In Conversation With: Mitshel Ibrahim of Ombra London

In Conversation With: Mitshel Ibrahim of Ombra London

Ombra owner, Mitshel Ibrahim, talks us through his thriving business, amidst a global pandemic.

First off, it’s been a rocky year or so for us all, how are you and the Ombra team doing?

We’re doing ok! We can’t quite believe (along with the rest of the industry) that we’ve survived the last year. We never closed our doors – well there was a week we had to at the end of last year – but other than that, we’ve been open the entire time. Transforming into a pastificio & alimentari has obviously been great for us, our staff, our guests, our sanity, and was quite a natural evolution. But whilst playing shop has kept us going, we’re beyond excited to welcome people back to Ombra as a restaurant.

Let’s talk shop a little bit. You and the Ombra team have displayed some truly masterful pivoting over the last year. Can you talk us through how you’ve managed to navigate the pandemic?

It honestly didn’t take that much thought. We knew we needed to sell what we already had in stock so as not to waste any produce, and it kind of carried on from there. Our regulars were coming in asking for our fresh pasta, or if they could have some of our home cured salumi. Plus we had all of our suppliers whose lifelines – restaurants – had suddenly disappeared overnight, so there was a sense of responsibility and obligation to find a way to keep going.

Luckily Ombra itself, being an Italian restaurant, meant that turning into a pastificio & alimentari wasn’t something totally alien to us. I have a friend who helped make our labels and packaging and once we had that, we were ready to go.

Was there a therapeutic element to keeping things ticking in the way you have?

It was also cool to think up ideas and new sauces and dishes to package up, that creative part of the process was actually pretty exciting. We didn’t know how people would respond to the new offering though, so we feel really lucky it worked out.

What are the main lessons you’ve taken away from this whole experience?

To be prepared for anything and go with your gut. The chopping and changing of rules really kept us on our toes, and often it was quite demoralising. But we know we can do it now – although please don’t test us again. Plus, complain as I might about never having nights off when the restaurant is open, I will never again.

Now, let’s talk about pasta. It’s an obvious forte of yours. What goes into making the perfect fresh pasta?

The key is a simple, great product, don’t over complicate things. Don’t over-cook the pasta. Don’t under-season your water. If you follow these rules, you’ll be laughing.

There are about as many varieties of pasta as there are ways of enjoying it. So I have to ask; do you have any personal favourite serving suggestions you could give us?

Pasta in Italy is categorised into three major groups; lunga, corta e ripiena (long, short and stuffed). Some sauces work better with specific pasta shapes, according to tradition. Tagliatelle works better with meaty or rich tomato-ey sauces but you would never serve them with fish or seafood sauce. Carbonara is never served with a pasta which has eggs in it as it would become just a bit much – the list goes on.

But what if I told you that there was a shape so versatile that it can be served with a variety of sauces and while being short it can also be stuffed, baked and fried? I know, incredible.

Paccheri, a giant maccherone traditional from Napoletean heritage. Made from only durum wheat flour and water like most pasta shapes from Southern/Central Italy. And as the legend goes, this shape was born of a necessity to smuggle garlic into the Austrian empire. My favourite ways to serve it are ‘alla sorrentina’, tomatoey cheesy vibes, or ai frutti di mare.

And just as importantly, do you have any drink pairings you’d suggest? What’s been your go-to aperitivo over lockdown?

I discovered the ‘negroni tonic’ which is essentially a hybrid between an Americano and a Negroni. The fizz of the tonic gives you the impression of it being a light aperitivo but do not be fooled…it can be lethal:

25ml Campari

25ml gin

25ml red martini

25ml tonic

For more, discover our ‘In Conversation With‘ series on YouTube.

Credit to Will Halbert, Essential Journal.

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