“Six women from Melbourne walk into a restaurant and order a four cheese pizza and espresso martinis. That’s how the joke goes right?”
A DINING EXPERIENCE REVIEW
Type: Italian Food: 7/10 Service: 6/10 Value for money: 5/10
- Ombra serves rustic, honest food that is made using traditional Italian preservation methods such as drying, smoking, salting and fermenting. This allows the kitchen to serve a wide harvest of food from different seasons.
- The menu is best tailored for sharing groups, and has two banquets to choose from, if you can’t decide from the a la carte menu: “When Mama feeds you” vs “When Nonna feeds you”. If you are ordering a la carte, be sure to order plenty of dishes as everything on the menu is tapas portions (something the wait staff failed to explain)
- Must try: Lamb ribs with Chilli Jam & Olive Ascolane
My friends and I – dressed in unplanned matching black attire – arrive at a narrow looking restaurant front, eagerly eyeing the dishes of a smart couple by the window. The two appear to be having a selection of cured meats and an assortment of pickled vegetables, beautifully arranged on little mismatched boards. Beside them is a decanter of wine, some inviting, crusty bread, and a larger dish of succulent meatballs.
Looks very promising.
We are at Ombra to catch up over one last meal before one of our friends Gitanjali packs her bags to head to London for a stint of overseas work. It is something that she has wanted to do for a while, and I’m excited for her, despite how vague Britain’s future looks at the moment. As a matter of fact, in the year leading up to GJ’s decision to leave for London, two of my other friends had decided to move there as well. This leaves me quite torn… for you see, at the start of this year Josh and I were very ready to start seriously thinking about a move to Asia. Singapore seems to suit us quite well, and although my intense loathe for Hong Kong makes me want to run away at the though of working there, their faster pace seems to suit me even more. But now everyone is in London. Do we go to London? Do we dare brave the bleak summers and the bleaker winters? Do I look good in gumboots?
Anyways, I digress. Monique (previously featured as Branique), Jewelia, Rosemary and I arrive before GJ who is running a little late. We’ve just come from an impromptu wine tasting at the Hardy’s Brave New World popup cellar door next to our office building, so we are flustered and warm from the wine and the walk up to Ombra. Desperately in need of a drink, Rose and I have our minds set on our go-to cocktail (the Espresso martini) and as we are being seated, we convince the other girls to order the same to start.
Our waiters are Italian of course. Their accents are thick and there are a few lost-in-translation moments between us when we are ordering our drinks. When one of them leaves to prepare our drinks, another one arrives and asks us if we wanted to order any sparkling wines to start. A little confusing. She leaves us after we settle the miscommunication, and comes back with the food menus, some beautiful crusty sourdough, and a bowl of extra virgin olive oil. I could eat these two simple things all day really. Good olive oil and good bread is highly underrated.
Whilst we are waiting for our cocktails, Jewelia and Rose get into a strange conversation about the hanging dried chillies above us. Something about the differences in the significance of hanging chillies between Italian and Korean culture. Despite most of us being from the same career discipline, our group consists of a healthy mix of varying personalities and backgrounds. I take pride in my diverse friendship groups. Perhaps it is because I’ve seen first hand what happens to people when they let themselves live in a bubble that consist of only one cultural background, and it’s mind numbing. How are you expected to grow and learn and be open minded when you surround yourself with the same group of people? With the state of the world we are currently living in, it is almost self destructive to “stick to your own”.
I smile happily around at our table of bright, open minded, successful women.
The decor at Ombra reflects one of my favourite things about Melbourne – the ability to make elements of one’s culture become an iconic part of the city itself. Ombra is a nostalgic representation of the rustic European old-country-chic that blends into the urban Melbourne sprawl on Lygon Street (Little Italy). Dried herbs, garlic and chillies hang from exposed beams inside the narrow restaurant. We are seated at a long country table with mismatched patio chairs, and our bread and olive oil arrive on stylish, earthy clay tableware.
