Twenty years ago Franco Riservato was squeezing lemons for the gelato maker at Bar Italia. He was saving money for a trip to Italy he never ended up going on. “I just fell in love with it. I just love making gelato.” He was offered a job as a gelato maker and worked there for 21 years. When the owners recently changed hands he had a realisation. “If I want to make gelato for the next 20 years I need to have my own place and do it my way.”

Riservato has just opened Gelato Franco, an old-school gelataria on Marrickville Road. You’ll notice it in an instant; it’s the only shopfront with wood-paneled windows opening to the street, fresh tiling and no sign. He’s making gelato the traditional way, with a 25-year-old Cattabriga, Effe 6. It’ll sound like jargon to anyone outside the gelato world, but to Riservato, it’s a piece of art. “It massages the gelato. The new machines are so fast they put too much air in. This is much softer.” The antique machine only has a small capacity, so it’s a lot of extra work for Riservato, but he doesn’t mind because it forces him to keep the gelato fresh.

There are 15 flavours, roughly 10 classics and five rotating styles that depend on both the season and Riservato’s fancy. He’s working on an espresso sorbet for his mum, who misses the icy granitas of southern Italy. Try the dense, almost pulpy banana; chocolate that tastes like childhood; and a velvety pannacotta splashed with a burnt-caramel syrup, all of which are creamy and authentic representations of their core ingredients. “This is the slow-food-movement version of gelato. We roast our own nuts and squeeze our own lemons. We make everything in house.”

Riservato is joined in the kitchen by his mum, Donata. Riservato is training her to make gelato, but in the meantime, she’ll be making Italian cakes and biscotti. “I just want people to know what she does at home.” He describes one of her specialities, sfingi, an Italian doughnut ball that’s deep-fried with cinnamon. He’s also got a plan to introduce some sort of gelato sandwich, not the brioche style seen in some northern-Italian cafes, but made with savoury bread. “My dad eats gelato with bread, it's a classic Sicilian thing. He just uses crusty bread.”

Every part of the shop seems to be linked to a different part of Riservato’s family. “It’s a family thing, my brother is a brick layer. His father-in-law does tiles and my cousin does woodwork. We did the floor ourselves. I just wanted to put my family into it.”

Gelato Franco
281 Marrickville Road, Marrickville

Wed to Sun 12pm–10pm