12/18 Yarra Pl
South Melbourne, VIC 3205
(03) 9686 2990
Another day, another reason to grab some brunch! C and I made the trek up to South Melbourne on Tuesday for a late morning feed at St ALi. Tucked away in an industrial back street just off Clarendon lies Salvatore Malatesta’s flagship café, forerunner to Liar Liar in Hawthorn and Outpost in South Yarra.
After locating the elusive laneway, we deduced in under two seconds that we were either delirious with hunger and totally lost or we had the wrong address. All the buildings looked the same. The only thing that tipped us off was the stash of Sensory Lab coffee beans down the street.
Spirits burgeoned somewhat, we followed our noses up to the non-descript ex-warehouse, not really knowing what to expect. Behind the unpretentious, white-bricked façade was a flurry of whirring coffee grinders and apron-donning waiters flitting back and forth between tables. It was like unearthing the headquarters of a secret coffee or brunch lovers club. Perhaps the mystique is part of St ALi’s allure. It makes you wonder how people come to know about it in the first place.
In any case, St ALi appears to attract quite the diverse crowd. Business types, well-dressed yuppies, mums and prams, you name it. The converted depository sports high ceilings, exposed beams, roller doors and recycled furniture, creating a laid-back, casual space for everyone to enjoy an exceptional cup of coffee and leaf through the morning headlines.
It was freezing outside and my fingers were about to snap off, so I ordered a hot chocolate straight off the bat. The first mug that came to our table sent one of my eyebrows skyward; it was uncharacteristically bubbly on the surface and there was no froth (which, let’s be honest, is pretty much the best part). One of the waiters was observant enough to notice and replace it, which was awfully nice of her and a testament to the excellent service that St ALi extends to its patrons.
St ALi’s menu is big on wordplay and personal touches, which I liked. The PDF version online reminds me of those ‘Which celebrity are you destined to marry?’ Cosmo quizzes except you would never get stuck with a dud because every trail leads to a delicious morsel of awesomeness. That wasn’t a euphemism, in case you were wondering.
They’re known for their coffee-roasting prowess, but St ALi had me at waffles. The Friends with Benefits waffle stack with Pedro Ximenez poached pears, vanilla mascarpone and freeze-dried mandarin (18.5) is a definite winner. The vanilla mascarpone was velvety smooth and tied the whole dish together. It balanced out the sweetness of the pears and the poaching syrup and washed those waffles down like a pro. For the record, I don’t even like mandarins, and I still thought it was the bomb diggity. You could have stuck a candle in one of the waffles and I would have felt like it was my birthday.
C ventured down the savoury path and settled on the Hermanos Rodrigues breakfast sandwich (17.0) to go with her cold drip filtered coffee (6.0, not pictured). It proved to be one of those menu items that sounded great in theory, but was impossible to eat without looking like a complete slob. C tried it with a knife and fork first, but that didn’t work. Then she tried to eat it like a regular sandwich, so of course everything fell out. First-world problems. I know, we’re terrible. Quibbles aside, the chorizo had a great tangy flavour to it and the spiced Mahon gave the sandwich some zing. In future, I’d probably order it for lunch rather than breakfast, as it was a smidge on the heavy side.
I love finding great things in unexpected places, and St ALi doesn’t disappoint. I’m chomping at the bit to try their 63 Degrees Above (And Not Below) eggs and their bestseller My Mexican Cousin secret recipe corn fritters, so I think it’s safe to assume that I’ll be back real soon. Probably sooner.