The famous Barge Inn in Honeystreet has new owners. Pietro Cuomo and his partner Barbara have moved from Rome to the canal-side pub – with two children and quite a lot of pets and lots of plans. They want to turn their passion for food and wine and service into a new career.
Pietro was born in Naples and has worked for twenty years as an international lawyer in Rome focusing on corporate and commercial law. He was a founding partner of Cugia Cuomo & Associates and has not cut his connections with the firm. He says he might still be doing some travelling for the firm.
He and Barbara have been together in Rome for ten years – she was working as a yoga teacher and photographer.
The morning after Britain’s referendum on EU membership, they decided to move to Wiltshire: “This was the moment to do it. We took advantage of the falling value of the pound sterling and the welcoming attitude to new business and investment from abroad.”
Separately they had both had experience of living and working in London and had initially drawn up a business plan for a wine bar in London. They quickly adjusted their plan for Wiltshire.
They are very aware of The Barge’s place in the community: “The place is an institution – it’s very important to the area.” And they acknowledge its connections to the world of crop circles – it has been known widely as ‘The Croppies’ Pub’.
They had to learn pretty fast about crop circles – a quick course via Wikipedia. And in the summer the pub will be hosting a crop circle exhibition by the Dutch crop circle enthusiast Monique Klinkenbergh.
The Barge will be their home: Barbara and Pietro will live in the old barn that the previous owner had started – with traditional craftsmanship – to turn into an arts centre. Barbara’s son is working as sommelier at the Waterside Inn in Bray and her daughter will be going to school locally. The grounds will be occupied by their two horses, seven dogs and two cats.
Things change and people will soon realise that The Barge has been saved and may change a bit too. But the changes Barbara and Pietro have in mind will be evolutionary. And they intend to explain their direction of change – as Pietro says: “I want to give this back to the locals – to everyone – one hundred per cent. We are an independent food and wine establishment – not part of a chain – and I guarantee that we will liaise with local people.”
They will be having a variety of live music – on Saturdays and later in the middle of the week too. Music for youngsters, folk – one day they might even, says Pietro, invite a string quartet along: “Not everyone will like all the music – of course!”
They plan too to hang a variety of artworks in the bars – rotating styles – and including works from Justin Cook’s Oil Gallery in Hungerford.
Their immediate aim is to ‘elevate’ the service and the food and the wine. They are serving Stonehenge real ales. And they have an impressive new wine list – with Italian ‘bubbles’ and a mix of well-priced wines – by no means all from Italy!
At present the menu is a mix of traditional English pub food with some Italian additions. It is no surprise that they favour light and tasty Neapolitan food rather than some of Italy’s heavier, more bean-based cuisines. Laurence Handyside, who has been chef at The Barge for three years, is a key member of their staff.
The first major changes will come with some refurbishment in preparation for an October reopening and a winter menu. Plans for the future include tasting events both for food and wines. Their supplier of wines and spirits – and advice – is the recently combined London firm of Enotria and Coe.
Meanwhile, we can again enjoy this unique spot by the canal – now with an Italian twist. As their ‘in progress’ website says: “Stay tuned for further details and all our news.”