Restaurant design: Bombetta, E11

12/06/2016 07:30:00 am Unknown 0 Comments

I love an excuse to dine out, but suspect that I’m not alone in feeling that the experience is never JUST about the food. For those of us who happen to be interiors-obsessed, restaurants and bars are also hotbeds of design inspiration.  So I thought I’d put this geekiness to good use by dissecting some of my favourite dining spots for you like-minded design-junkies! First up is a local of mine, Bombetta, in East London.


This relatively new Italian in Snaresbrook, East London, is located directly outside the central line tube station. A tiny Puglian restaurant, it occupies an unlikely spot on the ground floor of a new-build. It’s the sort of place you’d normally expect to visit to collect your dry cleaning or order a mini-cab – not enjoy a laid-back meal. Which is why its interior design needs to work extra hard to make an impact!

I wanted this to be more than a regular restaurant review of Bombetta, so took an afternoon out to visit and taste the wares (there have to be some perks to this job!) and chat to 2 of the 3 owners – James and Ben – to find out more about the business, the restaurant design and how the two elements support each other.


The location of this restaurant makes more sense once you understand the background. Ben was originally looking for a retail outlet, not a restaurant. He chose Wanstead as the best local high street, but with typical shops having high premiums attached, opted for this unlikely unit "We decided that retail there would be a struggle, but if you attached a restaurant to it then the space could work (restaurants being more of a destination)." 

So the restaurant was a bit of an afterthought?! Ben: "...we were clear on what we wanted, which was a high end casual dinning environment that utilised the cured meats and cheeses from The Chefs Deli in a unique way." Ben brought in a couple of business partners to take Bombetta from empty shell to functioning restaurant. It was, "nothing but a concrete box with no windows, electric, toilets etc."  


My first impression on entering Bombetta was of being transported into a dark and mysterious urban grotto! It’s small (around 40 covers), warm, eccentric and unpretentious. I immediately wanted to hunker down and spend the entire afternoon. (Job done on overcoming the unusual location then!)

There are raw concrete ceilings, exposed pipework and a bar and shelving made of reclaimed scaffold-boards and poles, lending it a laid-back, industrial vibe. "So far, so-so" you may think; after all, raw, industrial design is certainly rife in the London dining scene. But this design feels just a bit more personal.  The industrial elements are juxtaposed with deep, glossy tiles, neon signage and a trio of colourful (almost gaudy) chandeliers, my favourite being the 'Shrek green' number below!

"We’ve tried our best to make it feel rustic Soho cool – but have added lots of pops of colour to move on from the more serious urban industrial look that you see all over town," explains James. Ben adds: "we wanted …to use very natural materials as much as possible, that contrasted texturally (concrete, wood, shiny metal, rusted and used metal, real leather, pottery plates etc).  In addition we then wanted splashes of colour to add warmth, to what could be a very cold feeling site." To my mind, they've pulled it off with aplomb – Bombetta is the sort of place you'd be happy to spend several hours.


"The very first thing we bought were the chandeliers (and pretty much blew the budget in the process!)" says Ben. "They are hand-made from semi-precious stones by a little dude in Milan called Antonio who runs SussieBiribissi with his friend. We knew immediately that we wanted them. They are super vibrant so we hope that they make a statement." 


I love to see what restaurants put on their walls. In our own homes, we rarely think beyond paint or wallpaper, but restaurants use a huge variety of finishes to add depth and texture. At Bombetta, they had to get creative to stretch the budget. James explains "we got help from our clever, creative builder. He took sheets of metal…sanded them down and left them to rust by his canal boat for weeks before fixing them to the wall to create a rusty, textural surface." 

By contrast, the back wall is clad in dark turquoise tiles (Tons Of Tiles' Illumina in Emerald Green, in case you're wondering – another example of style over budget.) "To be a bit different, we got them laid vertically in rows which looks kind of municipal swimming bath chic, if that’s a thing!" says James. They certainly look dark and striking against the signage. Speaking of which…


James explains, "We ordered local, East London, neon-light-gurus, God’s Own Junk Yard, to make our neon pink Bombetta logo mounted to a cast iron grill." [If you haven’t visited this iconic shop-come-warehouse-come-cafe in the East, it is well worth it, blogpost coming soon, or check out my instagram page for more!]


