The greatest banana split there ever was
August 5, 2013

I’m not a huge ice-cream sundae fan. Well, that’s a lie. I’m human, I love ice-cream.

What I mean is that when in a restaurant, faced with a fabulous array of treats for dessert, I’d usually choose a tart, panna cotta, or deliciously decadant chocolate creation over a simple ice-cream.

Mr Manning’s the opposite – he will eschew patisserie, gateaux and tortes in favour of a simple “two scoops of chocolate ice-cream please”. And yes, there are the inevitable times that I’ve had to wade through a flat souffle, or a heavy mousse, while he reminds me that sometimes it’s good to stick with what you know.

But in a stunning moment of role reversal, on a visit to the Halsetown Inn near St Ives, I decided recently to turn the tables. So while he ordered chocolate pate (yes, pate) I plumped for a banana split.

What a coup for Mrs M!

Banana split at the Halsetown Inn, St Ives

This was not any banana split. Forget a manky banana covered in cheapo vanilla ice-cream and buckets of squirty cream. This was the real deal. It was the salted caramel sauce that tempted me to order, but I get ahead of myself…. So – as the husband looks disappointingly at his small slab of what appears to actually be chocolate torte, I am greeted with an old-fashioned handled half-pint glass resting on a side plate.

The glass is filled – yes filled – with vanilla ice-cream. Not Asda smartprice, but real vanilla ice-cream. You know, the stuff that has the little black bits in that means you know it’s pretty good (although for all I know some manufacturers just put a load of black stuff in to convince people it’s good….hmm. But I digress). It’s not just the black bits – it’s the sweet-but-not-too-sickly taste and the smooth, creamy texture that brings on 50 Shades of Grey-style excitement.

Oozing all over the top, and running down the sides like delumptious (that’s deliciously scrumptious to those who don’t know) lava flows of sugary goodness was a gorgeous homemade caramel sauce. Salted caramel seems to be the “in” thing these days. I had a salted caramel tart creation a few weeks ago, but this blew it out of the water. The secret is the salt/sweet combination and, when it’s going with something like ice-cream, right consistency. It’s got to be runny so it works its way down the glass, finding little paths through gaps in the ice-cream to fill up any small space, yet sticky enough that it adheres to it, as well as coating the inside of your mouth with yumminess.

I’d have been happy enough with the ice-cream and sauce, but of course, this is more than that. As if there isn’t enough sugar in the glass already, perched atop the mixture is a huge boulder of homemade honeycomb. Honeycomb isn’t something I’ve had very often, and most of my experience is either in a Crunchie, or when you go into one of those fudge shops and have a big slab of honeycome or nougat which you have a few mouthfuls of then realise you feel sick and dispose of. No such experience here!

Apparently to make honeycomb is quite difficult, you have to let the sugar bubble up and fill with air, and catch it at exactly the right time. This appeared to have been done perfectly with my wonderful asteroid of greatness. Sweet, airy, crunchy, and perfect when dipped into melting ice-cream and caramel sauce.

Amid this mixture of sensational sweetness, where’s the banana, you ask?

Don’t worry, it’s there, but it’s not the aformentioned ageing piece of fruit. Left in the skin, cut in half, and grilled to perfection, it’s more an accompaniment than the main event, but lies curved round the glass, perfect to be cut out and popped in to the ice-cream. Not too sweet, it’s the perfect addition to the dessert, but it’s prime spot around the glass reminds you: “I own this dish, this is named in my honour, this is only a banana split because I’m here.”

And there you have it – a far cry from the banana split you order in places where you get given a plastic menu with pictures of your dish next to their description. This is the real thing – something I might even try to recreate.

Whether I manage this or not, take my word for it, you can be sure that any dessert that inspires 700 words of diatribe has got to be a good ‘un, so put that squirty cream away and reach for the caramel!