— Conegliano Valdobbiadene


Il Barco Casa Balbi in Pieve di Soligo

An oasis of silence and serenity in the green hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene, between historic elegance and contemporary informality.
Il Barco - Visit - 01-2024 - 040 - Photo ┬®Mattia Mionetto

From Marina Grasso.

An 18thcentury farmhouse nestled at the foot of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Hills UNESCO World Heritage Site, set amid over 5,000 square metres of peaceful countryside, and cut off from the bustling industrial area of Pieve di Soligo. An oasis of peace and tranquillity, where diners at the Barco Casa Balbi restaurant can enjoy the charming ambiance of its pergola courtyard, and rooms adorned with literary quotes, traditional sayings, contemporary design, objects d’art, plants, and colourful decor. Also cuisine that celebrates high quality ingredients, classic recipes, and light dining delivered with a creative twist that makes all the difference. The cooking is also deliberately untraditional, almost as a sign of respect for tradition, as Davide Milani, the ebullient owner explains: “I’ve been in the restaurant business for more than 30 years now, but I only purchased Casa Balbi in 2007. Before this I ran a restaurant in Arcade on the Treviso plain where I was born. Traditions there are very different from here, thanks largely to the Piave river, which has divided the two areas for centuries and provided a clear separation between their history and customs. It’s a fact that’s evident when I compare my character with my wife Luciana’s, who was born among these hills. This prompted us to choose not to copy local culinary traditions, such as spit roast, or the cuisine of the local master chefs. They’re in a class of their own and together they’ve really defined the culinary traditions of the Veneto and beyond. As a mark of respect, we elected to retain the existing name of the restaurant ‘Casa Balbi’ – which had been run for many years by one of those aforementioned ‘sacred luminaries’ of local cuisine – and add ‘Il Barco’, the name of my previous restaurant. This seemed the best way to promote our cuisine in this extraordinary region which we hope is contemporary, but demonstrates our great appreciation for traditional foods. After over 17 years here, I’m happy to say it turned out to be a winning choice – one that has given us and continues to give us immense satisfaction”. Davide and Luciana define their cuisine as evergreen, and right from the project’s inception they’ve paid meticulous attention to detail: “The original restaurant had very large interior spaces which we divided into smaller rooms to offer our guests more intimacy which also prompted our decision not to host large banquets. This in turn led us to start a business which is mainly run by my wife providing onsite catering, meaning we can avoid causing any upheaval in the restaurant.

We’ve also furnished the rooms to match our personal tastes and often vary the arrangements. We love touring local markets seeking out furniture and decorative elements that match the rustic charm of the farmhouse and enhance its informal atmosphere, which we carefully round off with a refined and contemporary mise en place”. Continuous research and eclecticism are also the bywords of our cuisine, which is directed by Rudy Loat. As he puts it: “I’ve been at Il Barco Casa Balbi since 2008. After working here for many years, I can say that the constructive relationship I’ve enjoyed with Davide and Luciana has made me feel just like one of the family. Our cuisine is first and foremost about selecting the highest quality ingredients – Davide is uncompromising on this – and for the most part we source these locally. But we also focus on lightening some of the more classic dishes, through special emphasis on seasoning and cooking methods. We also focus on fish dishes, which makes our menus somewhat unusual for this area – a fact our guests appreciate because we offer delectable dishes that are also light on the stomach. However, our signature dish is Sorana fillet steak cooked in the oven encrusted in coarse salt and served with thyme infused oil. It’s a dish which epitomises the core ethos of our cuisine: great ingredients and uncomplicated, light recipes”. Davide also personally curates the impressive wine list, with an enormously wide selection focused on local wines: alongside labels from around the globe there’s never a shortage of a wide selection of Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, all kept in the modern cellar they’ve had built in the garden. “I prefer to call it our courtyard and I’m very proud of it” – Davide adds – “I wanted this space to resemble one of those ancient farmhouse courtyards, with traditional plants like strawberry grapes and mulberry trees, along with a large vegetable garden nearby to provide at least some of the ingredients for the kitchen. It’s an area that can also be enjoyed from the outdoor terrace. We created it to be our emergency solution to social distancing during the pandemic, but it’s now become a new dining area that’s much appreciated by our guests. These include both regulars and the many tourists who continue to discover us. Many of them return, and recommend us to their friends, who come here from all over the world to visit the many wonders of the Prosecco Hills UNESCO Word Heritage Site”.

Photos by Mattia Mionetto.

[Article originally published in Visit Conegliano Valdobbiadene magazine Spring Summer 2024. The entire magazine is available here]