourself!

    Jude, will you go to Chin Chin or try and make it at home?

    Helen, we made wine (and drank it) but never did anything with liquid nitrogen, sadly!

    Miss South, lemon cheesecake sounds good too!

    Lorraine, yes I think a few people have blogged it, which really enthused me to go myself!

    Celia, thank you, your comment made my day. And yes, it was fascinating!

    Sarah, yeah they were really tasty. Ha haaa, now that's an image!!!

    Reply

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