The Brockley Mess

"It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times"?! You stupid monkey!
- Mr Burns

We've been trying to get in to Brockley Mess since it opened, but every time we've passed, it's been full. Or at least, when we've dragged the kids along, the table areas have been packed with wretched Dinkies - boyfriends and girlfriends, barely keeping eachother in-check, talking loudly about how they're going to spend their disposable incomes, so that our children can barely hear themselves think.

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."

71 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd go along with all of that. It was pretty much my experience of the place. Its popularity is testatment to all the things they're doing right despite the teething problems, and also to the fact that the demand for places like this still exist. I love the broca but wish they did a cooked brekkie.

Out of interest - has anyone been to the Toads recently on a weekend morning. Presumably it's less hectic in there now.

Beecroftian said...

I'd pretty much agree with everything you said too Nick. I went on a Saturday morning after a heavy night looking for something to get me back on my feet. I went for the eggs benedict and a cup of tea. Whilst waiting for my morning delights many people came in, waited for a bit, saw that there was no room and moved on.

I must also point out that this was within the first couple of weeks of opening so the fact that service was really slow to the point where they had people getting up and leaving and that they actually stopped serving food for a while is down to early teething problems i reckon.

When the food did eventually arrive I can quite confidently say it was the best eggs benedict I've ever had.

So in summary I think the Mess is doing a great job but it just needs to match the spped of service you can get in Toads Mouth.

graeme said...

Now that Nick's given us a thread actually dedicated to the discussion of the success of the Mess and how it should be improved, what's the betting that it will drift off into musings and pontifications on something totally unrelated?

Much like the mythical child's present, and the box it came in.

And a ;-) for those who don't realise I'm just teasin'.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what Nick said too. We went on a Saturday lunchtime and it was packed, noisy and took ages for anyone to take our order. The food was good though and staff pretty friendly.

I disagree about the coffee though - my americano was far too bitter. I've never understood why places can't just serve a tasty filter coffee for those of us who don't want froth.

Paddyom said...

I live right behind the Mess and have yet to be able to sample it. I have tried now on 3 occasions and each time didnt venture in as it looked too packed from the street. Dont know why they dont put more tables in the gallery, rear garden or on the street and crank up the service a notch. They must be missing out on huge trade. Best of luck to them though.

Headhunter said...

I haven't actually been in yet. As mentioned on the other thread, when I went there it was rammed to the rafters so I didn't bother even opening the door. SOunds like they need to stick some seats at the back in the gallery space. Also, how about some outside seating like Moonbows had? It can't be a problem with the council surely? Moonbows had seating outside. Perhaps it's something to do with insurance.

Anonymous said...

What's a dinkie?

Brockley Nick said...

A dinky is a "Double Income No Kids" - a descriptor like a yuppy.

Anonymous said...

Weird mixed experience.Great new decor (cant believe its the same place it looks so much bigger. No one forthcoming with a welcome when i walked in - completely ignored despite eye contact with staff. i managed to 'hustle' a table by asking someone if they would mind sharing. very slow service but great food.

My Observations
'Gallery' idea doesnt work - get some more tables in that space and maybe people will look at work while eating instead of walking on by and not stopping to even glance

Outside space at the back has great potential for the 'coffee and cig' brigade. More tables there please.

Understand u are busy but Please dont ignore customers - i nearly walked back out but was determined to try it out. I wont try so hard a second time...

Anonymous said...

That's me!

Though I don't spend time discussing how to spend my disposable income, as I don't seem to have any.

How do you kid-burdened breeders find the money for anything, that's what I don't understand. My sympathies.

Brockley Nick said...

By not saving up for private school ;)

Ben said...

Fortunately for us dinkies, a late lunch on a Sunday worked pretty well. Low kiddie quotient.

Decent enough food although not much choice for those of us foreswearing carbs. Also slightly arbitrary in the dishes they no longer servce after 'breakfast' is officially over (at 2pm I think). Eggs benedict and the full English are not available after that hour but omelettes and boiled egg and soldiers are. Strange...

A welcome addition to Brockley.

Tamsin said...

