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