51 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 6800
I’ve been nursing a fever the last few days. And by nursing, I mean getting as much sleep as I can in between bouts of How To Make It In America (which, to me, is essentially just a poor man’s version of Entourage, but with jeans), organising a birthday trip for my idiotic-but-better-looking half to Cairns and purchasing copious amounts of non-essential and will-probably-only-wear-once rubbish off karmaloop.com. Today, however, saw me become slightly more productive. After spending a good portion of the morning gleefully choosing subjects for next year (goodbye (and eff you) Monash LLB and hello Masters of Publishing and Communications at Melbourne uni!), I managed to haul my ass to my local GP to get a medical certificate for work and do a bout of grocery shopping. I bought an array of wonderful and healthy things such as salad greens, capsicums, nuts, organic full cream milk and cherries… and then celebrated my haul by treating myself to a fillet o’fish meal and a side of McBites at Maccas.
So what did all that have to do with this post? Well, nothing, really. Then again, since when did this blog ever made any sense? … yeah, EXACTLY.
So anyway. The Mess Hall. Right.
Ugh, cropping fail.
It was time to catch up with Dave again for lunch and given that he works a block away from The Mess Hall and rates its no-fuss Northern Italian-inspired meals, we decided to go there. My boyfriend, Marty, also happened to be in town that weekend so we decided to do a three-person lunch. At one o’clock on a windy and cloudy Friday afternoon, we rocked up in time to see virtually no empty tables in the multi-level canteen. Luckily there was a spare table on the footpath for us so we could enjoy our lunch against the background of trees and a ‘bukake of pollen’ (oh, Marty…) swarming around us.
Our meals took a while to arrive – I remembered more than 30 minutes had passed between us ordering our food and our dishes arriving at our table because Dave kept anxiously looking at his watch as he had to return to work. Granted, it was a busy Friday lunchtime trade so I guess it was to be expected. But still. Anyway, Dave had ordered the orecchiette with pancetta, mushroom, broccoli, chilli and marsala ($20.50) the last time he ate here and highly recommended it, so that’s what I ended up with. Orecchiette, in Italian, means ‘small ears’ and each little pasta piece was painstakingly cut into shape and twisted to form a lovely ear lobe-like shape that was perfectly al dente. The sauce itself was brilliant – the crispy, salty pieces of pancetta beautifully meshed well with the earthy wild mushrooms while the chilli provided a kick, and the marsala added a sweet edge to the dish. I can certainly see why this is a staple dish on the ever-changing menu.
Marty decided to go for a pasta with a richer sauce. The oxtail ragu originally came with penne ($19.50) but he decided to be difficult by requesting orecchiette instead of penne (presumably they charged an extra dollar for the swap, but I can’t be too sure). The sauce in that pic looks a little shiny partly as a result of slow-cooking and the lovely gelatine oozing from the oxtail and into the ragu, and partly because my photo-taking skills leave much to be desired these days. Despite it, however, it was a fantastic dish. It was so wonderfully rich, tasty and intoxicating that Marty couldn’t get enough of it – in fact, he insisted that we returned to The Mess Hall a couple of days later just so he could have this dish again. Yep, that good. It’s a shame that this dish is only a seasonal dish – understandably so, it IS very rich – because I can still see Marty ordering it on a 40 degree day…
Dave decided to shy away from pasta this time. He ordered the pork belly with cauliflower couscous and pickled beetroot ($27.50). The pork may look a tad dry in the photo, but trust me when I say that it was one tender piece of fatty Babe with a tidy layer of crispy skin. The pickled beetroot pieces and the accompanying vinaigrette accentuated the sweetness of the juicy pork meat while the cauliflower couscous was hidden safely under the piece of pork (and subsequently, I didn’t get a chance to try it). It was a decent dish, but given how good the two pasta dishes were, eating the pork belly was underwhelming (and unfairly so, I might add).
Even though the pork belly was more than filling enough, Dave also ordered a side of polenta chips with aioli ($9.50) to share between us. I’m can’t remember what the boys thought of the polenta chips (from memory, it was Dave’s first time eating them) but I thought those perfectly-formed Jenga blocks of polenta-y goodness were perfectly cooked – crunchy to begin with, but super-soft on the inside. Unfortunately, the three of us struggled to finish them off because we were too full but they would definitely be something we’d order should we return here for pre-dinner wines and nibbles or something.
Two days later, Marty and I were back. While Marty ordered his oxtail ragu again, I opted for a sausage pizza ($19.50). A crispy flat base housed a generous sprinkling of Italian pork sausages accompanied by broccoli, tomato, chilli and provolone cheese. I can’t say that it was the best pizza I’ve ever had – the base lacked crunch, while the tomato-based sauce was weak. The combination of toppings seemed to blend well together, however, I felt that if they had used a better quality pork sausage (i.e. one with a bit more flavour), then the pizza would have tasted a LOT better. I should have made like Marty and ordered another pasta this time around but oh well, there’s always next time…