Though I’m not the biggest fan of sweets, I have trouble trusting anyone who doesn’t like ice cream. I know that’s quite judgmental of me, but no one in this world is perfect. When it comes to ice cream in Gwangju, the options can be a little limited at times. Sure, there’s that one popular franchise and a bunch of fast food places that offer soft serve, but that doesn’t always cut it for me. When I go for ice cream, I want that good stuff. I want more than dessert. I want an experience.
I had wanted to visit -196° for quite some time before I ever got to visit. The place had been hyped up by some friends who went regularly, leaving me curious to know more. I mean, it’s not every day when you hear your friends rave about ice cream, right? I just knew it had to be special. Our first few attempts were foiled, as the owner had to close the small café for some time due to personal reasons. It was winter by the time we got to make a proper visit, but we didn’t care. Honestly, I refuse to believe that there is such a thing as a bad time for ice cream.
We arrived on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The café already had a fair number of people occupying its limited space, but we were lucky enough to find a table, though it did mean snatching one up the moment another group walked away. The advertised drink specials, which all came with tempting pictures, managed to distract me from my true purpose of being there with options like Honey Strawberry, Blueberry Yogurt, and a bunch of the usual suspects. I had to reminded that while the drinks here were indeed solid, I came for ice cream. The flavor options for the cold goodness included Milk, Strawberry, Green Tea, Chocolate, Aloe Sherbet, Yogurt, Vanilla Bean, Cream Cheese, and Chocolate Cookie. As the flavors had to be made fresh, we were only able to choose one per order. It took some time, but we ultimately settled on Strawberry, Chocolate, and Cream Cheese.
After we chose our flavors, the men behind the bar got right to work. It should be noted at this point that the ice cream here was unlike anything I had ever seen in the past. At the back of the café was a row of fancy mixers along with a giant tank of liquid nitrogen. From what I could tell, the ice cream was made to order as the employees combined each creamy base with the liquid nitrogen while having the mixers combine the two into what would be our sweet treat. Though I’m no expert when it comes to making ice cream, I had read before that preparing it in such a way resulted in a smooth texture that came from the formation of tiny ice crystals mixed in with a bit of aeration. Whatever the purpose was, it was a ton of fun to watch. The children who were danced around in the cool vapors apparently felt the same way.
As fun as the show was, I was left with a need to know how everything tasted. I’ve had gimmicky desserts in the past, and not all of them have been good. Though it took some waiting, all of our orders eventually arrived at the same time.
The first scoop I got a taste from was the Strawberry, which came topped with a fresh strawberry and also had a syringe filled with strawberry syrup to add some extra sweetness. Now, I’m sure many of us know how unpopular strawberry ice cream can sometimes be, mostly due to that fake flavor that I can only describe as “pink”. This ice cream did not have anything of the sort. Rather than having a processed taste that was nothing like any fruit I’ve ever had, each bite of this ice cream tasted like fresh strawberries and cream. It was light, delicate, and quite addictive. The syrup wasn’t necessary, but it did add a nice sweetness and really pushed that strawberry flavor.
I next tried a few friendly spoonfuls of the Chocolate, which was almost intimidating with just how dark and rich it looked. The taste certainly matched the aesthetic, as it ended up being one of the truest forms of chocolate ice cream I’ve ever had. The sweetness was cut down quite a bit by that bitterness that comes from dark chocolate, and each rich and creamy taste aggressively coated my tastebuds, leaving that lingering comfort that can only come from the good stuff. As delicious as it was, I honestly couldn’t see myself being able to finish a medium serving before being overwhelmed by the strong flavors, though that may be due to the fact that I prefer milk chocolate over the darkness.
My ice cream was the Cream Cheese, which had been mixed with some pieces of fruit and topped with dried cranberries. These extra components added some sweetness and an interesting contrast in texture. While I wasn’t totally crazy by the appearance of surprise fruit in my ice cream, I could see why a flavor as plain as cream cheese would need the extra help. That being said, there was no doubt that this was cream cheese flavored, especially with that slight tang that one would expect from eating good cheesecake. If I could have gotten it with crushed graham crackers and one of those syringes filled with strawberry syrup instead of mystery fruit, this one definitely would have been my favorite.
Overall, I enjoyed my trip to -196°. Not only did our order come with an entertaining show, but the ice cream was pretty tasty as well. I would recommend this spot for anyone hungry for a rich dessert in a friendly shop that may not be the most romantic. Even if you’re not into ice cream, there are many other options in terms of drinks, snacks, and fruit.
Address: 광주광역시 북구 중흥동 279-14 (around the corner from Starbucks)
Hours: 7:30AM to 9:30PM (12:00PM to 9:00PM on weekends)
Average Price Range: 3,000 to 7,900 for ice cream