Isn't it a "dinky" rather than "dink" - no kids YET. Getting life-style sorted and feet firmly on the career ladder before upsetting everything with the 2.4 children we all aspire to.

Anonymous said...

Tamsin, are you joking? few professional women aspire to 2.4 children these days!

All, we went in last week and sensed it was going to be slow service the palce has a non urgent feel about it and we were in a hurry so we walked straight out.

Also, the acoustics are terrible - worth spending some profits on sorting all that out.

Lastly, the menu seemed to be very breakfast-ie. We were looking for s'thing more substantial, on which by the way they'd make more profit.

but of course it's exciting to have another option around. that's always good news surely?

Anonymous said...

I also have no 'aspirations' to be yet another person who has kids!

Maradoll said...

I went as part of a party of 4 Saturday prior to last during a busy period. Admittedly service was a bit lackluster - but I think that this is just due to teething issues. Overall the people working there were very nice and apologetic about a few minor issues to our order.

Overall the food was excellent, my only grievance was that the breakfast burrito was actually a cheese quesadilla with an egg on top. I wasn't sure if that was the interpretation of what a burrito is or a shortcut the chef took for my order. It was kind of strange.

The eggs florentine were, however, just as stated on the menu and excellent.

b. said...

went in on opening week. amazingly there was a table for us (2 dinks) - we sat down for about 30 seconds and decided to leave. basically it was about 45 degree's inside, not exactly ideal conditions to have a 'quiet' coffee. We ended up getting 2 coffee's to go - wasnt massively impressed, not strong enough, too much milk. But that's easily solved.
That was a couple of weeks ago now, maybe the temperature problem is resolved. will try again soon.

Seal said...

Hey hey, possibly good news...

I was in at the weekend (for my forth in three weeks - you just have to be patient getting a seat as the turnover is quick) and they were measuring up the back gallery bit. I'm guessing for some more seating.

The service is getting loads better and the food remains fantastic. Keep persevering people and don't let it be a victim of it's own success.

quick brown fox said...

Anon @12.37 - not sure why you think more substantial things would be more profitable/desirable. There's a fairly quick throughput of people with the type of menu they have, and I would think the margins are pretty good on what they do. In any event a lot of people don't want a heavy meal during the day, so there would be the risk of lots of wastage(or they'd have to reheat things cooked earlier, losing the great benefit of serving lovely fresh-cooked food). I think they've got the perfect strategy, actually, in terms of the food. Provided you're not expecting lasagne or silver service, there's an excellent choice of breakfast and lunch options.

I agree about the acoustics - not sure there's much they can do about it except maybe change the flooring?

Anonymous said...

Maybe the acoustics were meant to be bad as it speeds up customer throughput?

Headhunter said...

I think there's an element of truth in that. Although I haven't actually been in yet, the place doesn't look like the sort of place you would linger for hours. At Moonbow Jakes, people seemed to literally spend all afternoon with a single coffee and the papers, whereas the Mess seems designed to be comfortable but not so comfortable that you would want to spend all afternoon lounging about after you've finished your food and drinks. I suppose Moonbows also sold alcohol so you could almost hang out there with a few beers, but there's only so much tea and coffee you can consume.

M said...

HH, The Brockley Mess also sells booze. Another good reason for evening opening IMHO.

Anonymous said...

Evening opening would be a real boon for this bit of Brockley. Hopefully it will come but I think they are very sensibly making sure they can walk before they run. Looking forward to when it's possible to share a bottle of wine at a candlelit table in there of an evening...

Anonymous said...

QBF,
we wanted a basic lunch - my husband steak and chips and I wanted something like chicken and broccoli and new potatoes, that sort of thing.

There was nothing more substanial than an omelette I recall.

Acoustics really harsh and it was clear we wldn't enjoy waiting so we left.

maybe we're not their target customer though in which case fair enough. I dont mind as long as it's been thought through.

Anonymous said...

service was crap, got our orders wrong twice, brought us someone elses food, and did the same to the table next to us.
Left our table dirty after we had finished our food.
The atmosphere leaves much to be desired. Hate the decor.
Hate that the 'waiters' were dressed in black like it was a restaurant, yet were not running it as a proper restaurant.
some serious teething issues going on over there.

