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Ombra, One Vyner Street: Venice cool in Hackney

Here’s another restaurant and bar in the East which I think is pretty awesome- Ombra Restaurant in One Vyner Street, a Venice- inspired bacaro tucked between Bethnal Green and Hackney. I’ve thought about writing this review for a long time- as I like it so much for myself that i wasn’t quite willing to share it- but hey, I am not famous so should still be able to book. Plus, as I discovered chatting with the amicable owner Steve, apparently Time Out wrote an inexplicably bad-ish review so I feel I must somehow try to balance out.  Not that any of my clever, street-wise readers really trust a magazine review, especially after this post. But you know, I’ve always dreamed of being Zorro, steal from the rich to give to the poor – wait maybe that wasn’t Zorro – anyway, you know what I mean. 

<href=””>ombra restaurant london hackney

Imagine a city full of old, crumbling buildings and cobblestones alleyways that break your knees and feet. Built on shallow, often stinky water. With a thinning population of mostly old people, and way too many pigeons. A city with a past so glorious past that any present or possible future would look grim in comparison. Do you see it?Well, you’ve just thought of Venice. One of the most beautiful- and loved – cities in the world, not in spite of its many flaws, but because of them.

Ombra Vyner Street- which was born with the idea of being a bite-sized piece of Venice in London- has to me the same qualities.  It is in a so- so location (ok, the Vyner Street off- off-off art galleries may be known to some, but definitely are not a mainstream attraction like the nearby Broadway market). Shallow stinky water: check (this strech of the Regent’s Canal is not the cleanest or prettiest you’ll ever see, although there are some great graffiti under the railway bridge). Sketchy locals: check (I have lived next door for a year and trust me, it’s not easy to impress me). When it comes to the venue itself: decor is basically the absence of any decor, with every piece of furniture so used and stripped that it looks arranged, but it’s not. The chairs are uncomfortable but unarguably distinctive, looking like out a ’70 children’s album. Only the stylish logo betrays the hand (and mind) of the owners/creators/interior designers, an Italian and an English architect living in he area since the early ’90es. Food is hearty, 100%fresh and cuts no corners on portions and strong flavours, but it’s overall a bit hit-and-miss especially if you’re used to  haute cuisine.
ombra vyner street review

Yet, do I love the place? Is it always pleasantly full (not crazy, reviewer-led frenzy with queues snaking out of the door- a neighbourly, buzzing tye of busy)? Absolutely yes. Ombra has inherited the kind of somehow inexplicable mojo of the city which inspired it. As blogger Eating the year has brilliantly put it before me, Ombra has the X Factor, and keeps it night and day.

ombra bethnal green

Ombra” literally means ‘shadow’ in Italian, but actually in the North-East and the greater Venice area, where I attended uni, it means ‘a glass of wine‘. ‘Bevemose n’ombra’ (let’s have a drink) was the starting gun of any given evening on those happy student days. Sitting close to the canal, with a spritz or a glass of wine, picking from a small dish of baccala’ mantecato* or a cold cuts plater, makes me feel just happy- in touch with both my past and my future, in an almost magical equilibrium (which will probably crumble after a few glasses of Valpolicella or a wink from the cute bearded guy sitting across the bar- or maybe he was just blinking?! suddenly I feel like a freshman again).

I think Ombra gets its charm from the blend of nonchalant Hackney cool and Italian warmth, and its minor flaws and rough edges just add to it rather than breaking the spell. If all you know about Venice cuisine are Zizzi’s chichetti and you’re happy with them…god bless you.  If you’re after fashionable crowds and modernized but still authentic version of this Italian finger food, get ready to queue at Polpo or Polpetto in Soho.

If you want to join me at Ombra, I’m the one at the bar, with the spritz, sitting between the past and the future. 

ombra vyner street restaurant

* Baccala’ mantecato (approximated translation: creamed died cod) is a very peculiar dis and the one at Ombra is very good. The fish is pounded on a mortar until it releases the oil- the final result is creamy- so creamy you won’t believe there’s no cream or mayo on it- and divine on polenta slices or grilled bread. Bread  at Ombra comes from E5 Bakehouse, like the one at Brawn. Their pasta is homemade ad definitely an highlight.

Ombra on Urbanspoon

Serena Mariani
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Ombra Restaurant, One Vyner Street, London
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One Comment

  1. I’m on one of the pics :)
    Loved the place, it was the perfect way to start my Italian holiday… in London.
    Thanks for introducing me to Ombra!


  1. Ooops the Italians did it again – Sacro Cuore Pizzeria | The F- World - [...] from Time Out and readers. Not that I trust it at all (especially after they bashed my beloved Ombra), …

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