Part restaurant, part art space, the Gallery Mess resides in a beautifully constructed listed building that's attached to the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea. And whether you’re visiting the gallery or not, it’s well worth a visit.
As you might expect given its connection to one of the capital’s most dynamic art galleries, attention to visual detail is meticulously abided by at this light and airy venue. Natural light floods in through expansive glass windows, it has gaping, arched ceilings, exposed brick arches, and artworks are peppered throughout: from iconic neon Buddha signs to oversized glass sculptures of heads and giant-size shoes to pieces of framed art from up and coming artists, it’s a visual treat for the eyes. There’s an additional dining room lined with all manner of bits of contemporary art but this is only used for dining when they need the extra covers.
Due to the propensity of glass and high ceilings, noise levels can reverberate a little, but the gentle light from the Victorian-esque street lamps suspended overhead and the pretty blossom trees in bulbous pots help keep things cosy. Service is slick without being overly in your face.
Food is served all-day and you can imagine it being rammed at lunchtime and for afternoon tea. In the evening it turns into a destination of sorts, and a healthy smattering of customers, both well-to-do locals and visitors to the area, settle in for dinner and drinks.
A company called Rhubarb, who also look after the excellent Elgar Room at the Albert Hall, are responsible for the catering and this results in a very good standard of food. One of the starters, a huge hunk of fresh-as-a-daisy mozzarella served on top of a bed of pulped, smoky aubergine, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, is truly exceptional. The addition of an intensely sweet peperonata sauce only serves to ram home its deliciousness. Alternatively, a generous portion of deep fried salt and pepper squid is fine if a little pedestrian in comparison.
Most people seem to opt for the ribeye steak or a burger for mains, but the pan-fried sea bass (£18.50) with its crispy skin and flaky white meat, served with creamed leeks, chalky puy lentils and tart baby plum tomatoes, is a good alternative. Add a side of buttery new potatoes (£3.50) and you’ve got one very enjoyable plate of food, albeit one with a fairly robust price tag. Desserts include a respectable apple tart tatin with crème anglaise (£6.50) and a mound of naughty chewy meringue containing a gooey rhubarb filling.
Glasses of Argeo Prosecco (£6.75, 125 ml) and Pommery Champagne (£9.50) are popular as aperitifs and wines include a very drinkable house white - Lalande Comte Tolosan Colombard (£19 a bottle). Premium spirits, bottled beers and a short list of cocktails also keep punters topped up. Naturally, an extensive range of teas, coffees and fruit juices are on hand throughout the day.
The Last Word
An easy-on-the-eye space loaded with art and good food and drink, the Gallery Mess is more than just a cafe attached to a gallery - it's a commendable space in its own right.