Via Balbi Restaurant, in Brussels, Belgium, offers a taste of Ligurian slow food straight from the Italian Riviera to your plate.
When you think of Italy, you think ‘good food’; (at least, that’s what I do!) especially when the cuisine is from Liguria, the magnificent north-western Italian Riviera, well known for its perfect climate and terrain to grow basil, olives, and grapes. Couple this with someone who is so passionate about bringing Ligurian cuisine to Brussels, he actually left his lucrative production engineering job to open a restaurant, and you know you are going to have an incredible culinary experience.
I dined at Via Balbi, on an exceptionally pleasant December evening, and was happy with the food. Located just off Avenue Louise, Via Balbi celebrates traditional Ligurian cuisine in an elementary but inviting manner. They have different menus for lunch and dinner, with the focus on ‘slow food’ in the evenings. The lunch menu is extensive and offers salads, pastas, freshly baked Ligurian breads and ‘antipasti’ platters.
I wanted to try a wine other than the famed Cinque Terre, from the region, so I chose a white Pigato wine, a bio-wine from one of the artisanal producers. The wine was medium-bodied and paired well with the accompanying antipasti platter. The platter included stuffed vegetables and pastry and also vegetables pickled with more wine and less vinegar. The stuffed vegetables were lovely, with each nibble echoing the taste of the fresh vegetable, the potato and cheese filling, infused with basil, and the lusciousness of the Ligurian olive oil, in which they were fried. The pastry was average though I was impressed with the pickled vegetables, also sourced from Liguria. The vegetables had a ‘bite’ and a flavour that was not overwhelmed by the vinegar. Notice the cute, tiny, green courgettes – unique to the region!
Pastas are a staple of Ligurian cuisine, so I ordered the classic strofie pasta with pesto, potatoes and beans. The strofie is tube-shaped pasta, well suited for the pesto, also sourced from the region. Liguria is known for its pesto, the most popular being Pesto Genovese. Via Balbi also stocks products from the region, with fresh pesto brought in every week from Liguria. The pesto had a generous dose of basil, bringing the flavour of the herb right into the pasta, which was cooked just enough to absorb the pesto sauce.
The next on our menu was Conglio alla Ligure, a rabbit dish, simmered in the goodness of olive oil and cooked with potatoes, pine nuts, and Taggiascha olives. This was a standout dish for me, with the meat richly infused with the flavours of wine, rosemary and Taggiascha olives. The Taggiasca olive is a small, reddish-brown coloured, mildly flavoured olive from Liguria. The dish was cooked to perfection and had a distinct earthy flavour that immediately transported me to Liguria (a good way of visiting the region without paying for the tickets!)
I couldn’t have missed dessert, with all the exotic sounding names on the menu, apart from the usual tiramisu. I chose Pernambucco oranges cooked in Pigato wine and served with an artisanal lemon sorbet. The oranges brewed with the wine were sourced from Liguria and the sorbet was from Limoncello, in Brussels. The distinct crispness of the lemon sorbet and the delectable acidity of the oranges with wine created an unforgettable magic on the palate.
The restaurant has a friendly feel to it, with its informal décor, and a pleasant efficient team. The focus is on bringing the cuisine of Liguria to the heart of Europe. It shows in the earnestness of the staff and the honesty with which the food is cooked. For music lovers, there is also a jazz night, every other Thursday, accompanied by an appealing antpasti buffet, which can be relished with the wonderful wines from Liguria. The food is modestly priced, considering many products are imported from Liguria.
Apart from the pesto, the restaurant also showcases wines, olive oils, and preserves from the region. I couldn’t resist taking home some pesto and also some freshly made tiramisu. If you are shopping on Avenue Louise, don’t forget to pop in for lunch or dinner and pick up a nice Christmas present for your near and dear ones!
Tempted by our review? Book your table at Via Balbi online now.
Via Balbi Restaurant
Rue de Namur 80
1000 Brussels, Belgium