Who: ST. ALi
Where: 12-18 Yarra Place, South Melbourne, VIC
When: Open 7am – 6pm, 365 days a year.
Why: Specialty coffee and an unusual brunch menu
Just a few tram stops away from the city in unassuming South Melbourne, tucked away in a grafitti cloaked alley, you’ll find ST. ALi. This Melbourne cafe (pronounced Saint Ahh-Lee) isn’t just a brunch spot, it’s an institution. If you want a trendy place to impress your friends with then the rustic charm and reputation of this place will fare you well. But be warned, if they’re true brunch aficionados, they might be disappointed…
Coffee: ST. ALi are famous for their specialty coffee including single origin espresso and alternative brewing methods. Coffee snobs will be happy at the range of filter options available but sadly I believe their reputation promises more than they can deliver. Due to the queue at the door, the high demand on staff and, perhaps if I dare say so, their complacency based on their well-known brand, their coffee is good, but not great.
There is none of the care and delicacy that can be found at coffee stops such as Cup of Truth, Patricia or Aunty Pegs, instead it’s a bit of a rush job. I chose a Barista’s Breakfast; one coffee three ways – espresso, cappuccino and filter. The espresso was good, the cappuccino was good, the filter was okay. My El Salvador V60 wasn’t half as bright as I expected and I could get very few true notes. It felt to me that either a) the beans were a little old b) the coffee was under-extracted or c) it just wasn’t a very good coffee. Either way, it should have been great, but instead was just okay.
Food: Although the menu looks and sounds exciting and unusual, both times I have been to ST. ALi I have been a little underwhelmed. My choice the first time around, a gumbo with coddled eggs – Kid Creole and The Coconuts – was a bit bland and lacked that kick of cajun spice I was hoping for when I’d chosen it from the large menu. Amongst the other unusual options, such as My Mexican Cousin – fried corn fritters with poached eggs – which my brunch Companion chose or my choice, the delightfully named Koo Koo Ka Choo, (potato hash, mushrooms and eggs with a chlorophyll and truffle vinaigrette) there are a lot of promises of unusual flavours and great textures. The corn fritters in My Mexican Cousin had some texture and bite but my potato hash was a bit soggy, the eggs soft poached but no seasoning and some mushrooms drowned in a semi-tasteless sauce. No hints of truffle. No exciting textures or flavours. Just a bit samey with each mouthful.
All in all: The first time I made the trip to Yarra Place the service was slow, our coffee cocktails got forgotten about and our waitress didn’t know which filters were available. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and try again for the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. The second time around the service was good, the coffee was okay but ST. ALi didn’t manage to redeem themselves. So I left a little disappointed, which is never great when you’ve just shelled out $72.
Cater to dietary requirements