One of my favourite things about the Bombetta interior has to be the colourful, quirky and personal art. James is a huge fan of street art; Ben wanted colour, so with the help of their graphic designer, Grace Ward, (who also designed the logo) they created their own take on some contemporary classics. James said "One of my faves is a gritty little street snap of Ostuni in Puglia complete with blue Fiat that [Grace] transformed into the style of Evan Hecox’s urban screen prints of LA… We also have a tribute to Eelus’s screen print ‘Shat-at’’ Ben continues, ‘changed to my daughter Amelia holding a rare breed Sicilian Girgentana Goat…We stock the cheese in the restaurant from the goat obviously ;-)." I love how they created something quirky yet relevant (and without spending a fortune!) Keeping it local, they guys had their creations framed on Wanstead High Street. 


The bar has been wrapped around the kitchen with its centre-piece open grill. If you don't mind the heat, you can choose to eat at the bar (as I have done on previous occasions). It reminds me a little of a street food experience, perched informally on stools, watching your meat roast over smoking coals whilst sipping a nice cold beer – perfect (and a nice change from the more pedestrian dining offerings available nearby).


Not only is the kitchen 'open-plan', the fridge is too! Behind the bar you can see through a large glass wall straight into the refrigerators that house the cured meats and wheels of cheese included on the menu (at next door's Chefs Deli).  It’s an impressive reminder of what you are being served, and a great design feature, Ben explains "The Chefs Deli fridges on the other half of the site were pro rata the most expensive part of the location. Whilst functional for our operation, it was important for me that the product was seen in the restaurant, as of course the two businesses…are symbiotic of each other." It’s a neat talking point, and really does highlight the produce.


I’m pleased to report that Bombetta scores a big tick for providing comfortable seating! Ben had a simple banquet made up in the style of a Danish design he’d seen in a magazine. The tan leather chairs and matching bar stools are equally comfortable. Despite their aim to source local, Ben struggled to find a source in the UK that could deliver within the timeframe. "I looked for chairs which connected the metal in the bar and elsewhere in the building and the leather of the banquet.  In the end I found a company in Barcelona and we imported the tables, chairs and bar stools from them."


I guess it's about time I got around to mentioning the 'bombette' themselves (and everything else we ate). I visited for a late lunch with my photographer friend Carole Poirot, after a morning spent shooting some recently finished projects. After a few recommends from the manager, Vasilus, I opted for the autumn squash with mixed wild mushrooms and crostini, which was silky, smooth and divine. Carole's locally smoked salmon was well-seasoned and tasty too. 


2 plates of bombette then arrived. These little parcels of meat are a Puglian speciality (Bombette being the plural of Bombetta, I am reliably informed). Ben and his wife travel extensively and fell in love with the traditional meat grill restaurants of Southern Italy. "Bombette are unique to Puglia originally… meat with cheese and cured meat all rolled together and grilled on skewers over coals." 

This local delicacy grew out of necessity. Poor farm workers would head to the local butcher to feast on bombette (made from little scraps of meat) from his communal oven (the olive industry left precious little room to grow firewood, making fuel scarce).

I can assure you that even if you are not a puglian farmer, these little delicacies are well worth a trek. We tried both the chicken (with speck, sage, taleggio and a garlic & paprika crumb) and the pork (with prosciutto San Daniele, scamorza & oregano). Both were delicious, fairly salty (you'll need that second drink) and delicious. And as for the generous portion of courgette fries that came alongside, I could have eaten another plateful! (Thankfully I didn't). Sorry, there wasn't much left to photograph...


And finally, we managed to squeeze in a little dessert. I went trad and ordered the tiramisu, but have to admit it was a bit disappointing. Carole's vanilla panacotta with figs and basil sorbet more than made up for it – a-MAZ-ing (instant order-envy...grrrr)! 



Bombetta perfectly fuses my love of food with my love of design. The food is tasty and easy; the atmosphere is warm, unpretentious and welcoming. It's the sort of place you want to pull off your coat, flop down in a cosy corner and spend an afternoon drinking, grazing and chatting. I could happily have done exactly that in Bombetta, working my way through the menu of tasty-sounding morsels (and the Italian wine-list) but alas...someone had to fetch the kids!

Find Bombetta at Station Approach, Snaresbrook E11. The Chefs Deli (next door) is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays. For more info, or to make a reservation click here.