Located in De Waterkant in Cape Town, this contemporary restaurant and bar is ideal for an evening meal with friends. The menu is geared towards sharing, with tapas and small plates forming a large section of the menu. The roti-like flatbreads are the perfect flaky companion to the mezze dips and starters. The tuna ceviche is their signature dish, served on a crisp wonton with extra wedges of lime. The tacos are smaller than usual tacos, but packed quid or pork belly. Ask the waiter how many diners each plate feeds and multiply accordingly to the number of guests dining.
The main courses are substantial and also easily sharable amongst the table. Be sure to enquire about the chef’s main course special on offer, which changes daily. The braised lamb neck is the ideal dish on a cold winter’s evening – the rich, sticky and decadent dish has the meat falling apart effortlessly at the touch of a fork. The vegetarian offering is small, with only a handful of dishes catering to non-meat eaters.
The dessert choice is also limited, with three desserts on offer. One is an Eton mess reimagined, composed of panna cotta, meringue, fresh fruit and sorbet. It’s a must-try.
The wine menu comprises of an adequate selection of local wine varieties. Also available is a selection of gin cocktails amongst the other classic cocktails on offer. For those who don’t consume alcohol, there are a few non-alcoholic cocktail creations on the menu too.
Food is quick to come out of the kitchen and the shared plates each arrive at your table as soon as they’re ready to ensure they’re eaten at their optimum. The service is relaxed and easy, with plenty of staff available to assist with menu queries.
The centrepiece of the restaurant is a large wooden tree-like structure that doubles as an art feature as well as a light fixture. The room is dotted with triangular cages of lamps that glisten, lighting up the room with shimmery light. The lamps give an illusion of wooden fires on a cold winter’s evening. Outside, the small courtyard would be the perfect setting for a few sundowners in the warmer months. The tables are small, with the booth stations offering the most comfortable seating. The large bar offers great seating if you visit for a quick drink or are dining alone.
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It’s all about the sharing at The Mess, where tapas-style tasters are encouraged for starters, and even the mains can be enjoyed by more than one. Owner Carlene de Gouveia’s enthusiasm for fresh fusions and seductive stalwarts is infectious.
It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into producing a balanced menu, where delightful surprises like pickled goat’s cheese spread and soft-shell crab with smoky mayo as starters share the stage with crowd favourites like aubergine melanzane and squid with chorizo.
Speaking of sharing, the tapas-style eatery emphasises experiencing as many dishes as possible, so the trio of mezze spreads (confit duck, white bean and tahini, pickled goat’s cheese) on the yoghurt-and-thyme flatbreads set the mood.
The beef tataki gets a drizzle of ponzu dressing, and tuna ceviche on wonton tostadas are generously plated. Mains consist of a selection of Angus beef or pork loin ribs with separately ordered sides and sauces. The saffron lamb neck is a triumph. All in all, the starters are an adventure that leads you to a destination where the mains are delicious and unpretentious – with a confident flourish.
Owner Carlene’s experience in the wine industry shows in the selection of her wines. Expect a glamorous selection of the Rupert family’s higher-end offerings and some intriguing options in between. Word to the wise: Enjoy a glass or bottle of white with the starters, and a spicy Shiraz with mains.
We are generally impressed with the friendliness and attention levels of the staff, but one or two queries could have been dealt with a bit more confidently. (For example, there was no merlot on the winelist, and the waitress couldn’t give a reason for this.)
Some people will enjoy the fact that The Mess is situated at the corner of The Rockwell, which means that it is one of several restaurants along the tucked away strip in De Waterkant. Others might turn their noses up to it. It depends entirely on your mood and reason for eating out on the night. The Mess has fabulous food that deserves to be shared and celebrated with good company, and if the weather is good (no wind or rain) the outside area has a vibe that suits this social style of eating. That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy a romantic or intimate meal here, but for the full experience, gather some friends and treat yourselves to a modern-day banquet of note.
Vegetarians are catered for with four gorgeous starter options and a Cape Malay curry main.
Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.