The Saints of Coffee
January 29, 2011 12 Comments
Coffee: St Ali House Blend, Specialised Coffee Blends, Siphon Coffee
“People often talk about the latest gem of a place they have found in Melbourne – whether it’s a bar, cafe or restaurant, usually hidden and often missed. In the midst of the vibrant suburb of South Melbourne is a coffee institution which maybe out of sight but definitely not out of mind. The small and unsuspecting street is littered with artistic graffiti, with a clash of old and modern architecture. Amidst it all is the humble home of St Ali Coffee- St Ali.
We arrived and hit “the brunch rush” and – knowing there will be a decent wait – we ordered takeaway coffees and acted like the cool kids, sitting on milk crates outside. My first long black was the coffee of the day, which was a Nigaraguan le Beniain. The coffee had a soft and crisp taste which provided a clean and balanced taste. There is meant to be flavours of crisp apple and vanilla, however, such aromas were not given justice within the disposable cup I was drinking out of. With no bitter aftertaste, I never wanted this holy beverage to end.
We were seated on the communal table within the main room, that had a full view of the barista’s in action. I’ve always been fascinated with coffee trends – the most recent of which is siphoned coffee. It’s very scientific – the coffee is prepared with science equipment, placed on a grilled hot plate which boils the water, eventually rising vertically and mixing with the coffee. This is very exciting to any coffee enthusiast and if you are interested, the Auction Rooms in North Melbourne is holding the State Championships for siphoned coffee on the 13th March 2011.
To say the menu at St Ali is great is an understatement; words like ‘astonishing’ and ‘marvellous’ are better words to describe what’s on offer. It’s carefully divided into various themes that a brunch goer may feel like on the day. Today I decided on the Parmesan toast, marinated capsicum, tomatoes, eggplant and fresh herbs w/ goats milk [$17] (add pancetta [$21]) with an additional poached egg (brunch wouldn’t be brunch without an egg) alongside another long black.
The dish was plated beautifully with the goats’ milk layer on the bottom. It was an outstanding combination of freshly marinated vegetable ingredients and soft Parmesan toast, sparking terrific flavours on my tongue. The goats’ milk on its own was thick and creamy, however, when combined with the toast and the fresh ingredients, it transformed the dish into something else entirely. The milks thickness is removed by seeping through the delightful fresh, cheesy bread.
Rarely do I drink two long blacks in a sitting as too much coffee could have me bouncing off the walls. With that said, I am a big fan of the St Ali house blend. The house blend was stronger in comparison to my first coffee and had a very powerful, woody taste. There is a slight harsh undertone, but that didn’t detract me from enjoying the taste at all. The house blend was divine and perfectly complimented the meal. St Ali is a coffee snobs dream come true, offering quality panela (unrefined sugar, widely recognised for its unique caramel flavour, fine grain texture and golden colour) to have with your coffee.
St Ali is an institution that provides excellent balance of great coffee and food. With a formula like this it’s not leaving its holy status anytime soon.”
“St Ali was introduced to me a last year by my coffee obsessed friend, the Doctor. She lured me into having brunch there with promises that The Age rated it in it’s Good Food Guide 2011 as one of the top ten most iconic dining experiences. She also assured me that other than Seven Seeds coffee, St Ali’s house blend was considered one of the best in Melbourne. She was right. St Ali is definitely in my top brunch destinations and Mr LB and I thought that it would be worth sharing our experiences with you.
Now let me tell you straight up, that if you’re looking for a quick brunch then St Ali is not for you. Unless you get there early, be prepared to wait up to 30 minutes for a table. And once you’re in there, depending on how busy it is, it may take anywhere from 30-40 minutes more for your meal to come out. But while you are waiting for a table in the hugely popular (and yet somewhat unknown?) garage-refitted-restaurant, you can order a coffee inside and go across the laneway to the shed where they make up your coffee and you can read a paper.
Today I took full advantage of this, and ordered a soy mocha to mix things up a little. I took the usual house blend and it was fantastic. The soy was not too pungent (bonsoy), the milk was perfectly smooth and creamy and the chocolate actually tasted like real chocolate. The amount of coffee added was just right.
Once inside, you are greeted by a magnificently fitted restaurant – booths, communal tables and benches; St Ali has it all. The head chef is Ben Cooper, who has previously worked at top Melbourne restaurants Nobu, Ezard, Gingerboy and Longrain, so the expectation of quality food is high. Today I ordered the Palm Juice w/ pineapple, lemon, mint & apple [$8.50] and My Mexican Cousin w/ secret recipe corn fritters, baby spinach, houlami & kasundi w/ poached eggs [$16.50].
I’ve had this dish a couple of times before, and I think the reason I keep coming back to this is because of the houlami and kasundi (a spicy tomato relish). Today my dish was served on a bed of rocket instead of baby spinach, but it didn’t seem to make a difference to the flavours of the dish.
The corn fritters have a lovely crispy shell and open into a fluffy, light interior. The starchiness of the corn is what made this dish filling, but not in a bad way. The tomatoes were fresh and the poached eggs were made perfectly. They were well-trimmed and shaped on the boil and the interior was gooey, soaking into the corn fritters. The houlami was grilled, and the saltiness really added to the flavour of the corn fritters which were otherwise a little plain. The kasundi was the main star though – when mixed with the eggs and corn fritters the flavours just pop in your mouth.
I tried some of Mr LBs parmesan toast and I have to say I was impressed - the toast was impeccable and the marinated vegetables were an extremely good match. Mr LB made a good choice adding an extra poached egg on top – it made what was a potentially ‘nice’ dish into a really good one.
We’d never done brunch-dessert at St Ali, so we thought we would try the mouth-watering Cherry Peanut Slice [$4]. Good choice! A thin strip of the slice was served to share, and the taste was every bit as good as the picture above indicates. The bottom layer of biscuits were compact and did not crumble too easily. The milk chocolate was layered with coconut shreds and glazed cherries, and when combined with the roasted peanuts almost tasted like rocky road. The textures were fantastic - smooth, crunchy, gritty – it was all there.
Overall St Ali has always been a great experience, despite the wait. The food has never disappointed, the coffee is guaranteed to be good, and the service is friendly. This place is definitely worth the trip.”
Final thought: “Worth the wait for a good brunch”
For some reason we also seem to be randomly running into local markets, so it’s also worth noting that just around the corner from St Ali is the South Melbourne Markets which sells food, clothing and household goods. I also spotted a place just outside the markets which sells Spanish Paella, cooked in the traditional Paella pans. The South Melbourne Markets are located on 322-326 Coventry Street, South Melbourne and are open every day except Mondays and Tuesdays from 8am.