Vienna is the European city with the highest concentration of ice cream salons and gelaterias, meaning there’s quite a bit of competition. So how does a newborn gelato place stand out from the crowd? Well, Lisa and Giorgio Leone’s strategy was to do their own thing, stick to tradition, and – to put it elegantly – not give one single flying fuck about what others are doing. And this renegade spirit can be tasted in their gelati.
Upon entering their gelateria on Lange Gasse, you’ll instantly notice this couple’s talent does not stop with making gelato – they also know their way around colours, fonts, and branding.
The slender glass setup interacts with the concrete counter front, and the 14 silver pozzetti (the ice cream wells) are glistening in the morning sun. The small, simple, handmade wooden tables compliment the bold lettering on the wall, which states clearly Leones’ ethos – “We make traditional Italian ice cream out of fresh, natural ingredients. No artificial additives. No ifs, ands, or buts.”
Now the aesthetic delight of this place has not happened by accident – Lisa and Giorgio have a track record in the design business. And their new life as the ice cream wizards of Leones Gelato began when friends offered them money for their homemade ice cream.
“We then thought that maybe we should pursue this hobby on a more serious level, and so we booked an ice cream class in Bologna”, Lisa explains.
Surprisingly, the university course was pretty hardcore, consisting of lots of calculation, the couple explain. In fact, maths is a major part of making ice cream professionally. Who would have thought something that brings such fun and happiness could require maths – ewww.
“We’re working with different ingredients for each flavour. Every ingredient influences the freezing point. So if there is 300 grams more strawberries, you’ll have to re-calculate the whole mixture. That’s also why we usually take 3–4 months until we’re really happy with a certain flavour. And supreme flavour is the pinnacle aim of the Leone crew.
“When we have – let’s say – joghurt ice cream on offer, we create it with the people who already love joghurt ice cream in mind, and have a very clear picture of what actually is the perfect joghurt ice cream. We want to see them close their eyes, and let out a little happy sigh over how good it tastes, and this applies to every flavour on our list.”
At one point during the interview, Giorgio jumps up, runs into the kitchen, and returns with a huge bowl filled with sugar and fresh vanilla pods.
“This is the mixture I use for our vanilla ice cream”, he proudly announces. A taste explosion follows.
As he sticks a spoon in the mix, you can see the sugar turn to liquid, reacting with the vanilla. I’m amazed at how the sweet scent fills the bright room – are those angels singing choir hymns above Giorgio’s head? Leones’ also offers vegan flavours, which according to Giorgio, are made to achieve great heights in taste, rather than to fill a market niche.
“We’re glad to have vegan gelato on the list, but it wasn’t to fill a niche – it’s simply the way these specific sorts taste best”, Giorgio says, smiling. “Putting milk into a kiwi ice cream would dilute the taste, and we can’t have that.”
The flavours I try – dark chocolate, coconut, and peach – make me want to buy bigger stretchy pants and come here everyday. I’d go as far to say that I have never had gelato so smooth, with such beautifully balanced hints of sweet, fruity, and sour. It’s obvious upon tasting the coconut, that they use creamy coconut milk, and that to bring out the dark chocolate flavour, they substitute milk with cocoa butter.
There’s something pure about Leones get-back-to-basics-and-the-roots of the gelato making tradition that makes us get all giggly and want to run around a park after butterflies. It may be just the sugar though.