Anonymous said...

We went in last weekend and thought the food and service was excellent. Love the decor and the two large photos. Maybe things are looking up for this parade - but it looks pretty shabby on the whole. Can Lewisham Council invest in the area - I hear Ladywell received some funding for improvements. I think the parade falls under the Ladywell ward - so perhaps some of this funding could be spent over here (for once).

I heart cupcakes said...

We went at about 5pm on Saturday and it was empty apart from us and 2 other couples. We sat down and waited for some time before going up to the counter to order coffee and cakes. These were both really good (as expected as Royal Teas is always great) but the atmosphere of the place is very odd - it was quiet and you felt like you had to whisper - I'm sure its very different when busy. I liked the look of the place but I did think the back of the room (the gallery) was rather wasted - other places have art on the walls with seats around - which would perhaps ease their over-crowding at busy times. It really is a great place though and I only wish we had something similar in New Cross

Anonymous said...

I really like the decor and the place is clean and comfortable. They should do brunch all day though. The service could be better but I am sure will improve with time... and yes the mums,buggys and babies are overwhelming and dominating. I know having children is a gift and treasure to your life etc but why do (some) mums become so self centred and why are their babies displayed like trophies? It is so dry!

Anonymous said...

I really like the decor and the place is clean and comfortable. They should do brunch all day though. The service could be better but I am sure will improve with time... and yes the mums,buggys and babies are overwhelming and dominating. I know having children is a gift and treasure to your life etc but why do (some) mums become so self centred and why are their babies displayed like trophies? It is so irritating!

Anonymous said...

I have really been trying to like the Mess. Have gone three times now.
Went in on friday at lunch and couldn't get a table.
Very glad we didn't though because we ended up going to the ladywell tavern.
The food there is excellent, the music was great, good beer, the girl behind the bar was friendly and attentive, no dirty plates left, no wrong ordering.
They have loads of space for families or DINKS, and loads of games to play if you are so inclined.
After trying the Mess three X's now and being thoroughly disappointed, I cannot understand why ladywell tavern was practically empty when it offers more than the Mess could even attempt.

Paddyom said...

I fear the Mess can only rely on the goodwill of locals and the lack of competition before people start to get annoyed with the widely reported disorganied service. If the manager has read any of the positive reccomendations or negative complaints on this website then I would suggest action soon before people just start to automatically walk past, as many currently seem to have to choice but to. Once a restaurant gains a poor reputation its very hard to shake it.

Anonymous said...

"I know having children is a gift and treasure to your life etc but why do (some) mums become so self centred and why are their babies displayed like trophies? It is so irritating!" to quote previous post

Kids are our future, Man.
Chill out. Its a public cafe you're gonna get kiddies and their doting parents and the 'cost as much as a 2nd car, pushchairs.
Sounds like a case of the green eyed monster. are those lurid walls reflecting your palour. Don't leave it too late to pro create Dude.
Anyways I went to hang out at the Mess (and my table was very messy) but I over looked that and tried to order something for my supper. No Joy, too late for hot food. Oh well coffee was goodish.
My totally fave thing was the clean toilets. Spick and Span. Oh and the fake victorian tile mosaic. I Love it.

Brockley Nick said...

Oh yes, good point about the toilets - glorious!

Headhunter said...

Ooh, must nip in for a number 2 sometime....

Anonymous said...

why does everyone who has kids assume that those that don't are jealous?

Anonymous said...

I met some of my friends with toddlers there the 2nd week it was open and couldn't wait to leave as the two guys working were telling our kids to behave and getting very hot and bothered by the fact they didn't want to sit down glued to their seats and keep their mouths shut. I won't be going back in a hurry!

The Cat Man said...
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Anonymous said...

Although it sometimes looks and sounds like a creche, the Brockley Mess is a welcome addition to the area. Good food, well-priced, and decent enough service (which I agree could be improved on).

