I fell in love with Italy when, aged eight, I first tasted real lemon sorbet. Last Tuesday evening (my birthday) I fell in love with Swoon. There couldn’t have been a better way to celebrate. Swoon’s inspiration is the Italian tradition of the gelateria, where young and old alike can enjoy a civilised evening out at any time of year.
Newly opened on Bristol’s Park Street, opposite College Green, Swoon is run by Pat and Bruno Forte, continuing the craft that their family has practised for 120 years. Masterminding the kitchen is Luisa Fontana, former tutor at Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna, where some of the finest gelato entrepreneurs around the world have acquired their skills.
When I arrived at Swoon for their preview event, I was shamefully ignorant of the difference between ice cream and gelato. When I left, I was in no doubt. Gelato is beaten at a slower speed, incorporating less air and thereby ending up smoother and creamier, and it is served at a higher temperature, making it softer and silkier – but even without the technical details, you can taste the difference.
On our arrival we were treated to a Bellini made with mango sorbetto, and the sorbet was so smooth and creamy it was hard to believe that it was completely dairy-free.
This was followed by a selection of Swoon’s monoporzioni, or mini-desserts in little glasses. We even got to make our own in the Gelato Lab. Skill and practice are clearly needed for the perfect finish achieved by Luisa and her team!
Another highlight of the evening was getting to try a very generous slice of one of Swoon’s sublime gelato cakes. I swore I would only have a taste, but I just couldn’t put the spoon down. The crunch of the whole hazelnuts and hazelnut crumb was in satisfying contrast to the creamy mascarpone and bacio gelati, and the flavours were out of this world.
Swoon also serves stecchi, or gelato sticks dipped in chocolate. Roll over, Magnum – this is a whole new experience! My favourite was the raspberry sorbetto coated with white chocolate and encrusted with pistachio chunks.
Last but most definitely not least, was a taste of each of Swoon’s 16 gelato flavours. Eight will be permanent features, including Pat and Bruno’s favourites – salted caramel gelato and chocolate sorbetto – while the eight others will be more seasonal. My personal favourite was chocolate brownie gelato, which tasted just like a freshly baked brownie but was creamy, cool and perfectly smooth. Swoon is even planning themed weeks, such as Asian week with Matcha tea gelato. The possibilities are endless!
Since my first taste of real lemon sorbet, I’ve been to Italy many times, and I have to say that Swoon’s gelato is even better than many I’ve tasted in Italy. Theirs is freshly made every day in the Gelato Lab from the very finest ingredients. Organic milk and cream are sourced locally from Bruton Dairy in Somerset, while for that authentic intensity of flavour the lemons and pistachios come from Sicily and the hazelnuts from the hills of Piemonte.
The same attention to detail is apparent in the decor, with matching hexagon motifs on the back wall, the wrapping for take-away tubs and the range of gelato cups.
If the cockles of your heart need warming this Valentine’s Day, you could always opt for a coffee from local coffee roasters Extract, an affogato (espresso over gelato) or a sumptuously rich hot chocolate, but whatever you do, don’t pass up the opportunity to sample the gelato – it really is ‘gelato to fall in love with’.