Rustic timber floorboards, high ceilings, white walls and a homely Italian menu; what’s not to love about the Mess Hall? I have been coming here for a couple of years now and although the menu has hardly changed, the wine list stuck in perpetuity, it offers up a relaxed atmosphere to unwind, eat good food and share the company of friends and family alike. Perhaps that explains my love affair?
Located at the top of Bourke Street hill, across the road from, and in stark contrast to, the quintessential Melbourne establishment Pellegrini’s, the Mess Hall serves up the new world of rustic Italian food. A relatively small menu, Mess Hall offer a few simple starters, several pizzas, a handful of silky pastas and some dishes under the carne and pesce moniker.
On this visit we opted to start with the margherita with anchovies, and Messina. To be honest, Mess Hall don’t do good pizza. Although all the essentials are there – good tomato sauce, the right amount of toppings and a reasonable dough – their pizzas are consistently undercooked and arrive at the table a tad soggy and sans crunch. Still the flavour does carry and all-in-all they manage to pull it off, just.
For secondi we ordered the beef lasagne and pumpkin casoncelli with amaretti, sage and a burnt butter sauce. The lasagne had good flavour and was well portioned, however it was a little dry and did arrive without the usual salad. The lack of greens and dryness of the lasagne came with the unfortunate side effect of watching my supply of Messina dwindle rather rapidly. This problem was quickly rectified with arrival of a Castello. Problem solved.
The casoncelli had equally good flavour with the silky pasta and creamy pumpkin balanced well with the sharpness of the burnt butter and sage and sweetness and crunch of the amaretti. Whilst the amaretti offered a contrasting sweetness and crunch at first, after a few mouthfuls they become a little over-bearing. My only criticism of an otherwise tasty dish.
To summarise, the Mess Hall is never going to take out the gong for restaurant of the year. Never will its chef be awarded for innovation or brilliance. But I think that’s what I like about it. Not all restaurants must push boundaries and serve food that the public have never seen nor tasted before. We need restaurants that serve up consistent, good quality food in an atmosphere that makes you feel comfortable. That is what the Mess Hall do. Rustic. Approachable. Tasty.
*apologies in advance for the low-quality iPhone snap.