76 Bourke St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
As sad as I am to admit it, Friday night dates have sort of lost their shine ever since I’ve been out of a job. A nice meal out may still be enjoyable, but it just feels like I’ve done absolutely nothing to earn them. But am I going to stop having Friday night dates? NOPE.
Ombra opened quietly (or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention; I probably wasn’t paying attention) three years ago at the top end of Bourke Street, right next to the Grossi empire. That would normally be a terribly foolish move for any Italian restaurant trying to make it big, but not in this case, as Ombra is also a Guy Grossi venture.
As you’d expect of the famous Italian chef, Ombra is an Italian wine bar at heart. There is a large cellar hidden under the stairs, and plenty of meats being cured in-house. The downstairs section is pretty but it’s got nothing on the enchanting upstairs section – a provincial Italian dining room, with a balcony that opens up to the leafy Paris-end of Bourke street.
I love cheese platters but I love meat platters even more, and after a lengthy consultation with our knowledgeable waiter, we opted for a duo of Prosciutto and Tartufo ($9 for 1, $12 for 2, $18 for 3), which was served with a slide of crusty white bread. The prosciutto came in freshly sliced ribbons, and though delicate, the soft and pliant slices of ham were nevertheless nutty and full-bodied in flavour.
But our hearts were taken by the Tartufo – fatty slices of salami flavoured with black truffle, and finished with a drizzle of olive oil. Despite being so thinly sliced, each piece of salami was indulgently rich, augmented by hints of earthy truffle.
Making no concessions to our arteries, we followed the cured meats with a plate of Crisp Lamb Ribs, Salsa di Peperoni ($16), one of the signature dishes of Ombra. And you know what? The blogger who said that these smelt like KFC were entirely correct; in fact, they even looked a bit like it too!
Underneath the brittle coating, the lamb was unbelievably unctuous, dissolving off the bone at the lightest touch. The accompanying capsicum sauce was sweet and fruity, and although the lamb would’ve benefited from a more generous amount of seasoning, the cooking itself could not be faulted. Believe me, 4 ribs were more than enough for 2 people.
I had been eyeing the Slow Cooked Octopus, Potato, Salsa Verde ($18) all night, and you know what? It turned out to be one of the best dishes I’ve ordered for quite a while. The slow-cooked octopus had an amazing texture; instead of being overly chewy or saggy, it was satisfyingly meaty, soaking up the salsa verde, which danced with fresh parsley and good olive oil. Accompanied simply by crisp stalks of celery and slices of potato, this was an invigorating cold dish that’s perfect for summer.
(Although, maybe avoid this dish if you’re squeamish about octopus. The tentacles were so huge that the little suction caps were falling off.)
This was the deal Chris and I made: I get the octopus, and he’s allowed to have the Polpette, Tomato ($14) – a rustic serve of meatballs in a cast iron pan. As we had predicted, this was a classic dish made well, the meatballs coarse but moist, soaked in a rich tomato and vegetable stew. We gleefully soaked up the excess sauce with our remaining bread.
I may have been completely oblivious about Ombra until last week, but apparently I’m one of the last few people who are. By 7pm, not only was the entire upstairs and downstairs of the restaurant packed out, there wasn’t even any room left in the al fresco section. Ombra encompasses all of what Melbourne loves – a chic, stylish wine bar with beautifully made food and excellent wine (or so I’m told). It is a winner through and through (like Australia in the Asian cup!)
Rating: 15.5/20 – italian movida.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.