It takes a brave soul to launch an ice-cream parlour in the UK in the depths of winter. But for Bruno Forte and his team at newly opened gelato bar, Swoon, it has proved to be a winning combination.
Nestled at the very foot of Park Street, just opposite College Green, which is sure to be a hive of activity when spring finally arrives, Swoon offers a glowing emporium of authentic, homemade Italian desserts. Arriving late one afternoon, wind beaten, a bit soggy and soaked to the skin, it was a pleasure to be greeted by the friendly faces behind the vibrant gelato bar.
Bruno, originally from Italy, comes from a family of dedicated gelato entrepreneurs, who have worked in the industry since before Bruno was born. Bruno, previously a restauranteur in Dorset with his wife, has cousins in the gelato trade in Dorset, which inspired him to start his own sweet adventure.
Embarking on a week long gelato course at a university in Bologna in Italy was the first move Bruno took, learning the skills required to put his gelato dream into practice.
“I found a gelato university in Bologna in Italy and thought what better way to get away from my family for a week!” Bruno laughs.
“Making gelato isn’t like throwing a few things into a machine, it’s an exact science.”
As we chat, surrounded by contented families and children slurping on melting gelato, it’s clear that Bruno is in this industry for all the right reasons: there is something inherently satisfying to welcome strangers into your own gelato bar and watch them socialise and enjoy the whole experience that comes with the culture of real, Italian gelato.
“The people who run the course make the Ferrari of gelato machinery. From this course, here we are.” Bruno motions to the room and his staff who are busy as bees, all smiles and positive energy, serving customers and waving them on their way.
It’s very possible that Swoon will bring an entirely new experience to Bristol, a thousand miles from your average frozen yogurt and ice-cream vans. From mascarpone and real egg custard, to strawberry cheesecake and chocolate brownie. There is even a Peppa Pig flavour which is a popular choice for the younger children (and adults alike).
“You go around Italy and you get good gelato everywhere, but you just don’t get that in the UK.” Bruno says.
Housed in a prime location, there is a real feel of joy within the open and spacious, two-tiered gelato bar. The main serving bar to your right, as you enter the building, with a varied selection of taste explosions, as well as the perfectly shaped gelato on a stick, all created from scratch in-house, and decorated to Swoon’s unique trademark standards. Throughout the freshly designed interior, the highlight would be the original turret feature on the top level, glass fronted, allowing for natural light to shine through.
“When we came into the shop, it was literally a shell. It was all boarded up, and you could still see the octagonal shape of the turret, so we wanted to put this back in.” Bruno says.
“We didn’t want to put ourselves in the bracket of Olde Worlde Italy, so we went for a romantic name and landed on Swoon.”
With authentically sourced ingredients including pistachios from Italy, vanilla from Madagascar and organic milk and fresh cream from Bruton Dairy in Somerset, this is a thoughtful and sensitively created business, with the added quirk of being created directly on the premises, a highlight of any visit to Swoon. But just how tough is it, to create that perfect scoop of gelato?
“Making gelato isn’t like throwing a few things into a machine, it’s an exact science – you need the right balance of fat, sugar and milk solids. It might come out of the machine, and it’ll taste great, but it will have no structure, and in a couple of hours it will collapse.” Bruno says.
The secret to a successful gelato is the higher temperatures in which it is served, leading to a melt in the mouth experience – with a smooth, creamy and luxurious texture.
Deciding on Bristol seemed the right choice for Bruno and his family, with his sister (who is also involved in the business) already living in Bristol, and you could not ask for a more buzzing location. On Swoon’s opening weekend, despite the downpours, there were queues out of the door. Future plans include holding workshops, private parties and gelato lessons for the curious and adventurous – or simply for those who have a bit of a sweet tooth and an appreciation for the finer things in life.
As for the name choice, which is alluring in itself, Bruno tells us:
“My family have always been in ice-cream and Forte is quite a well known name, but while we are proud of our Italian roots, we didn’t want to put ourselves in the bracket of Olde Worlde Italy, so we went for a romantic name and landed on Swoon.”
And another reason to visit Swoon? It contains 5% less fat content than regular ice-cream. As if you needed another excuse!
It’s a feel good place, and that is exactly why we think Swoon will be Bristol’s most coveted hideout, whatever the weather.