Ombra is that person in your friendship group who looks great with curtain bangs and owns a set of slate grey linen napkins. They have curated a perfect playlist of Italo jazz and can drink red wine without staining their lips or teeth. And like a true overachiever, this little corner spot in Hackney isn’t just great to look at, it does excellent Italian food too.
Ombra sits somewhere between gritty and glamorous. Empty wine bottles find a new life as vases for dried flowers, candles flicker on tables, and the dark, concrete floors give the dining room a moody feel at night. If some restaurants encourage hunkering down in a tracksuit, or going glam in a brand new outfit, Ombra takes you just as you are—but plants the seed of “maybe I could pull off curtain bangs.” The crowd here—puncturing puffy gnocco fritto with abandon—feels the same. Everyone is relaxed. Bottles of wine with cool labels are ferried to groups and date night jitters look like they’re washing away as the first round of mezcal negronis hit tables. And the service is so personable that it’s hard to tell who are old friends and who are strangers.
We think about Ombra’s dishes nightly. A fried courgette flower with a thin batter, stuffed with salty anchovy, smooth cheese, and citrusy hits of lemon is the perfect crunchy snack to throw back between sips of wine. Similarly refined, without feeling tortured, are the pasta dishes. A hazelnut and girolle tagliatelle is light and sweet. But the best is the tiramisu. Although most of the menu changes with the seasons, thankfully the tiramisu is a stalwart. We would cross oceans during a storm for it—and by that we mean, walk across a bridge over the Thames when it’s mizzling.
Dishes vary depending on the season, but there’s usually a gnocco fritto in the cicchetti section of the menu, great pasta dishes, and meat and fish options.
Not since the sherbert-filled glory days of flying saucers have puffy disks been so fun. These cicchetti are a must-order. The ones we had came draped with peppery slices of mortadella, but there’s sometimes things like Mangalitza ham too. Whatever the topping, the dough is always light and chewy.
Courgette Flowers, Ricotta & Anchovies
Fried courgette flowers are up there in the pantheon of crispy, creamy, salty, light snacks to start a meal. The one at Ombra is a delicate showstopper. The batter is thin and crisp and the stuffing is a subtle mix of fishiness, lemon, and cheese. It's perfect for nibbling on with drinks as you decide what else to get.
Burrata, Grilled English Peas & Lovage
Like failing your first driving test and taxes, burrata on the menu at an Italian restaurant is almost inevitable. This one is pretty good, but there are tastier things happening elsewhere in the cicchetti and antipasti sections of the menu.
Pastas here aren’t smothered in thick, rich sauces which means ingredients like slightly peppery, amber girolles and toasted nuts can really shine. The pasta dishes change often, but are always really great and light, whether delicate mushrooms or fresh peas and crumbly spring lamb is on.
Aged Pork, Cherries Mostarda & Chard
This is a massive plate of perfectly cooked pork. The cherry mostarda is sweet with fruit and spicy from the mustard, and all-round delicious. Ideal for sharing, for leftovers, or for very, very hungry carnivores. We’ve had this dish previously when it was served without sauce and it was just as good.
Pollock, Piattone Beans & Pineapple Weed ‘Beurre Blanc’
Compared to the pasta and aged pork, this was underwhelming. The fish was tasty but under-seasoned, the greens fresh but over-seasoned, and the pineapple weed buerre blanc didn't live up to its intriguing description.
The tiramisu at Ombra is one of the best in London. We would describe the ratio here as cream-forward, but it’s got enough bitter chocolate scattered on top and coffee flavour to combat the thick dairy layer. It’s a hulking slice, but we still don’t like to share it.