It's unfair to draw any comparisions with Moonbow's as they are completely different animals. If you've sat in the booth nearest the bar or stood at the end of the counter you can see that the kitchen is really very small for the amount of food they are turning out. My advice: cut back the menu a bit so things run more efficiently.

I have twice asked about evening opening and been told, "Yes, soon."

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Headhunter said...
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The Other Pete said...

We've been in twice and have really enjoyed it - once in the week when it wasn't busy but relaxed and mellow, the second time last Saturday mid-afternoon, and again it was pretty mellow. The lack of music helps a lot - the conversation was at a chilled level, the coffee was fine, the cakes were good. Having read some of the negative posts I'm increasingly beginning to hope that they keep the gallery space clear - it's obviously keeping the numbers down to a manageable amount that enables the place to be as relaxed and pleasant as it has been on the occasions we've visited. Maybe they want to run a decent little cafe for a certain type of customer rather than churn out steak and chips to as many people as they can cram into - and then rush out of - the space.

The decor is great, the 'servant' issue people here have isn't noticeably worse than Toad's Mouth, the gallery area reinforces a sense of space and light to spare, the lack of piped music avoids the 'volume equals atmosphere' mistake that most bars/cafes make - and it doesn't have the Broca's purple trouser problem.

Monkeyboy said...

Christ on a bike!

Just imagine opening a cafe and your biggest problem is being too busy?

To inject a note reality into this conversation, they opened the business for themselves not because they feel the good citizens of Brockley deserve tea and cake.

Sounds like there will be alternatives soon so relax. Don't have kids, not planning too but really - are parents supposed to lock themselves away for five years?


By the way I popped into Browns again tonight. There was someone sat at the table thing tapping away into their Apple Laptop. No doubt that is significant in some way and will REALLY ANNOY people because THEY ARE PUSHING OUT THE LOCALS.....or something

graeme said...

Somebody visibly tapping at their laptop? Maybe Browns will become the place to hang out and pretend to read Dostoyevsky? Wi-fi hotspot. Tables and chairs on the pavement. Sorted.

Headhunter said...
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Anonymous said...
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Headhunter said...

Out of interest, why was my last post removed? Just so I know that whatever I did, I don't do it again!

Brockley Nick said...

It had gone way off topic again, simply repeating the arguments made on another thread - as your own post admitted. Decided to try and get this thread back on topic. The argument was also based on a misinterpretation of what someone had actually said in the first place.

Headhunter said...

Hardly a misinterpretation. Anon said that they were annoyed that staff had the temerity to berate their little darlings but fine, it's your blog....

Brockley Nick said...

@HH the person said the following:

"the two guys working were telling our kids to behave and getting very hot and bothered by the fact they didn't want to sit down glued to their seats and keep their mouths shut. I won't be going back in a hurry!"

There then followed a long discussion by people who assumed the original poster was demanding the right to let their kids run amok in the cafe, which is not what was said. There is already a thread about the Brockley Mess where people have had and can continue to have these discussions about kids in cafes. I didn't want another thread derailed.

Anonymous said...

"There then followed a long discussion by people who assumed the original poster was demanding the right to let their kids run amok in the cafe"

I find it hard to read it as anything but...

Headhunter said...

Me too, but there you go...

Anonymous said...

So much for free speech.

Anonymous said...

I think that their kitchen is too small for their ambitions.Having said that the food is good and madly cheap.

I've eaten there a few times now and had lunch there on saturday, what struck me was how rude some of the customers are. I don't know how the waiting staff put up with it. They are obviously struggling to find their feet and the least we can do is have a little patience.

Anonymous said...

Wait until an unsupervised toddler gets a pot of scalding tea on it's head. Then there'll be trouble. I have no problem with kids in caffs but little ones need to kept an eye on.

Anonymous said...

Sit at one the booths and watch what goes on in the kitchen when it's busy. I'm a chef and I know what it's like. Those guy's are heroes. It must be really hot in there and the volume and turnover must be knackering. Mad fools.

I said...

