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29/06/2009

Gallery Mess, Chelsea, London

Gallery Mess

★★★☆☆

Good God, what a name. Gallery Mess. It sounds like a harbinger of Emin’s bedclothes, or a Hoxton installation of upturned bins and fox poo.

And there’s something weirdly, regressively infantile about the word ‘mess’. You don’t want it anywhere near food. When a child walks into the dining room and announces, ‘I’ve made a mess’, the only sound that follows is the icy tinkle of cutlery on china, knives and forks descending in unison to half-past-six. At best, the moppet means it’s flicked peas on the floor, spattered the walls with ketchup, or smeared Petits Filous across the small, fat face of its high-chaired sibling. At worst, it means… a lot worse. Mess and food go together like surgery and LSD.

Actually, it’s ‘mess’ as in ‘officers’’ – the Grand Old Duke of York once kept his precisely numbered men on this flat section of the King’s Road. I went with limited expectations. The menu has a pussy-footed predictability: burgers, ‘pasta of the day’, ‘chargrilled chicken breast’ and the dreary like. The specials are much more interesting (Thai beef salad with snake beans, duck salad with watermelon) but weirdly don’t appear online. These days, every restaurant that changes its menu should update its website simultaneously; perhaps, on this score, Gallery Mess is a work in progress.

The space is clinical and cold, with the white monotony of a Brian Eno track. A few wildly expensive sculptures are dotted about tastefully. Chris and I sat outside, in the almost gladey courtyard, with strollers strolling past and the sun shimmying behind the planes. We had a pretty long, pretty good lunch.

Gazpacho comes with cucumber and sun-blushed tomatoes at the bottom of the bowl. Annoyingly, inexplicably, you pour the soup yourself. As you know, this can be a truly great dish, but the version here is just passable. Over-oiled and timidly flavoured, it tastes sort of deflated, with the sun-blushed tomatoes clearly blushing out of embarrassment at their unwelcome acidity. A salad of lamb’s lettuce with duck and watermelon sounded horrendous – which is, naturally, why I ordered it – but proves delicious, with splashes of carmine fruit given body by a south-east-Asiany peanut dressing. It’s possible, though I could be wrong, that the duck was leftover from yesterday. If so, all to the good: such frugal creativity is welcome these days.

A saddle of lamb is chewily overcooked, though its couscous is intelligently spiced and the dish looks delightful. Salmon poached with sauce vierge is excellent – rosy and tender, bathing in extra virgin and speckled with capers. A knickerbocker glory is bizarrely constructed with peanut brittle and bashed up crème brûlée, though its fruit bleeds juicily within. Rhubarb crumble lacks that gooey glory when fruit has surged into crust – instead, the ’barb lies morosely at the bottom of the dish, and the crumble is dusty and raw.

Overall, though, Gallery Mess is ideal for a spot of lunch after a morning shopping on the KR. Its product is far better than you’d expect in a gallery caff. If that sounds condescending, it shouldn't: most food in museums, or any other public building, is like the Taxidermy Section crossed with the Rocks Room. The staff were smiling and enthusiastic, and seemed as happy to be in the sunshine as we were. Not really a mess at all, then.


Gallery Mess Café/Bar, Saatchi Gallery, King's Road, London SW3

Tel.: +44 (0)20 7730 8135

See on the Map

Lunch for two, excluding drinks and service, costs £40

www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/gallerymess

16 comments:

  1. They have a really ugly website - messy, even.

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  2. It’s so nice site. We love to see more on this site. Keep on updating… MonkAreRee Bali ***dmfnkjdgndr

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  3. Excellent review, your writing is genius.

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  4. Did you go to the saatchi gallery as well Oliver?

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  5. Andrzej - They do, don't they? Hardly any restaurants have decent websites: the smart ones always have infuriating flash. St. John's is a model - clean and elegantly simple, like the restaurant itself.

    Bikebali - Nice to see you on here again.

    Gastrogeek - Thank you! Very kind of you to say :)

    Gourmet Chick - We did, yes. There was an American exhibition on which was pretty good. Some pieces better than others though, obviously.

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  6. Wow that salad does sound absolutely horrendous I agree but I trust your buds Ollie so I will just say that I am surprised! Duck and watermelon, who'd have thought it. Agreed on the frugality if indeed they did use yesterday's duck. Sounds like they may have recycled someone's accident dropping the creme brulees too

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  7. Helen - Thanks for commenting. You could well be right! It is early days for them, so there could be a few teething problems. But it's a very nice spot for a summer lunch.

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  8. "harbinger of Emin's bedclothes" - you crack me up!! :D

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  9. At last somewhere to go in the kings road

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  10. Great site - love your writing style.. and I've never heard of Zac Efron being described as Lush and Wholesome :)

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  11. Jeanne - Thanks for commenting! Glad you enjoyed the review.

    Basia - It really is.

    Catty - Thanks very much! I look forward to reading more of your posts too.

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  12. Rhubarb Food design always try to incorporate rhubarb into their menus, e.g. rhubarb knickerbockerglory...

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  13. Ollie - suddenly remembered the over-priced/meanly-measured wine. That was odd, no?

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  14. Your review was so much better than A A Gill's

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  15. The Ample Cook - Wow, high praise indeed. Thanks very much :)

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  16. I think gallery/museum cafes have come a long way... I like what the V&A have done with their recent(ish) refit, and I've heard some interesting if not consistent things about the cafe in the Whitechapel.

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