Hooray, our drinks are here! The espresso martinis are potent. Rose insists that this is how the Italians drink there coffee, and it sure shows in Ombra’s cocktails. By this time, GJ arrives looking equally as flustered as we did when we first walked up the stairs to our table. She is slightly panicky, thinking that she was extremely late but she wasn’t – we had just arrived to our booking fifteen minutes early. She’s looking good in relaxed jeans, bright top and casual blazer – unlike the rest of us dressed head to toe in black. I can tell she is already in a im-done-with-work sort of vibe. After rounds of air kisses and hello’s, she explains that she had come from a long boozy lunch and an impromptu hospital visit hence the slight delay.
We get started on a selection of cured meats or “Salumi” to snack on with our bread. Can’t go wrong with a good Mortadella, prosciutto and pancetta. The portions are slightly small considering the price, but they are a good quantity for nibbles whilst we wait for our other dishes. We excitedly question GJ about her plans for the big move. Has she found a place to stay? Will she spend weekends in Spain? Does she have enough thermals to bring (she is leaving Australian Summer for European Winter)?
A steady succession of tapas style dishes quickly follow the salumi platter as we move on from our cocktails to some red wine. The Olive Ascolane (pictured above) are delightful, golden, crispy balls of battered and fried olives, stuffed with Italian sausage and herbs. Again, portions are slightly small for the price, but we are confident that we have ordered enough food. I do have a slight pet peeve of dishes that are sold as “to share” but always come in odd numbers and often less than 6 pieces.
Along with the olives come some cured kingfish which was light and refreshing, topped with some smoked ricotta and dill. This falls under the “seafood” section of the menu, and we sort of hoped for it to be more of a main sized portion considering Jewelia is a pescatarian, but the menu doesn’t really explain portion sizes well and the waiters didn’t really seem to know how to explain to us that ALL the dishes on the menu are tapas portions apart from the pizzas.
The eggplant fritte comes with rich, smoked aioli and the chips are incredibly crunchy and golden on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside with that slight sweetness of the eggplant pairing nicely with the smokey dip. Crumbed and deep fried vegetables never disappoint. Yeah…this isn’t a healthy dinner at all.
Six women from Melbourne walk into a restaurant and order a four cheese pizza and espresso martinis.
That’s how the joke goes right?
Like our love for coffee and wine, I think it is safe to say that another common love our little eclectic group shares is our love for cheese. And who could stop us from ordering a pizza that is simply topped with different types of cheese? No one I tell you. No one. We are beyond ecstatic when the pizza arrives. It is bubbly and beautifully pale yellow with crispy wood-fired edges. The base is thin and slightly chewy, and the cheese is pungent, cleverly paired with pockets of earthy wild mushrooms. Very happy with this choice of pizza.
Did I mention we like cheese? With our four cheese pizza, our other order also arrives: fried Bocconcini with kale salt. Yes, you heard me. Fried cheese. Don’t look at me with those judging eyes, I know you would eat fried cheese every day if it didn’t stop you from fitting into your bikini for the summer. Lucky for us in Melbourne, our Summers are quite shit (pardon my french). And why do you think we like to wear all black? Black is slimming. Black is accommodating to fried cheese. Again, this dish stupidly comes in portions of 3 for $10 a serving! We order two though…because we like cheese. But a big frown on the price.
The final savoury dish arrives with our fried cheese and cheese pizzas, and we are about to roll over and die from all the rich and fatty, cured, melty, salty fried goodness. The lamb ribs (pictured above) is served with a tangy, sweet chilli jam that cuts through the fatty meat quite nicely. This is a moreish dish with deep umami flavour from the aged lamb, which is so tender and falls right off the bone.
Believe it or not, we also order dessert (I neglected to take a photo). Very unnecessary, but I guess when you order fried cheese and deep fried stuffed olives, the words “necessary” doesn’t seem to apply to choices of food. The salted caramel profiteroles at $9 each are the size of teacup saucers, and are incredibly rich and sweet. Not enough salt in my opinion, as it just tastes like caramel toffee filling.
Over all, I enjoyed Ombra’s traditional range of salumi inspired dishes and beautiful selection of wines, and potent espresso martinis. It is definitely a perfect establishment to visit with friends for a boozy meal full of comfort foods. I wasn’t very impressed with the prices on the menu though. I thought everything was too overpriced for what was presented to us, and the whole $10 for 3 balls of fried cheese was a bit insulting.
Let me know what you guys think – have you visited Ombra before, and if so, what did you think of the portions? Did we order the wrong items?
Happy feasting, and do mind your table manners!