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Ice Magic: Nitrogen Ice Cream at ChinChinLabs

Food has become more than fuel the past few years thanks to the influence of luminaries such as Ferran Adria, Bompas and Parr and Heston Blumenthal who create fabulous flights of fantasy with their ingredients. But while those creations make great dining (and of course television and books) they aren’t usually easily available to the average person in the street. Therefore my eyes lit up when I heard that Europe’s first nitrogen ice cream bar has opened in Camden in the shape of ChinChin Laboratorists

This is the chance to witness some gastronomic theatre while eating some great ice cream without re-mortgaging yourself for the pleasure. It sounded worth braving the teenage goths of Camden for and it didn’t take much persuasion to get a group of us together to try it out this Friday afternoon.

Opened last Sunday by husband and wife Ahrash Akbari-Kalhur and Nyisha Weber this dinky little lab designed by Okay Studios is tucked away between the joss sticks and hemp items of Camden Lock and despite being small, is easy to spot thanks to the wooden swings hanging outside. This sums up ChinChin Labs perfectly: a rather adult idea that makes you feel like a kid again!

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Rhubarb and quince

Mister North hand delivered me some forced rhubarb straight from the Rhubarb Triangle a few weeks ago and this level of service made me think I should treat this precious cargo with the utmost respect.  It seemed like the appropriate moment to use the rather regal looking quince I had picked up a few weeks previously at my favourite Portuguese deli A&C Continental in Brixton.

A quick search on Google confirmed that I wasn’t making an egregious error in partnering these two, but didn’t give me a huge number of ideas on what to do with them and none of my cookbooks had any suggestions either. I decided to err on the side of caution and simply cook them both in the oven until tender.

I simply peeled and cut the quince as you would with an apple and placed it in a dish with the chopped rhubarb and some fructose to take the edge off. I then cooked them in a 180˚C oven, covered in foil for about 25 minutes, before removing the foil, turning the heat off and leaving the dish for about 30 minutes.

The rhubarb was beautifully cooked, holding both its shape and colour. The quince was slightly less successful, retaining rather more bite than al dente and a strange grainy texture. I have never eaten quince before, so this might just be how they are when cooked, but it felt oddly raw to me. In future I would cook it for longer and more liquid to soften it up more and hopefully realise more of the fabulous perfumed taste of this lovely fruit.

I served this fancy fruit compote with some vanilla ice cream as a dessert and it was heavenly. I haven’t cooked rhubarb in the oven before and I much preferred the taste and texture to that of stewed rhubarb. The quince was light and aromatic and both were complemented by the creamy vanilla of the ice cream, even if it wasn’t eaten with a runcible spoon. Expect to hear me mention both fruits* again very soon!

*I know rhubarb isn’t horticulturally speaking a fruit. But the EU allow it to be classed as one and that’s good enough for me…