Opposite Mess Hall follows a regular theme; food that people understand.
By Emmi Laine
A massive orange balloon hangs heavy in the air and flickers light into a mini-soi from Sukhumvit 51 in Thonglor. I look closer and notice the asymmetrical shape: It´s a heart.
For the last few weeks, this heart-bulb has been beating its light for a rapidly increasing crowd hungry for “good food, fine drinks,” as Opposite Mess Hall (OMH) Restaurant and Bar states at their door. I follow a group of clattering German businessmen into the modest residential building, and climb upstairs through the smell of fresh paint.
OMH might appear low-key and even understated but the owners of this new bar and restaurant are well-known: Australian chef Jess Barnes won his previous post, Quince Restaurant, the third spot in “Top Tables 2013” by BK Magazine, and his partners, Chris Wise and Somrak Sila, are Bangkok art-scene veterans from WTF Gallery next door. The unpretentious restaurant concept leaves room for delightful discovery. On the 2nd floor a wooden door with a ship-window opens to the small “bar with great food, rather than a restaurant,” as Chef Barnes describes it. Dim steel lamps hang from the ceiling like barren microphones, and tea lights cover the rest. The wooden tables are so long that some dinner guests introduce themselves to strangers while passing on pickle jars containing the cutlery. On the bar sledge lays a tray of muddy potatoes; a joke perhaps, but a fitting one. The stripped industrial aesthetics make the space feel weirdly like home, and suggest an atmosphere of everyday love, rather than the heights of a romance.
PR manager Arunee Muen-Ngern (Tik) explains: “The concept is like a military camp or a school. Of course, we serve the food for you but somehow you serve yourself.” Adds Barnes: “The ‘Mess Hall’ name was added because it fits what we want to project; loud, messy, rambunctious. Don’t worry about spilling a bit of wine on yourself, squeeze in next to your friends or perhaps a stranger at the bar, eat, enjoy, get drunk. You only live once.” Barnes seems to live as he preaches, and I see him moving swiftly in a synchronized dance with his team in the small open kitchen, spicing up dishes just at customers´ arms reach.
When it comes to the menu, `messy´ means picks of Asian, Western, and Mediterranean cuisines, comfortable like Mother´s tortillas, potatoes, and buns — except that now they are made by a man with a particularly grand mustache. One example is the widely international dish: Today´s Croquettes (Bt100++), filled by crab and pumpkin, and served with aioli, French mayonnaise. The deep-fried potato roll is mild and cheesy – if your mother used to make fish and mashed potatoes, prepare for a déjà vu.
One example of their comfort food is a savory duck waffle, leg confit, pate, crispy skin, and picalily relish (Bt260++). Crispy sweet waffle binds the vast array of sour preserved meats and vegetables together. The dish is like its Indian relish, picalily, whose recipe changes by region. The only part you can trust to remain is the savory spices, usually turmeric and mustard, which give a pleasing break from the often-sugary Thai cuisine.
Altogether, Barnes´ approach on ingredients is refreshingly comprehensive: “I follow regular themes, I want to make food that people understand. This means the food reminds them of something, but is still new and refreshing.”Consequently the menu offers produce from ox tongue to rabbit and bone marrow. This one alone is especially worth coming for: smoked bone marrow dumplings, beef broth, pumpkin, and fermented Daikon (Bt240++).The dish is pleasingly big and filling enough for a main course, but the light dumplings leave room for more drinks; literally, “hearty” food without a carb-bloat.
A smiley and attentive bartender mixes a celery stalk just inches away from me. Mixed from Tres Magueyes tequila, muddled celery, lemon juice, salt, and celery bitters (Bt240++), the transparent icy drink comes with a stem of celery, sticking up from my glass like a hippy version of the cocktail umbrella. The taste is refreshingly neutral, yet alcoholic enough, and I consider it as a lovely taste bud-rinser between different dishes. This easy drink culminates OMH´s character. In the same way, their flexible and jovial kitchen philosophy lets the customer make the experience their own. And indeed, ordinary pleasures can become the dearest ones when offered with uncommon care.
Opposite Mess Hall Restaurant & Bar
27/2 Sukhumvit Soi 51, 2nd floor, opposite WTF Gallery,