Desserts: The ice is right

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Related tags: Red lion, Ice cream, Desserts

We all know the feeling of an ice-cream headache, the head freeze after taking too big a bite of the cold stuff. Licensee Alex Clarke had a real...

We all know the feeling of an ice-cream headache, the head freeze after taking too big a bite of the cold stuff. Licensee Alex Clarke had a real headache over ice-cream when he took over his pub two and half years ago. He soon found a remedy, however, with a bought in range of ice-creams with quirky flavours such as fig and date, and blueberry crème fraiche.

Ever since leaving a career at PriceWaterhouseCoopers to run the Red Lion in Hinxton, outside Cambridge, Alex based the food-led pub's offering on entirely home-made dishes. This policy, though, left ice-cream out in the cold.

He explains that making the dessert on the premises would be too time-consuming, but that the ice-cream already being served was "pretty ordinary and didn't match the quality of the rest of the food on offer".

He eventually chose Mövenpick as a brand that fitted within the Red Lion's ethos of providing both the classics well done, and something for customers wanting to try something fun and unusual.

"I realised I needed to change the ice-cream as customers always remember the worst element of the meal," Alex says.

"I tested a number of different ice-creams and selected Mövenpick as by far and away the best. The flavours are authentic. There's also a wide range of flavours, which means I can continue to offer customers something new."

When setting the dessert menu, he was inspired by the familiar model of rotating guest ales. The Red Lion offers three standard ice-creams - vanilla, strawberry and chocolate - on a permanent basis, and then a special that changes every week. Staff are always on hand to tell customers about the special that particular week.

The chefs at the Red Lion scoop the ice cream into glass bowls with stems and add garnishes such as fresh strawberries or a sprig of mint. This small effort makes a huge difference in terms of customers' perceptions. With all the other desserts home-made, the ice-creams have to look as enticing as their stable-mates. The vanilla variety is also served as an optional accompaniment to some of the other puddings.

Mövenpick has got rid of Alex's headache. Pricing it at £3.95 for a full portion of three scoops, or £2.50 for two, the ice-cream has brought profits for Alex and contributed to the success of the food business overall. "Although Mövenpick is a premium brand and costs more than its lower-end competitors, it is still possible to make a perfectly acceptable profit margin," the licensee says.

"Despite taking over a mature and successful business with a strong food reputation, our covers went up by 20 per cent in the first two years."

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