When you take a bite and before you’ve even had a chance to chew, you’re overwhelmed by the most sublime flavours, leaving you wide-eyed and reaching for more – that’s culinary perfection. Over the years I’ve had many good meals, and numerous great ones – but dinner at The Mess in Napier Street, Green Point, was superb from start to finish.
When Husband Person and I were invited to have a meal there I was thrilled – close to work, gorgeous location, and an online menu that’s beyond tempting – how could we refuse? Early one evening, as Green Point was slowly starting to empty and the clubs in the Village were getting ready for a night of fun, I strolled through the enchanting fairy light-draped courtyard. Pro tip: it’s going to be a marvelous spot for a cold glass of wine this summer.
I was pleased to note the new owners have kept much of the architectural design that the space featured in its previous incarnation – pillars disguised as stylised “trees” and the chic bar. A few minutes early, I perched on a bar stool and ordered a Morello Cherry G&T. Actually – forget the glass of wine in the courtyard – this cheeky pink drink may just become my new staple. Refreshing and delicious, I sipped on it contentedly as I chatted to owner and restaurateur Carlene de Gouveia.
Her enthusiasm about the restaurant and the menu is contagious. Together with chef Luke Wonnacott of Lukefoodalways consultancy, she’s created an eclectic menu of exciting flavours and interesting ingredients. And this isn’t just a case of plonking things on the menu because they sound good. There’s a lot of tasting and discussion that goes into each dish. The lunchtime press group had polished it all off – but the pan fried gnocchi with asparagus and samphire was apparently unbelievable (I’d spent the afternoon living vicariously through everyone’s tweets and building up a pretty decent appetite). The chef’s team had initially gone the traditional gnocchi route – rich heavy sauce – it was delicious, but a little too much. And when the chef came across some samphire, a plant that grows along the shoreline, he reimagined the dish into something fresh, textured and flavoursome. It’s that kind of ingenuity that is bound to make The Mess a place you can visit often without getting bored.
Husband Person and I decided to start with confit duck rillette and pickled beetroot served with a warm yoghurt and thyme flatbread. The mezze offering is great for communal nibbling while you decide which of the other dishes you’d like to share. That moment of wide-eyed wonder I mentioned earlier? The pork belly tacos. Bite-sized smoky perfection – BBQ layered pork belly, smoked apple and charred corn slaw. And while we were meant to be sharing the portion, I may have claimed most of them…
While the main plates are perfect for those not keen on sharing, we ordered the pork belly, pork loin ribs and thick-cut fries with truffle mayo on the understanding that we’d be sharing those too. Because life’s too short for food envy. That said – at The Mess, I don’t think food envy is going to be a common occurrence.
The pork belly was delicious, with just the right fat to meat ratio, and the crackling was perfect (no soggy sadness, or 24 hr dentist visits needed). The succulent meat was beautifully complimented by braised red cabbage, smoked apple, fennel jus and braised baby vegetables. And the pork ribs? Well, I nudged them gently with my knife and they fell apart… heavenly.
By the time I’d scooped up the last streaks of truffle mayo (one of my weaknesses) with the last lone chunky chip, we were both full and ready to roll home. But… I couldn’t bear to leave without at least “looking” at the dessert menu. Who was I kidding – I’d had my eye on the crème brûlée from the moment I spotted it on Twitter earlier in the day.
I’ve had many versions of the custardy stuff before – some fantastic and others absolutely appalling (not naming names, but the worst was from a hotel who really should have known better). And I’ve even had a bash at making my own. A crème brûlée made properly is a thing of great beauty, and it starts with the delicate crack of the caramel shell. The first spoonful at The Mess had me falling back in my seat, beaming. It was smooth, light and creamy, and the portion was generous. Too good to share – so I didn’t. (Writing this, I’m seriously considering hanging around the office a little later today, just so I can pop in and treat myself to another helping before heading home… don’t judge me till you’ve tried it.)
The Mess open Monday to Saturday from 6pm, and the kitchen closes at 10pm.
Our meal was comped, but would have cost R464, excluding drinks
In and out in a lazy two hours
Absolutely delicious dishes, attentive service and a cosy ambiance – perfect for a special night out