The personalities responsible for bringing this famed gelateria from Down Under reveal why its gelato has inspired a legion of fans over the years

Australian cult favourite Gelato Messina opened its only overseas location right here in Hong Kong on October 1, and the excitement is palpable. Located on the historic cobblestoned steps of Pottinger Street in Central, the 2,000-square-foot store was conceived of in partnership with Black Sheep Restaurants with the hope of kickstarting a new golden age for Hong Kong's gelato scene. Using Messina's distinctive farm-to-table approach, a whopping 40 flavours, entirely developed and produced in-house, will be available for scooping at any one time. 

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Keeping it cool

In its native Australia, Messina has long attracted queues outside the door for a somewhat maverick approach to gelato-making, not only thanks to the brand's insistence on operating their own dairy, strawberry and hazelnut farms—where every minute aspect of production can be controlled for the best final product—but also the atmosphere it creates at each location that invites guests to take a seat and linger over a scoop or two.

"I actually first came across Messina back when I was living in Sydney, Australia, sometime around 2012," Black Sheep's head pastry chef Karys Logue told Tatler Dining prior to the opening of the Hong Kong store. "One day, I ended up walking to a shop of theirs about ten minutes from my house—it was one of the smaller locations, just a little takeaway shop—but I was struck by the fact that it didn’t give off this old-timey ice cream shop vibe. Instead, the dim lighting, friendly team and just the enormous amount of options made it feel really new and vibrant. Everything seemed to be so bright: the people, the flavours, the colours. It drew a queue and it was this concentration of excitement that left a mark on me. I continued to go back, whether alone or with a group of friends the whole time I lived there."

With the Hong Kong store, Black Sheep co-founder Christopher Mark is hoping to bring some of that magic right into the heart of the city for the first time. "Soho is our home; it is where everything began for us and the first place we really started to build that sense of Black Sheep community that we are known for, so it seemed only right to open Messina right here. This is really the best place for it to be—it is where you find people from all walks of life and the perfect place to get a little joy by the scoop, whether that’s the after-school family treat, an afternoon pick-me-up or a late-night dessert to close out the evening."

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Brain freeze

It's been a rocky road (pun intended) to Messina's Hong Kong opening, though, as development coincided with the anti-government protests of 2019 and the Covid-19 pandemic that followed immediately after. While international travel remains hampered—Australia has only just announced that it will reopen its international border from November—Messina has always produced its gelato on-site; in Hong Kong, specialised machines for pasteurising the gelato base and churning it play a key role in transforming ingredients flown in from Australia into the ice-cold final product.

"We are in the business of making everything ourselves, and that's going to be a common theme," explains Alessandro Palumbo, nephew of Messina founder Nick Palumbo, who will be overseeing the Hong Kong store's first few months. "So whether it be a yoghurt, a cheese, an inclusion, a crunch, a fudge, or a brownie, we basically have to make it ourselves for two reasons: one, because we can have full control of the product; and two, all of our recipes for our inclusions and everything are made to work at a frozen temperature, so when you're eating it out of our [gelato] cabinet, it feels like you're eating it out of the fridge. And that's just come through trial and error over the years of getting it right, and this being the only thing we're doing, really."

"We are going to great lengths to get all the products we can straight from the source," adds Logue. "The milk we use is flown in from Messina’s Jersey cow farm, as well as the hazelnuts and strawberries and Messina chocolate. We know the value of using only the best ingredients ourselves, so with all our local flavours, we are sourcing only the best."

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Cream of the crop

Among these locally inspired specials developed exclusively for the Hong Kong market are a Hong Kong-style milk tea flavour made using Messina milk; an egg tart flavour that is layered with caramelised puff pastry from Butter Cake Shop that mimics the flakiness of the real thing; and a tofu fa flavour incorporating tofu pudding from Sham Shui Po's 128-year-old Kung Wo Beancurd Factory that is finished with a sprinkling of red sugar. These sit alongside more traditional Messina flavours like Salted Caramel & White Chocolate, Boysenberry, Hazelnut, and Super Dulce de Leche, among others; all the while, guests are encouraged to endlessly sample the 40 flavours to their heart's content.

Asked to pick a flavour that represents Messina, Palumbo says, "Pistacho praline or hazelnut, as basic as it is, but even something like tofu fa which represents what we're trying to do. It's not just the classics; you can turn anything into gelato."

Gelato Messina is now open from 3pm to 11pm, Tuesday to Sunday at 37-43 Pottinger Street, Central, Hong Kong.

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