A project started by Italian architect Nicola Saladino, Ling Xia Gelato Lab is a childhood dream that is finally coming to fruition. Getting to know Nico and his game-changing gelato, I wanted to share Ling Xia’s background story and what sets it apart from other gelato I’ve ever tasted!
Having had the privilege and honor of an advanced preview (the best kind of invite), we had the pleasure to getting to know Nico while his shop was still being set up, so we had our first tasting in the new Italian tapas and wine bar, Sori (LDS review of Sori up next!).
Nico’s background in architecture explains his methodical and calculated approach to perfecting his gelato recipes whereas his passion for creating and experimenting is not only an art, but a gift to all who get the chance to taste (and appreciate) his glorious gelato!
From Italy to China and architecture to gelato, tell us about yourself.
NS: I am an Italian architect and I studied a master in urban design in London that focused on the urbanization of China. My studies gave me the opportunity to join a London-based office that wanted to open a branch in Beijing so 7 years ago I moved here; it was perhaps more of an adventure than a clear bet for the future. A year later I had a bit more clear that I could become a long-term Beijinger and with two partners we opened our own office, reMIX studio. The office is still happily running even though in recent months my colleagues have seen me very little… And that is because one year ago, after a decade of back and forth (the gelato dream started even before my move to China) I finally decided to try my luck with gelato.
I have no real background in F&B and even though I had some experience in ice cream making from Italy (family friends allowed me to do a summer internship in their shop when the idea first came to my mind) I had to learn how to navigate in a whole new world. I love architecture and I will always be an architect, but in a way this experience in F&B has been very refreshing. Architecture is the art of the compromise: the architect is always serving a client with a set of priorities and ideas about design that rarely give us all the creative freedom that we would like. When making gelato, instead, I can work with my own ambition… the customers might like it more or less but ultimately I am making it for myself.
I have just started so right now I’m just trying to tick on all the fundamental boxes, working on the “classics” but in the future I would really love to make my two passions meet, with a product that should become more and more innovative.
What is the story behind Ling Xia Gelato and the concept?
Lingxia is “under zero”, but the concept is not only about temperature: it also means that we work our product from zero. Nowadays, even in Italy, most gelato shops work with industrial bases that reduce the amount of components in the gelato mix to a couple of powders / pastes and water (or milk in the better cases). I decided instead to try the old style gelato: that means that we only use fresh ingredients and one flavor becomes the combination of up to a dozen of them. I have heard quite a few shops here claiming that they import their ingredients from Italy, but if you work with fresh milk, cream (so difficult to find!), eggs, fruit from the market, what is left to import from Italy?
What inspired you to open Ling Xia Gelato concept in Beijing?
Running a gelato shop was my childhood dream and in any city where I have lived before – in Italy, Spain and the UK – I have always found my favorite gelato shop to fulfill my cravings but I was missing such a place in Beijing so why not make my childhood dream come true? While many other Italians had tried before and most of them didn’t manage to succeed, I didn’t take this project lightly and I did my homework to make sure that my business model has a solid base to start, and so far the response has been even better than my expectations!
What is Ling Xia Gelato’s mission?
I have noticed in these couple of weeks of soft-opening that many Chinese parents put quite some resistance with their kids in front of a gelato. I totally respect cultural differences and I do understand that cold food is not part of the local culinary culture, but temperature aside, I would like the Chinese customers to understand that real artisanal gelato is a healthy dessert, I want to be fully transparent about our ingredients and in the future would like to make more effort in communication.
I also want gelato to be a popular product in the real meaning of the term – a product accessible for anybody – so, despite the high quality of our ingredients, our retail price is still reasonably low. And that is possible because in our business model we cut all the unnecessary costs: being a designer I personally hate those shops that use marbles and fancy-looking packaging to double their prices…
Straight Up Gorgeous Gelato
What makes your gelato flavors so intense?
It comes down to two main factors:
1) Most of the industrial products for ice cream rely on aromas and flavor enhancers to reduce the amount of the main ingredients and thus reduce costs, but those additives are usually designed to have an immediate sensorial response and are somehow quite plain. Using the real thing generates a much more complex structure of flavors.
