In Short : World class coffee with numerous options, progressive menu, cool space, great vibe.
Love what you do, have passion in what you do, and chances are you will excel and go far with it. St. Ali, a café located in South Melbourne and going strong since 2005, specialises with quality beans and unique brewing methods, that have shaped the Australian cafe culture for the past decade.
To find the café, your best bet is to look for the 12-18 numbers at the top of the café entrance, indicating their address, 12-18 Yarra Place. The café itself does not have any signs with the café name on the outside. The other main give-away that you have found the right place, is the long lines of people queuing to get a place inside St Ali.
The interior is decorated in a shabby rustic industrial style. There is a metallic dark blue panel with a luminous circle in the middle, an old clock that displays the time and date, and pieces of wood panel ceilings reinforced with metal bars, decorated with green ribbons and fairy lights. There are also lots of seating room with communal table or individual table options and a smaller seating area in an adjoining room which is filled with light. So whether you want a cosy and warm, or bright and light, St Ali has you covered.
Just how serious are they about their coffee? St Ali’s baristas are always taking part in local and international coffee competitions, ensuring that they are at the top of their craft. Head Barista, Matt Perger, came in 2nd in the 2013 World Barista Championships. Matt then won the 2014 World Coffee & Good Spirits Championship. Barista Shinsaku Fukayama participated in the 2016 Southern Region Latte Art Championships and came in 2nd.
With such heady credentials and my bottom barely on the seat, I summon a filter coffee. It’s a Colombian La Guadua. It’s a warm and comforting cup with an initial sharp acidity that mellows out and reveals a smoky almost spicy flavour. The flavours tingle the palate with apricots and lemon that leads to a sweet finish.
St Ali’s food game is great too and was voted “2013 Best Food Café in Melbourne” by The Age Good Cafe Guide. Head Chef, Andrew Hearnden has worked in several top restaurants in London like Tom Aikens’ Tom’s Kitchen. Inspired by top chefs like Alain Ducasse, Roux brothers and Fergus, you can be sure breakfast will be anything but boring.
If the item on the menu says “The World Famous St Ali Steak Sanga”, we figured it has to be sampled. The star of this dish is the generous slices of delicious Rangers Valley Wagyu beef cooked to medium rare perfection. The perfectly rested meat sits on a slice of grained sourdough bread with Gruyere cheese, and horseradish mayonnaise. Rings of smoked onion and pickled baby beetroot are served on the side, which helps to balance out the dish. It is definitely a very hearty and satisfying palte.
Another interesting favourite in St Ali’s new Spring 2016 menu is their avocado scotch eggs. A slow cooked egg encased in a creamy whole Reed avocado, it’s coated with a cornmeal & rosemary crumb. There is also a side salad of spring peas, blood orange & pickled fennel. The crispy cornmeal and rosemary crumb together with the pea puree brings the dish alive. The fennel and blood orange salad is fresh and zesty with sweetness from the spring peas. After the richness of the scotch egg, the salad helps to cleanse the palette. It’s a bold and innovative offering that is so very Melbourne!
Very cool is the old school beer bottle that St Ali use for their Ice Cold Filter. Their cold filter coffee comes as is, straight up with no ice. That way, you taste the full bodied coffee undiluted. The flavours of their cold filter coffee are robust and nutty. It is a good wake-me-up drink and a tribute to the coffee beans used to brew the drink.
Since it’s St Ali, I honour this coffee institution with one last coffee and it’s a flat white. I know this cup quite well as we snuck in late the previous day for a late afternoon pick me up. I gushed about who good it was, and again I am not disappointed. I just love the consistency and the flavour. There’s almost a caramel like sweetness that comes through, yet it is superbly balanced. With a nice creaminess of texture, it never gets too milky. Sublime is about how I would sum up the coffee at St Ali, just sublime.
We left St Ali begrudgingly, knowing that it may be many months until we have the opportunity to return. It’s so very Melbourne, and we loved every minute. With mutterings of overseas expansion, I think the whole world will be talking about St Ali soon.