The Brockley Mess is a bright, pistachio-coloured, sit-up-straight sort of place, a world away from dark, slouchy old Moonbows, which it replaced. The menu is large and tasty, offering more than just sweet treats.
At the moment, it's a victim of its own success, or rather, the victim of Brockley's failure to cater for latent demand properly. We're not the only ones to have tried and failed to get a table recently - we watched several more walk away frustrated as we sat on the sofa, waiting for one to become free. During the controversy over the application to create a nursery on Manor Avenue, we argued that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the specific proposal, it was undeniable that there is a large and growing number of young families in Brockley, whose needs are not being met. What applies to child care also applies to places to eat, drink and meet.
Although The Brockley Mess is perfectly accommodating to young children, it doesn't go out of its way to court them. There's no specific children's menu, most of the tables are quite close together, providing relatively little wriggle room for toddlers and the surfaces are unyielding. The wine list and the gallery suggest they imagined pulling in a more adult clientele.Nonetheless, at the school gates of our son's school, we've heard plenty of mums talking excitedly about heading straight there as soon as their kids were in class.
The resentment its popularity with parents has engendered in some former Moonbow regulars in search of a quiet coffee is good news in the long-term, suggesting that plans to create a cafe in Hilly Fields and a tea room in Brockley Cross will be viable. The market in Brockley is big enough to sustain a range of options, if the quality is good enough.
The front of the cafe makes wonderfully efficient use of space - it's hard to believe that it's the same size as Moonbows. The bar has been shortened to provide more seating and two very comfortable booths have been added. The back is a different story. The gallery seems to be ignored by everyone except the management and every day they must have to parents not to park their pushchairs in the empty space, as they did us. Given the overwhelming custom the Mess has attracted since it opened, perhaps it's a conscious decision not to add even more tables.
When it's crowded, as it was on our morning visit, the experience can be fraught. The customers feel squashed, the acoustics make the place pretty noisy and the staff seem stretched. We left after our first drink and retreated to the relative calm of Jam Circus for something to eat. Mindful that a couple of fruit juices isn't really a reasonable basis for a review we went back after lunch, when the place was quieter. It was transformed.
When it's not full to bursting, The Brockley Mess is lovely. The waitress was chatty, the booth was comfy and our order came quickly. There seems to be no dispute among BCers about the quality of the food they serve. We ordered a brownie and a tea cake, which were both delicious (the brownie came in a very generous portion), while the coffee and tea served was lovely.
"Is it always as busy as it was earlier?" we asked the waitress as she took our order. "On weekends yes," she replied smiling, "but if you like it quieter then I recommend you come earlier in the week."