2) Any of our dairy-based creams is homogenized and aged for at least 12h to make sure that the proteins of the milk, the fresh cream and the egg yolks can combine properly and create a sort of three-dimensional structure that encapsulate the other flavors. I had to go back to my chemistry books from high school (fortunately it was a subject I really liked) to fully understand the processes that generate the final structure of a gelato and be able to make reasonable changes in it…
Experimenting with New Flavors
What are your top 3 recommended gelato flavors every customer HAS to try?
1) Dark chocolate because it is technically among the most challenging ones: I wanted to make the chocolate flavor as intense as possible but it is very hard to achieve that without creating problems in the consistency and I am happy about the smoothness of the result.
2) Pistachio because it is as little sweet as a gelato can be. Many Chinese costumers would find the Italian gelato too sweet and unfortunately that is the biggest challenge for a gelato maker. Despite what one could intuitively think, it is not the fat content but the sugar what makes a gelato smooth and creamy. If you reduce the sugar content too much you will end up having a piece of ice… so once you reach the limit in the sugar content and the result is still too sweet is when you have to start using different types of sugars that have different levels of sweetness. In our gelato we use up to 5 different types of sugars.
3) Lemon (or any other fruit) because it’s where the whole discussion about fresh ingredients becomes very obvious. Our fruit flavors are made of fresh fruit… and a lot of it so when you eat the lemon you really feel the freshness of the real fruit. Some might find it too sour, but if you are into acid flavors, in a hot day, a scoop of lemon is the most refreshing by far.
My Top 3 Favorite Flavors: Dark Chocolate, Banana & Stawberry
Aside from your shop on the 2nd floor of the Crib, where else would you like to open Ling Xia or what else are your plans for distribution?
Well, we have just started and I don’t want to hurry up too much so for the time being I want to focus more on the further development of the product than on a crazy expansion but if things go well there might be more selling points in the future…
For the time being I have designed a small cart that will allow us to make events and have pop-up stores all around the city. That is an occasion for us to reach out for new costumers and hopefully attract them to our store but also to see which formulas work better and perhaps address our future growth.
We are also planning to work on a B2B base and in the future we’ll provide delivery services but it’s a quite complicated issue because gelato is very sensitive to temperature (there is nothing worse than an ice cream that partially melted and froze again…) so I want to test a few systems to make sure the product is still in its best conditions when it arrives to destination.
Favorite Things About Beijing?
For the first 3 years in Beijing I lived in a courtyard house near Gulou where my friends and I where the only foreigners of the street and I loved that cultural shock and the absurd dialogues made mainly with sign language with our former neighbors.
I also loved to explore the hutongs looking for new nice hidden places, but most of my favorite spots are long-time gone…
Finally, I enjoy cycling along Liangma river in the few mornings in which I don’t need to rush to work and can enjoy the almost sudden peace of a few old fishermen waiting for Godot and an improvised opera singer under a bridge.
Top 3 dining/drinking destinations in Beijing?
1. Well, I am probably biased because in the last months I have spent most of my time there (I share the kitchen with them) but I love Sori’ and not only for its nice food and wine but also for the intimate atmosphere that really puts one in the mood for socializing.
2. I also love eating brunch on the top terrace of Toast / Orchid Hotel overlooking the crazy roofscape of the hutongs.
3. Finally there is a restaurant called Soup in Wudaoying Hutong that is somehow the extension of my home kitchen: the food is simple but really nice and subtle and the staff is super friendly. They are all in love with our small daughter and anytime we go to eat there we have at least three nannies willing to play with her while my wife and I can have a peaceful meal.
With Ling Xia’s official opening scheduled for mid-June, guests can enjoy soft-opening discounts on their gelatos in the meantime! This is your chance people – start stocking up on their flavors!
Ling Xia Gelato’s Contact Details:
- Address: 2nd Floor of The Crib, 1 Gongti North Street
- Tel: 18610487918
- Opening Hours: Tuesday-Thursdays and Sundays from 12:00-22:00, Fridays & Saturdays from 12:00-23:00
- Website: www.lingxiagelato.com
Kristen Lum has an accomplished background in PR, communications and events in China. Born and raised in California, Kristen has been based in Beijing since 2006 and is founder of the lifestyle blog called LumDimSum, covering mostly restaurant news and reviews alongside upcoming events around town that relate to Beijing’s muti-faceted, quickly-developing creative industries like art, music, film, health and fitness, fashion, nightlife, charity events, and travel tips.