Words: Shamim de Brún
Words: Shamim de Brún
Last week TG4 tweeted a picture of Viennetta with the caption ‘Notions’, and I laughed till the mouthful of Ethiopian natural v60 filter came out my nose.
In part, because I high key relate to the millennial running TG4’s Twitter, but mostly because I am an unashamed stan of Viennetta.
Viennetta is the definition of an OG in the world of frozen desserts. It may be a British invention with a faux Italian name, but it is the stuff of Irish childhoods, mine included.
Was there ever anything so luxurious as a Viennetta? It has an impossible texture. Think cold fluff or sweet memory foam if you haven’t tried it. On top of that, it’s got chocolate that reminds me of trying to get wax off my fingers in the back of the church on Sundays.
Yes, I have notions, and I do not care.
Just in case you don’t know what I am talking about, Viennetta is a layered ice cream chocolate treat that has been around since the early 80s. The process of making this classic treat is an actual work of art. Watching a video of how the perfect ice cream waves are made remains mesmerizing.
FUN FACT: You don’t get knock off Viennetta’s so easily because Walls copyrighted the special process used to make it.
Wall’s marketed Viennetta as a premium ice cream. This was the era of the ice cream sambo. Made with cheap-as-chips wafers and that Hazelbrook vanilla log, the milkiest vanilla in the land.
Decked out with thin slivers of milk chocolate, Viennetta was the level-up from this treat. It also looked the part. If it came out in the social media era for the first time, it would have dominated newsfeeds like cronuts and rainbow bagels.
The hold Viennetta took of Dublin was unparalleled. Bigger than the doughnut craze or smoothies. Every person in the country alive in the 90s and 00s had Viennetta as part of their Christmas shopping. It was exclusively bought on special occasions. It sat on the centre of the table, taunting kids with all its creamy glory like the holy grail. There is no other word for it. It was iconic.
Because of this, Viennetta became synonymous with celebration. To this day, Viennetta tastes like the leisure plex or the Giraffe centre. At the time, it was the height of innovation and fashion. It was perceived as more grown up than Hazelbrook farm and wafers.
Babies couldn’t eat Viennetta; it was too fancy. Viennetta was the domain of the child who could use a knife and fork. A child eating Viennetta could definitely tie their shoes. It was a right of passage sign of growth. As fundamental as making your communion but way more fun. Viennetta was a special treat that was worth savouring. Not just for how it tasted but for how it made you feel.
It came to be seen as something only people with notions bought. It was double the price of the Hazelbrooke and wafers. So buying it for a special occasion became some sort of wealth signifier, like owning Dubes in 2004 or buying avocados ten years ago.
Towards the end of the 20th century, well-armed competitors started coming for Viennetta. In the late 90s, a new player entered the game: Romantica. This dessert, also with multiple layers, was marketed as a more flavourful alternative to Viennetta. It was layered with caramel and biscuit, to be exact. So when it hit the mean freezer aisles, it was perceived as fancier because it had flavour—the cheek of it.
And thus began the great Irish ice cream rivalry. Viennetta and Romantica were both vying for Irish consumers’ hearts. It was a battle of the classics versus the upstart. The skirmish was bloody, fierce and intense. It divided families more brutally than any civil war. The Great Irish Ice Cream Rivalry of Viennetta vs Romantica still lives on in online discourse to this day. Even making it to Liverpool.
Then ‘Go Thobban’, Viennetta went the way of the Whispa when Wells stopped producing it. This gave Romantica a fighting chance, but the company behind Romantica was facing financial difficulties scaled back.
Until recently, all my research led me to believe that Romantica was dead and gone with O’Leary in the grave, but I walked into Dunnes in search of Viennetta and low and behold, it was there staring at me. Priced at a tenner! The NOTIONS.
Viennetta came back with a bang and a specifically tailored nostalgic advertising campaign. When she returned to the party, Viennetta rebranded as a budget beauty. Viennetta came back into my life when it got into the dessert action at Lidl.
Stocking it in the millennial budget supermarket was probably the best thing because everyone who wanted to taste what it feels like to bowel their first strike and dance to the time warp could help but add it to the basket. Yours truly included.
It’s also due to the fact that Viennetta is just plain delicious. Creamy ice cream and rich chocolate is a timeless classic, and it’s a flavour combination that never gets old.
Well, let us eat Viennetta!
Elsewhere on CHAR: Why I Hate The Word Foodie