There are two things you can be sure of at Ombra, Wellington‘s newest restaurant — the welcome mat will be out, and a steady stream of visitors will be wiping their feet on it. Meaning “shadow” in Italian, Ombra also refers to a small glass of wine in Venice. This glass is typically enjoyed at a backstreet taverna known as a bacaro, where Venetians gather together to eat and drink at the bar.
Ombra, yet another spot in the stable of veteran Wellington hospitality figure Russel Scott, brings this slice of Venice to New Zealand’s capital, along with the best Italian food this side of St. Mark’s Square.
Head chef Giulio Ricatti hails from Rome, but he proves he can turn his hand to authentic Venetian cuisine with an impressive collection of around 50 small plates. Some are as simple as fried, stuffed olives, salt-cod crostini or cheesy arancini (at a mere $5), while chef Ricatti seamlessly transitions to the other end of the specturum with exquisite veal, game and sardines. However, it’s the wafer-thin pizzette that has locals and out-of-towners flocking here, especially the scamorza (smoked cheese), potato and fresh rosemary option. Paired with a robust Italian red, the combo is the ultimate comfort as temperatures start to drop during this Southern Hemisphere winter.
While you eat, you’ll probably lose track of the number of times locals tell you that this corner location has experienced a few iterations during its time, including stints as a hair salon and a gift shop with a billiard hall upstairs. But along with essential earthquake strengthening, the space has been well and truly whacked with the developer’s stick, and now it’s all high ceilings, exposed ducting and natural materials. With handmade ceramic tiles and half-curtained windows that create something of a one-way fish bowl — meaning diners can see out but the view of passersby is limited — Ombra is cozy and understated. It’s a welcome addition to the city’s Cuba Street dining precinct.
Photos Courtesy of Ombra