If the amount of skin on display in Sanlitun is any indicator, it's already summer, and fast-food outlets are beginning to promote cold and tasty treats.

An almost life-sized ad for a Godiva Chocolate Soft-Serve cone in Taikoo Li Sanlitun caught my attention, and, intrigued, thought it with trying in the service of our esteemed readership. But first, I had to choose a worthy opponent. And quick to offend my nostrils was the scent of mass-produced hamburgers from the basement of said Sanlitun venue: McDonald's. A smackdown was born.

Godiva is a bright, not surprisingly chocolate-colored retail outlet, featuring its signature brand of mid-range Belgian chocolate. The Godiva Cafe in Sanlitun is an early introduction of what is already a popular concept in Japan, expanding the retail experience into sit-down coffee and chocolate. Think Starbucks meets chocolate shop. (N.B., the chocolate bar at Harrod's in London shouldn't be missed if you're ever there.) However, the Chocolate Soft-Serve is a takeaway experience.

Served in a proper waffle cone with chocolate shavings along the jagged, waffle edge, the Godiva offering comes from a bona fide soft-serve machine, which clearly was unwrapped only this week. The cone is filled above and beyond its top and drizzled with a bit of chocolate sauce. This showcase of chocolat costs RMB 45.

Eat it quickly: the ice cream begins to melt almost immediately. The first lick was ... disappointment. Subsequent tastes indicated the same thing. Instead of a deep, rich chocolate, or perhaps the bitterness associated with chocolate made with a high percentage of cacao, this Godiva's Chocolate Soft-Serve just tastes stale. I continued towards the bottom of the cone, hoping that some improved chocolate flavor would emerge, but it did not.

Credit where it's due, though: the cone is excellent. They don't appear to be made on premises a la Cold Stone Creamery, but they are neither too thick nor thin, neither brittle nor tough. The cone did not leak at any point during the life of the cone. Still, this was not at all what I expected.

Downstairs, McDonald's is ... McDonald's. The Vanilla Ice Cream Cone (I think the marketing team came up with that name) costs all of RMB 3, and appears every once in a while for RMB 2 (or two for RMB 2 each) on special. It's much smaller than Godiva's product, but for RMB 3, who's to argue? The vanilla ice cream is servicable. It's not Haagen Dazs vanilla (the best vanilla in the world, methinks), but that would cost even more than Godiva's. The portion is just the right size for a small child. The cone, which lists enriched flour as its primary ingredients but feels and tastes like reconstituted sawdust, isn't tasty, but its flat bottom ensures there won't be any unwanted dripping. That didn't come out right.

The winner: McDonald's. There's better ice cream within walking distance of both of these locations, but for RMB 3, c'mon, have an ice cream. I wouldn't have the Godiva Chocolate Soft-Serve again, and this foray into ice cream just reminds me I've never particularly cared for their overpriced, undergood chocolate. McDonald's, well, it's always there.

Photo: Steven Schwankert/the Beijinger


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