Nestled at the top end of Bourke Street, across the road from the big dogs of Melbourne’s Italian restaurant scene, The Mess Hall is a modest establishment. There’s no big sign or fancy façade. Rather, the bustling of people in and out of the door, at the window ledge tables and seated out the front, is enough to make you stop mid-step and peer through the window. Venturing inside during the middle of lunch on a weekday is no easy task as the hall is full of regulars on their lunch breaks.
As the name suggests there’s the potential for things to get messy, primarily with the notorious stain culprit known as pasta sauce. Lunch specials allow you to choose a type of pasta and build your own dish, but you can order straight from the menu if you’re indecisive and like other people making the hard choices.
Keep napkins on hand for the handmade gnocchi with saffron, gorgonzola and walnuts which takes cheese sauce to a new, vibrant level. It’s as cheesy and smooth as it looks and spilling it on your shirt would be a sign of victory. The rest of the menu takes a light approach to classic flavours. The corn and zucchini fritters for example, are refreshingly paired with an ‘agro dolce’ honey and mint sauce.
The turnaround from the kitchen is extremely fast however service can be quite slow. Expect to pay more for seasonal dishes, but the flavours in these are bolder and more filling. Certainly worth a casual lunch or date night visit if you’re in the mood for some simple Italian cooking made modern through interesting flavour combinations.
In a sentence: Fresh flavours make any guilt you feel from eating Italian food magically disappear
Verdict: Would go back
Words and Photos by Tiffany Potashnyk