Gallery Mess, Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York's HQ, King's Road, London SW3

The only officers' mess I've ever seen is on screen: the one in Cairo in Lawrence of Arabia, into which Peter O'Toole walks wearing his battle-scarred Arab robes and supporting a knackered Arab boy with whom he's just, triumphantly, walked through the desert. I remember the British officers holding pink gins, radiating disapproval and telling off the adventurer ("Now look here, Lawrence ...") for going native, poncing about in a djellaba and ("Throw them out, somebody ...") bringing his frightful Ganymede chum into the mess with him. I don't remember seeing any food. And it would have smacked of pretension if T E Lawrence had, in such circumstances, asked for a lunch menu and ordered the venison carpaccio.

The Gallery Mess is a lot more welcoming. It's the new restaurant at the Saatchi Gallery, housed in the old Duke of York's officers' mess. Walking in from the King's Road, your spirits lift in the long front bar behind which a hundred bottles of Veuve Clicquot and a few score homemade loaves and bags of coffee adorn the shelves, their multiplicity making them shimmer like an Andy Warhol array of soup cans. You can eat in here, gazing out the window to the Gallery lawn, or stroll through into the more enclosed sections. It soon feels like you're in a gallery: exposed brickwork emerges from white-painted ceilings and arches, while neon installations add a touch of sophistication (though I suspect the neon red-headed woman on all fours, apparently emitting stars and moons from her bottom under the word "Forgiveness", might put some diners off their soup).

My date Madeleine and I sat in the main dining room, under scores of recessed lights. It's very stripped-down, with round white tables, simple green chairs, white gallery walls and artworks. If you've a few hundred quid to spare, you can buy the smaller pictures, eg of a dead sparrow and a mouse in a trap by Joss McKinley, though the head and shoulders of a man done in a beautiful mosaic will set you back £25,000.

Both the maître d' and our waiter said "Not a problem" so often, in answer to all menu decisions, wine choices, queries, comments and remarks, I thought it might be another clever installation – the phrase that, by repetition, becomes a problem in contradiction of the actual words – but decided no British artists could be so cunning.

The dinner menu is laughably small, reminding you that the Mess's main function is a café/bar for breakfast and lunchtime snacks. Its main courses hum with predictability (Cumberland sausage with lentils, chargrilled chicken breast, classic burger and caramelised onions) though its daily specials show a little more life. It's been reported that Nigella Lawson, wife of the gallery's eponymous owner, was so thrilled by the opening day's special menu, she ordered everything on it and demolished the lot. We did our best. Madeleine's prawn cocktail was served in a sundae glass: juicy prawns and "lepping-fresh" crayfish in "bloody mary" crème fraiche, so cold and fresh tasting, it gave us goosepimples. It was hard to detect much vodka or Worcestershire sauce in the dressing ("Just posh Thousand Island, isn't it?" said Madeleine), but it was delicious. In my English asparagus salad with organic egg, the tepid, soft-boiled egg was off-puttingly coated in slimy green watercress sauce, but the asparagus itself was unimprovably al dente, a real taste of summer.

After another fusillade of "not-a-problems", a problem appeared. My saddle of lamb was so undercooked it was practically rare, and I had to send it back. Rare beef is invariably delicious; rare lamb is invariably wobbly and sickly and hard to cut into. A second try was better, and I could appreciate the spiced red peppers which dotted the couscous and made war with the jasmine sultanas: an interesting, north-African take on an old English cut of meat.

Madeleine's spiced steamed salmon was perfectly cooked, invigorated by a slather of tomato chutney spread along the top like breakfast jam on toast and finished with a light curry broth. Salmon and curry combine in perfect Anglo-Indian harmony, but I wasn't crazy about the chutney. In dishes like this, two's company and the tomato was (so to speak) a gooseberry. We finished with a sensational knickerbocker glory served in a tall vase, with strawberry ice cream, berries and layers of crème brûlée; the only false note was an intrusive lump of yobbish peanut brittle.

The owners have put a lot of money, style and panache into Gallery Mess. Despite the limitations of the menu, the quality of cooking is much higher than you'd expect to find in a gallery restaurant. The place is a long, airy, white-walled, glass-fronted, coolly arrayed temple to both art and food, and when the sun's out in the King's Road, it will be packed. And if someone has a word with the waiters about not reciting clichés all evening, that would, for me, be Not a Problem.

Gallery Mess, Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York's HQ, King's Road, London SW3 (020-7730 8135)

Food 3 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 3 stars

About £90 for three courses with wine

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: The art of eating

Whitechapel Gallery

The Dining Room here serves dishes from chef Maria Elia including roasted rabbit with a caper and sage stuffing.

77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 (020-7522 7888)


This new restaurant at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art serves food to match the panoramic views.

South Shore Road, Gateshead (0191 440 4948)

Metfield Café

Try the jumbo sausage rolls at this new outlet at Snape Maltings; all the produce comes from local and sustainable sources.

Nr Aldeburgh, Suffolk (01728 688303)

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam