Ice cream academic Pedro begins the week at his micro ice cream factory in the working-class neighbourhood of Vallecas. His aim is to experiment with a new savoury ingredient while also finding the perfect level of sweetness.
Just a short walk from his factory, the latest successful concoction is delivered to his ice cream parlour in Pacifico, which he runs like a no-frills bar with his wife Paloma, who’s often sat at the bar, discreetly keeping watch over their ice cream empire.
Throughout the 35 years that Heladería Napoli has been serving helados, very little about the small ice cream empire has changed. They seem to have stumbled across a formula that works – one that’s survived fads, trends, crises and even deaths of regulars.
So what is it that keeps this timeless little ice cream shop thriving? Well, apart from being a well-run family business and a hub for the local community, it’s their fantastic ice cream.
Pedro and I ended up doing a sommelier-style tasting, with him taking me through his most popular flavours and how he makes them.
The wasabi and matcha tea blend is lovely – mildly sweet and light with a latent spice. Pedro then hands me a spoon of olive oil ice cream, which has a moreish gummy texture and a fresh olive oil taste – delicious. I also try the beer flavours (Amstel and Cruzcampo Gran Reserva), which were probably made for the novelty rather than to tuck into, although I think we all know someone who’d buy a tub of this.
You can also choose from tomato, cuttlefish, foie gras, Parmesan, szechuan pepper, cosmopolitan, whisky, asparagus and dozens more flavours depending on the day.
For some reason, though, I ordered a scoop of the Dijon mustard ice cream (what was I thinking) and another of the pure wasabi – now that I absolutely loved. My ice cream melted within about a minute, however, as it was the hottest day of the year so far, but I took a picture anyway…
Heladería Napoli also serves all the classic flavours (chocolate, vanilla, mint etc.) and they’re good.
THE NO-FRILLS INTERIOR
Heladería Napoli is basically a beautiful no-frills bar that happens to serve ice cream. I love the round pink-granite table tops, and the simple bar area with classic Spanish bar stools. The interior is practically unchanged from the day it was laid out in 1983, but for a few additional kitsch ornaments and neon lights.
Pedro and Paloma also sell ice lollies, which come in various classic flavours, including the much loved horchata…
And the reason why a madrileño couple opened a Neapolitan ice cream parlour? A friend of theirs, who was from Italy, inspired them to do it way back in the early 1980s, and they’ve stayed true to the soul of their friend’s recipes ever since.