You know Guy Grossi’s joints. He’s got Italian fine diner Grossi Florentino – home of the $50 pasta entrée – and Cellar Bar downstairs, the old school trattoria where flirting knows no age limits. But you can forget about both of those when looking to Ombra.
Grossi has come kicking and punching into 2013 with this salumi bar – a modern proposition that encapsulates everything great about Melbourne dining right now. In place of tapestries and linen, you’ll find polished concrete floors, and bareback tables designed for building makeshift meals of pickles and meats.
They won’t prime your wine glass with a few sacrificial drops from the bottle like they do at Florentino either. Drinking here is an exercise in embracing all things quaffable. Perhaps sitting street-side with a pitcher of craft beer or cooling your hands on dewy glasses of Lambrusco (a sparkling Italian red wine whose reputation they’re trying their damnedest to revive). It's about $60, not $600 bottles of wine. Hell, you can even get the house pinot-nebbiolo by the 1.5 litre flagon. Either way, the hangover potential is huge.
They’re a friendly bunch here, dressed down in tees and offering the kind of amiable service that leaves you poor, drunk and smug about it. Ditch the menu and let them take you on a snack safari. Perhaps you’ll start with a bowl of fat, mild friggitelli peppers fried in olive oil and sea salt – similar to green padron peppers without the risk of a rogue burner – and some lamb ribs. They’re slow cooked then crisped so you get caramelised crunch and soft meat with just a lick of heat from a sweet chilli side dipper. Or then there’s the sardines – just lighty pickled and salted so they’re all firm-fleshed, bright-skinned and slightly briny rather than rankly fishy. Go Dutch and drop ‘em in your maw whole.
Really though, you’re here for the salumi. Grossi’s Berkshire pigs have been transformed in the kitchen into rose-pink pinches of salty, air-dried capocollo (made from the neck), and fat-freckled slices of spicy salami nobile. Stick ‘em on a pizza – they serve crisp-based canvases topped with nothing but a little oil and mild, stretchy fior di latte cheese or a tangy slap of tomato sauce for just that purpose.
We’re more impressed with the fact that they’re making their mortadella than with the spongy and slightly grainy meat itself. Our nose-to-tail points go to the intercostal slider. The sinuous muscles from between the ribs are braised to a sticky debris and slipped into a soft little buttermilk bun with a crozzle of fried onions and ‘slaw evening out the crunch-smoosh balance.
Throw a tumble of bitter salad leaves into the mix and bring it home with tart raspberry sorbet – or you could just wander up to the incredible Gelateria Primavera on Spring Street for a scoop of roasted hazelnut gelati.
Ombra is a gallop in the right direction for the Grossi group – it’s casual and fun with sharp service preserved. Grab a bunch of pals and head in for a sit, sip, snack and chat, with just the gentle thunk of the glossy red meat-slicer to keep an easy tempo.