Food cravings. We all have them. A strange, insatiable desire for that one thing. Cheese, chocolate and hot chips are common culprits, but for us food bloggers cravings can take the form of more strange things like chestnuts or roquefort. In the case of my friend and fellow blogger Daisy, it was polenta. I recalled having some sort of polenta gnocchi at The Mess Hall, circa 2009 (pre-blog, of course) so we paid it a visit. Both of us brought our partners and we shared the following dishes between the four of us.
(Just a side note, please excuse the terrible photos; my camera tends to struggle in low light…)
The crunchy crumbed balls of vegetable and blue cheese risotto were lovely: they were not at all greasy, nor the rice gluggy. The accompanying basil-rich mayonnaise was a nice complement. A good starter.
Polenta chips ($9.50)
These came with a heap of parmesan on top and a side of roasted garlic aioli. They were nice enough but I didn’t notice any of the herbs that were supposed to be there (according to the menu). Nevertheless, Daisy seemed to be satisfied with her polenta fix.
Gnocchi alla Romana ($22.50)
Gnocchi alla Romana (or Roman-style) differ from regular gnocchi in that the dumplings are made of semolina rather than potato. These were the gnocchi that I had incorrectly remembered as being polenta. Here they were wrapped in smoked mozzarella and prosciutto, which added a chewy textural contrast to the soft, light gnocchi. The minted zucchini completed the dish well, balancing out the rich, salty flavours.
Chicken, ricotta and thyme tortelli ($22.50)
Certainly not one of the most attractively presented dishes I’ve seen, however what it lacked in aesthetics it made up for in flavour. The mushroom sauce was rich and hearty, with noticeable chunks of horn-of-plenty and overall strong porcini notes (yes, I am a mushroom nerd). This, along with the scattering of goat’s cheese and walnuts, was a great match for the slightly garlicky tortelli filling. This was probably the standout dish of the night. The only downside was that the pasta was a little thick for my liking.
Bianca pizza ($17.50)
I’ve always been a fan of white pizzas. Sometimes I just like to appreciate the simple flavour of a fresh, yeasty dough and good quality extra-virgin without any adulterating salty tomato base. The Mess Hall’s offering was topped with pumpkin, potato, sage, goats cheese & buffalo mozzarella, a winning combination of ingredients. Unfortunately the base was rather thick and crusty, even for a dough fan like me.
Nutella calzone ($12.50)
Pizza dough, filled with Nutella, served with ordinary vanilla ice cream. I’m sure that all of you can imagine exactly what that tastes like without me needing to add a wordy description. Personally I’m not a huge fan of Nutella; I find that it tastes basically like sugar and oil with minimal chocolate flavour. Funnily enough, Nutella is made up mostly of sugar and oil. But I digress. Everyone else enjoyed this.
Sticky date pudding ($11.50)
The sticky date pudding was lovely and moist. I liked that there were chunks of soft, sweet date that had been left intact. The mascarpone cut through the rich pudding and butterscotch sauce well and was a nice change from the usual vanilla ice cream.
I’ve had enough bad tiramisu in the past to be reasonably averse to ordering it on a menu. There’s nothing worse than a stodgy, bland one that’s been filled out with cheap whipped cream. Thankfully, this was not the case here. It had a good strong coffee flavour and the mascarpone mixture was balanced and not too sweet. We shared this between the four of us, as we had with every other dish, but I could have happily finished that glass on my own.
The Mess Hall doesn’t take bookings for less than 10. We arrived at 7.30 on a weeknight and were able to get a table straight away despite the place being quite busy. The place was crowded and noisy, crammed to the brim with basic wooden tables and steel-framed chairs. If they were trying to recreate the feel of an actual mess hall then they certainly succeeded.
The food bill came to $121, or around $30 for each of us and we left reasonably full. If I wasn’t reviewing (because no review is complete without dessert) I would have just had starters and mains and still been satisfied with the amount of food I’d eaten. The food was also of reasonable quality for what we paid. While it wasn’t totally rave-worthy, it was nice to have a decent feed in the CBD without having to wait for hours to get in.
I’d read a lot of negative urbanspoon reviews with regards to the service here but I didn’t have an issue with it at all. It wasn’t friendly, but it was perfectly adequate and certainly not rude or neglectful.
The Mess Hall’s probably not the ideal venue for your anniversary or important business dinner, but it’s a great place to catch up with friends in a relaxed atmosphere with some good food. The menu’s not specifically designed for sharing, but it still seems to work. You can bet that everyone will want a bit of the tiramisu.
The Mess Hall
51 Bourke Street