For a few weeks now, I’ve been hearing all about the opening of the North branch of St. Ali. Unfortunately, I’d been too busy to investigate it (even its location: 815 Nicholson St, Carlton North) any further. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the café is less than 400 metres from my house!
Please don’t stalk me now.
The opening of yet another caffeine dealer in the area is possibly the blurst thing that could happen to someone with as severe a coffee addiction as me.
Fellow A Tale of Two Bougies blogger Tiff is currently over from Perth workshopping in the Fitzroy North area of Melbourne, so we decided to take advantage of her extended lunch break to check out what the fuss is all about, and to give her a taste of some sweet (and reasonably priced) Melbournian coffee.
St. Ali North is a cleverly designed, spacious and bright venue, with French doors opening up on two sides of the building to the neighbouring parklands. There seems to be a mix of indoor and outdoor seating, as well as long communal-style high benches, round tables for large groups, and smaller tables for more intimate gatherings.
The menu itself is not as extensive as the original South Melbourne café, but there is still ample choice for breakfast, brunch and lunch items, ranging from vegetarian (ew, salad) to extremely-non-vegetarian (helloooooo, bone marrow!). And of course, it wouldn’t be St. Ali without their famous range of freshly roasted coffee. The coffee supply was free flowing and endless – even the waitstaff were sipping away!
Contrary to many of the bad service reviews on Urbanspoon, we were seated almost immediately upon arrival. However, though our waiter was really lovely and made helpful menu suggestions, it took almost 15 minutes for our food orders to be taken, and a further 30 minutes for our food to arrive. Considering it was fairly empty for a Friday lunch time, and that I counted at least nine waitstaff standing about, aimlessly “busying” themselves, we thought this was pretty poor form. Hopefully the service will be amended with time and the staff find their feet post- festive season!
We were pretty much ready to devour the menu, so we decided to ‘go with our gut’ and order a few dishes to share before we had time to hesitate/regret. Note: the servings are not small and could easily satisfy the average punter, but we are not the average punter (duh). So we ordered the Ricotta Gnudi with Forest Mushrooms, Green Peas, Parmesan and Sage ($18.5); the Bone Marrow with Morcilla, Filter Coffee, Egg Yolk Emulsion, Fennel and Capers ($19); and for ‘dessert’ – Pan-fried Stone Fruit with Brioche, Bacon Ice Cream and Fruit Jus ($16.5) – because having dessert at lunchtime is probably the best thing since
sliced bread rice.
All three dishes came at once (albeit a good 30 minutes after ordering), and in this 38 degree heat, we desperately
wanted needed to inhale the bacon ice cream before it melted into a plate of soupy, porky mess!
We like to eat dessert before our mains. What of it?
Though it was probably the most visually appealing of the dishes, we were a little disappointed with the execution of the dessert. The menu suggested a bacon-infused ice cream, but we soon realised that it was just vanilla bean ice cream with thick-cut bacon pieces spotted around the plate – a delicious combination, but not quite the savoury ice cream flavouring we had hoped for. The pan-fried stone fruit was soggy and tasted like tinned fruit, suggesting that it may have sat for a while instead of being cooked while fresh, which was saddening considering summer is prime stone fruit season!
Being rice fiends and well-trained at optimising our belly space, we also ended up leaving most of the brioche (and the soggy fruit!) behind.
Tiff and I are big cheese and mushroom lovers, and the combination of both of these flavours in the Ricotta Gnudi was downright moreish. The highlight of the dish was the textural contrast of the mushrooms (we could pick shiitake, enoki and oyster) against the crisp pillows of gnudi and the sweet morsels of pea. The sauce was quite creamy too, but not heavy at all. This was definitely a winner of a dish!
Last but not least was the Bone Marrow. Dear God, this was delicious. The Morcilla was crispy on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth delicious on the inside. Taste-wise, it was halfway between black pudding and paté, and it didn’t have an overpoweringly bloody flavour. Though the marrow was quite oily and decadent, it seemed appropriately so, and the acidity of the accompanying filter coffee cut through the heaviness and rounded out the flavour well. The fennel and capers provided a fresh contrast to the meaty overtones of the marrow and morcilla, and the egg yolk emulsion was complimentary in its light creaminess.
All up, the three dishes and two coffees (plus the filter coffee accompanying the marrow) came to just over $60. Not bad, considering the amount of quality food and coffee we consumed. And though we left with full, satisfied bellies, we couldn’t help thinking the experience could have been improved with a side of speediness and a dash of attentiveness from the service staff!