UK: Recipes from Britain’s Best Ice Cream Van

Britain's best ice-cream van Photo: LAURA EDWARDS

By Elfreda Pownall |

Britain's best ice-cream van Photo: LAURA EDWARDS

Kitty Travers loves ice cream – she always has. ‘I remember when I was five or six,’ she says, ‘and my mum took me and my sister to the circus. She looked round halfway through the performance and I was gone. She was, like, “Kitty, Kitty,” but I was in the litter bins, at the front of the auditorium, pulling out all the old ice-cream wrappers and giving them a good lick.’

In those days it was strawberry Mivvis and Rockets. But a love of ice cream was always part of who Travers was. And last year her company, La Grotta, which sells exquisite ices from a van, was named Best of the Best in the first British Street Food Awards. Food sold straight from the back of trailers, carts and vintage vans is in the forefront of the British food revolution and Travers is right up there.

Travers started her food career in two great London food shops, Villandry and Poilâne. ‘But I wasn’t cooking,’ says Kitty. ‘I wanted something more. All my friends at school were really smart and had gone off to university, but I was stuck working in sandwich shops. So when my gran died and left me some money I decided to do a cookery course in New York. Ten grand it cost – crazy. But the course was wonderful and I didn’t regret it for a second. At last I’d found something I was good at.’

She did the professional chef’s diploma, six months on everything from knife skills to sauces. And for her three-month placement at the end of the course Travers went to Otto, the newest opening from Mario Batali – with ‘an amazing ice-cream menu’. After a stint at Prune, also in New York, she came home to work in the newly opened St John Bread and Wine in London, where she took charge of choosing the daily dessert menu. But she still felt she needed to go to Italy, the home of ice cream. ‘In Rome I would cycle down to this little bar that did home-made pots of coffee and lemon granita with whipped cream for €1. I thought, “Bloody hell – they’ve got it right.”‘ Travers had seen the future, and that summer she bought a van. La Grotta Ices was born.

These days Kitty sells ice creams, sorbets and granitas at markets, festivals and private functions, but it still doesn’t come easy. ‘It’s heartbreaking when people walk past going, “£2.50? There’s a van over there selling them for £1.50.” And you’re, like, “But it’s made of fat and air!” Selling on the street is very grounding.’

Kitty Travers’s recipes appear in ‘Street Food Revolution’ (Kyle Cathie, £14.99), by Richard Johnson, available from Telegraph Books (0844 871 1515) at £12.99 plus£1.25 p&p