Now I’m originally from Brighton – the UK’s number one seaside tourism city – where you can’t shift for ice cream but what I’ve noticed about The Hague is that seemingly every neighbourhood has an ice cream parlour. They are everywhere.
So in the interests of research I donned my coat and hat last weekend to venture out to see what the fuss is about. I enlisted my mini gourmand friend Puck [credentials include being aged twelve and certainly no stranger to ice cream] who studiously created a list of venues to visit, and we hit the streets on our bikes.
Our first stop was Florencia (Torenstraat 55, 2513 BN Den Haag • www.florenciaijs.nl), perhaps the most well-known ice cream parlour in the city centre. Its also a popular Italian coffee café and exudes a slightly faded but atmospherically retro charm with original fittings from the 50s and 60s.
For parity, we decided to order the same ice creams in each of the venues so it was one scoop of chocolate, one of vanilla and a further scoop of pistachio.
Pistachio was to act as our benchmark, as each of the venues we visited had wildly different versions. I know from talking to my mate Seb Cole who owns the award-winning Boho Gelato back in Brighton, and who I’ve travelled with several times to the Nivarata festival of granita in Sicily, that most ice cream sold as pistachio doesn’t actually contain much, or indeed any, of the nut.
Real pistachio paste is a really expensive product to buy and without doubt the least profitable flavour for an ice cream parlour to sell. Hence many places will use ‘pistachio flavouring’ which is mostly the extract of bitter almonds which give the characteristic flavour. True pistachio ice cream is also very rarely bright green – that is all added colourings. Genuine pistachio ice cream is more likely to be a creamy yellow or very, very pale green.
Anyway, back to Florencia and their ice creams. To be honest, all-in-all it was a bit of a disappointment. Probably the most watery of the ice-cream we were to try, and unsatisfactory flavours: sweet and nondescript vanilla, chocolate that Puck pointed out tasted of ‘Nesquik milk powder’, and pistachio that just didn’t taste of pistachios. Our overall score for the Florencia experience was 3/5.
The next stop was around the corner at Riva (Veenkade 5, 2513 EE Den Haag • www.gelateriariva.nl) a slightly more modern feeling ice cream and coffee shop on Veenkade.
Whilst the ice creams were of a better consistency – probably down to better refrigeration than ingredients – again they were nothing to write home about with somewhat dull and unexceptional flavours so much so that after a few spoons we decided not to waste any more time on them. We scored Riva 3/5 mainly due to the friendly service.
And so with the hope of something a little more impressive on the horizon, we got back onto our bikes and headed across the city centre to Sint Hubertuspark and Bitterkoud (Oostduinlaan 119, 2596 JK Den Haag • www.bitterkoud.nl).
At first I was puzzled why an ice-cream dominant café would be located tucked away on a residential back street. Then it became clear; over the road, behind a screen of trees, is one of the city’s largest high schools.
We dutifully ordered our flavours, and again, they lacked the wow factor in terms of flavour but they were pleasingly rich and creamy. My sidekick Puck, who just happens to attend the aforementioned school, informed me that she thought the sorbets there were very good and I have no reason to doubt her as I’m sure she’s enjoyed them more than once. But we weren’t there to judge sorbets so after deliberations we decided that Bitterkoud was again a 3/5.
To be honest, I was now starting to despair that we’d never find ice cream with the ‘wow’ factor, and the thought of a glass of white wine in a warm bar was starting to creep into my mind. But we couldn’t give up after just three stops, so we got back on our wheels and headed over to Frederik Hendriklaan near the Gemeente museum.
By all means call me bourgeois but this is one of my favourite areas of the city. Its a really good, buzzy high street with a great mix of day-to-day and high end stores and eateries. I doubt those who live nearby regularly need to venture into the city centre but choose to stay in their gentrified enclave.
Our fourth stop was San Marco (Frederik Hendriklaan 172, 2582 BK Den Haag • www.san-marco-ijssalon.nl) another vintage looking Italian ice cream café. And – thankfully – it really came up trumps on flavour and texture. There was a real sense that care had gone into the product, with vanilla seeds evident, firm and creamy ice cream and, finally, a genuine pistachio taste. We awarded it 4/5 and with more of a spring in our step, headed a little further up the road to our fifth and final stop.
Donna Gelateria (Frederik Hendriklaan 127, 2582 BZ Den Haag • www.donnagelateria.nl) is part of a small boutique chain of ice cream parlours that first made an appearance in The Hague in summer 2015. It has a much more contemporary feel in terms of interiors, and the ice creams are presented in a much more visual way than the other venues we visited.
But the proof of the pudding is of course in the eating so what did our flavours taste like. Firstly, there was no vanilla which seems to me to be a bit of a faux pas for an ice cream shop as sticklers such as me like the classic flavours, but our friendly and chatty server quickly convinced me that white chocolate was far better so we settled on that, alongside the regular chocolate and pistachio.
Leaving aside the white chocolate, our other two flavours were superb. Proper chocolate with proper chocolate pieces evident throughout the product; and amazing pistachio that packed a punch with its strong flavour and lack of overpowering sweetness. This was the real deal and definitely a 5/5 kind of place.
Price-wise all of the venues we visited came in at about the same at €1.10 to €1.20 a scoop, but quality wise they varied vastly proving that a little time to research really can reap benefits when it comes to enjoying an authentic, quality product. For the best, my tip would be to head to Frederik Hendriklaan as it appears the residents and consumers there enjoy by far the best quality ice cream. Lucky sausages.
So after our five stops, it was good to hear Puck say she was full to bursting. Of ice cream that is; apparently there was still room for a waffle…