Ombra

Preserving customs: The emphasis is traditional, simple Italian food.
Preserving customs: The emphasis is traditional, simple Italian food. Photo: Simon Schluter

76 Bourke Street Melbourne, Victoria 3000

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Opening hours Mon-Sat, 11.30am-10.30pm; Sun, 11.30am-10pm
Features Accepts bookings, Bar, Business lunch, Events, Groups, Late night, Licensed, Outdoor seating, Romance-first date
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Alessandro Tintori, Guy Grossi
Payments Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9639 1927

If Ombra were a truly authentic representation of an Italian family home circa 1970, there would be a framed photo of Elvis (before he got fat). But this is the Grossi family, so the evocation of family and tradition is a tad more measured. The photos are mostly of Guy Grossi in chef whites; there are giant jars of olives in golden oil, classic-rock tunes, and recycled timber beams upstairs hung with ropes of garlic and chillies. The third generation of Grossis to work under this roof, Carlo Grossi works the floor wearing sneakers, and talking about the wines and menu like the food savant he is.

Ombra is almost 18 months old with the lived-in patina of decades. The look echoes the place's story, about preserving. It's about preserving food, through pickling, ageing, smoking or salting. And about preserving culture: Italian, but also where food and culture meet - good old-fashioned verbal DMing over a drink and good food.

Four pour sizes, including an ''ombra'' (100ml taste), encourage wandering around the wine list. It's long and relatively obscure, so just state your preferences (colour, body), and staff will ably do the rest.

Spiedino, skewers of lamb fillet, veal blade and chicken liver.
Spiedino, skewers of lamb fillet, veal blade and chicken liver. Photo: Simon Schluter

Food is all small plates, salumi and pizza. Prosciutto is a good place to start. It's made from Berkshire pigs, finely sliced, has a pleasant funk, is drizzled with olive oil and served with slices of house-baked bread. Try, too, a fontina-creamy croquette with a nub of salty prosciutto inside served on a cute paper doily.

As with the Ark, most dishes come out of the kitchen in twos. House-cured sardine fillets arrive next with sweet roasted bullhorn chillies, and butter-soft flour-dusted and flash-fried calamari with pickled zucchini pieces.

You can order all at once, or order a few times; it's an easygoing place. Stay for another wine, and order a spiedino at the same time; it's a skewer of lamb fillet, veal blade and chicken liver, pan-sealed and roasted. It's delicious.

Pizzas are made using the previous day's starter, they're light and thin and classically topped with just a few good ingredients, such as smoked tomato, fresh basil leaves and buffalo mozzarella - generously spread. It's all beautifully, simply done.

Ombra has all the professionalism and smarts you'd expect from a place that's part of a respected restaurant empire - of six restaurants and numerous cookbooks - but it also has all the warmth that comes with being part of a family business.

Do … Book (because you can).

Don't … Be too rigid with your spending; you'll want to stick around and drink.

Dish … Spiedino (meat on a skewer).

Vibe … Bar dining in the comfort of the Grossi family's living room.

http://www.ombrabar.com.au/