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Chocolate gelato at its most intense

by Robbie Swinnerton

Who eats chocolate in summer? Very few people who I know. It’s not just that chocolate bars melt in seconds: The taste can seem too heavy and the texture too cloying. It simply doesn’t seem to suit Japan’s muggy heat. But there’s one exception to that rule I’ll gladly and frequently make — when the chocolate comes in gelato form.

Obviously, ice cream of any stripe hits the spot at this time of year. But chocolate is always my go-to first-choice flavor, precisely because I’m not getting that cacao hit in any other form. And the darker and richer the flavor, the more I love it.

That’s the way they make it at Gelateria Marghera. Tokyo’s latest temple to the Italian art of artisan ice cream opened a couple of weeks ago in the backstreets of affluent Azabu-Juban. It’s the first overseas branch of one of Milan’s most popular gelato shops. And it looks just as stylish as you’d expect from that capital of fashion and design, with pastel shades on the walls and the staff sporting chic black berets.

The colors that really catch the eye, though, are those in the display case. There are over a dozen ices to choose from on any given day, ranging from the brilliant hues of the sorbetti — snow-white lemon, yellow mango and purple frutti di bosco (berry fruits) — to the creamy earth tones of the hazelnut, tiramisu and other gelati.

Those sorbets are light and refreshing, perfect for this time of year. But it’s the black chocolate that calls out to me. Named Fondente (“melting”), it is rich, smooth, intense and satisfying. Just as it should be at this premium price: ¥480 for a single flavor (punnet or cone) or ¥580 for two.

But when it comes to anything chocolate — and most especially ice cream — you really need to turn to a professional. Tokyo is blessed with a number of master chocolatiers: At the apex of that list is Pierre Marcolini. The gelato store next door to the Belgian maestro’s Ginza flagship is the yardstick by which all others are measured.

Also worthy of mention is the Debailleul kiosk in the Oazo Building in Marunouchi. Its gelato counter is a regular spot for me. Not only is the ice cream good, but you can sit in the spacious, air-conditioned atrium and gaze out at the new/old Tokyo Station.

Gelateria Marghera: 2-5-1 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-5772-3283. Pierre Marcolini: 5-5-8 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo; 03-5537-0015; www.pierremarcolini.jp/shop Debailleul: Oazo Bldg, 1-6-4 Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo; 03-5224-3565. www.kataoka.com/debailleul/shop01.html