So come on, Why is this place invariably busy, whereas Aquarium (or whatever its most recent incarnation was called) was always empty? Is it down to the attractive informality of being a bar as opposed to a restaurant? There's clearly demand around here for clean-looking, inviting eateries offering a well chosen menu at fair prices, and we clearly need more.

Calling all hard-working entrepeneurs, chefs, managers and waiting staff. YOUR BROCKLEY NEEDS YOU!

Anonymous said...

any update on this place? have they ironed out the teething problems?

and what about the new Dandelion BLue?

Anonymous said...

A little birdy tells me they're going to be open until 11 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from this Thursday.

M said...

Would that birdy be the BM Facebook group?
Great news.

Anonymous said...

http://www.facebook.com/search/?o=69&init=s%3Agroup&q=brockley+mess#/group.php?gid=131795462075&ref=search&sid=679425103.1997045013..1

Anonymous said...

I think the bockley Mess gives excellent quality of food, wonderful bright and fresh seating with great choice of wallpapers and tiles, menu prices that make me happier (I'm always shocked at the bill from Toads Mouth) and I must add, the most decadent toilets!

I have had the luxury of going to the Mess for a coffee during 9-5 working hours and have had a very good experience, (I must add that the management is very friendly too) and have been once on saturday which was very busy although we were lucky getting a table as someone was leaving.

I would suggest they put a system of waiting in place for these busy times for this reason: we arrived with our two year old and a table became free, the waitress said to wait there and she'd clear the table for us. But before she had a chance to, another couple came straight in and sat down at the table! Fortunately another soon became avaliable otherwise I'd have been much more peeved about it. The food also took a while longer than expected but we were happy sitting and soaking up the local scene, plus the food is always excellent and worth the wait.

Another bugbear on seating- when we arrived although it had been raining the night before, we said we were happy to sit outside if we could have a cloth to wipe down the chairs- to my shock they said that was fine but that food is not served outside- I'm not sure why this is? On a mild autumn day its equally nice to be out in the fresh air, this would provide more room when busy for people like us who don't mind being al fresco!

Im not sure that it is big enough to work as a gallery space too and I don't say that lightly as I love to see gallery space in cafes etc. However, places like the bear cafe in deptford which had a designated gallery space attached alongside the cafe in my opinion are more successful. It also made me stress out when my son went over into the gallery space and nearly touched a painting, I had to leap after him!

It is entirely natural that if they are catering to families (which they clearly are with box of toys for little uns), it is going to be a temptation hard to resist for little ones to play in that space. I think in the best interests of their business and remaining sucessful as popularity increases, they may need to rethink this.

All that said I do love this place and particularly the guy who runs it, I think he's absolutely lovely and clearly knows how to serve delicious things. The boiled egg and marmite soldiers is my favourite thing on the menu as it really is fantastic value and I can share it with my son- please don't change the egg and soldiers brockly mess!

Anonymous said...

ps and on reading some previous threads re kids in cafes- if you can keep your littles ones happy and occupied then Im all for it, I love taking my son to cafes with me. Just don't treat them like playgroups, theres plenty of those around where little ones can run round to their hearts content :)

Tamsin said...

Read this last night and was reminded of this thread - William Cobbet writing in 1820 -
"...I have digressed here; but observations of this sort can, in my opinion, never be too often repeated; especially at a time when all sorts of mad projecs are on foot, for what is falsely called educating the people, and when some would do this by a tax that would compel the single man to give part of his earnings to teach the married man's children to read and write."

Headhunter said...

Couldn't sleep eh Tamsin? Reading dreary early 18th century texts to help you drop off?

Tamsin said...

Not that dreary. Amid the tediously detailed calculations on how home brewing would save the cottager money he digresses in extravagent invective against the malt tax and the "old shuffle-breeches band of the Quarterly Review, who have all their lives been moving from garret to garret, who have seldom seen the sun, and never the dew except in print".
Things don't change - politicians and opinion formers totally divorced from the realities of life.

Headhunter said...

Just joking. I just find that 18/19th century way of writing pretty incomprehensible

Anonymous said...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1229049/Its-cafe-creche-leave-brats-home.html

reading this made me think of the discussion on this thread..

Timmy2wheels said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

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