St Ali : Welcome to Melbourne

Flat white from St Ali

Thank you to Tiger Airways for getting us to Melbourne in perhaps the most cramped and undignified manner possible. At times I felt like I should have brought my own seatbelt along, as it probably would have helped make me feel moderately comfortable about traveling in an over sized chicken coop.

What I was grateful for however, is the lovely and handsome Ben Bicknell of 5 Senses, picking us up at the airport and whisking us back to the place we were staying in South Yarra for some much needed sleep (which was nigh on impossible on the plane) and a chance to make ourselves respectable, before beginning the onslaught that was to be our time in Melbourne. First stop… St Ali.

If you haven’t heard of St Ali and you live in Melbourne, then there is something seriously wrong with you. Mark Dundon’s cafe and roasting operation has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and is consistently named in the top places to visit, and from what I can gather, rightly so.

It’s located in a quiet street in South Melbourne, seemingly away from the hustle and bustle of the city and it’s many laneways. There’s no sign out the front, but it’s completely packed. I have no idea where the people are all from but there are suits galore (and not of your Man to Man / Ed Harry / Insert cheapo guys clothes store name here, variety), happily mingling with hipsters and hippies of all persuasions. It’s a Thursday morning (I think), ok maybe lunch time.

We grab a table by the bar, unlucky not to get a seat at the big communal table, but it does make surreptitious photography more difficult.

Orders are done at the table and so I grab a couple of double flat whites to begin, with a fried egg stack and chorizo for Sharon (damn i knew i should have got that), and some house made white beans with proscuitto for me). The flat whites were superb. Cutting through the milk nicely and balanced sweetness with that chocolately body that’s so inviting for a cold Melbourne morning. The food arrived and was equally great. Though I perhaps felt a bit left out when a group of 4 businessmen all ordered the same dish of Lamb Kofta balls… decadently soaked in a tomato sauce.

Fried Eggs and Chorizo @ St Ali

Still what we had was great. The beans hearty and the proscuitto salty and delicious. I tried not to eye Sharons chorizo, but it soon got the better of me and I caved… it was great too.

Next up another round of coffees, espresso for me, short macchiato for Sharon. While waiting the barista strolled over and surprised me by saying

“Sorry, this is for you, it’s a really nice looking ristretto but too short for an espresso, so I figured I’d give it to you for free rather than waste it”.

How lovely. It was a great ristretto, syrupy and dense with a great smokiness running through it. I thought about asking about the single origin they have on each day, but I was loving the house espresso blend too much to care to be honest. The espresso which soon arrived was equally tasty. More balanced and less syrupy than the ristretto, but a well put together shot. I felt at home.

St Ali oozes so much cool there should be hazard signs out the front when you walk in. It’s just effortless. We thought to ourselves that if the rest of Melbourne was as good as this, we were in for a good time :)

St Ali
12-18 Yarra Place
South Melbourne
Telephone (03) 9686 2990

Melbourne – Prepare Thyself.

Slippery When Wet - by Mugley
Image used courtesy of Mugley

I know what you think… You Melburnians. You think that you live in a city blessed with the finest and best value restaurants in the world. With hidden bars so cool that no one knows about them, with liquor laws so relaxed that most bums on the street are running funky little wine bars out of their shopping trolleys. Your espresso flows with the flavours that only a rich Italian heritage can imbue, and celebrity chefs are lining up to fill your casinos with the fanciest dining experiences available.

But I’m not buying it.

My last trip to Melbourne was a disaster. I was young, naive… immature. I thought I could gayly prance my way about the city and run into good food, wine, and coffee at every turn of the corner. That every tram stop was just a hidden alleyway away from the best dining experience of my life, and that every cafe was just waiting for me to order a coffee that would be the best I’d ever tasted.

Ok, so I was clearly delusional. Still, I had somehow built up that idea in my head. Only to be presented with bland over priced food, terrible coffee, and “institutions” that should have been closed down years ago (Perugrinos, most of Lygon St).

This time around, I’m not leaving anything to chance. I’ll be coming over for the finals of the Australian Barista Competition, so the coffee issue should be well and truly sorted. Restaurants, and bars however, are entirely up for debate.

I’ve been hearing many things about many restaurants of late, and have been checking out plenty of blogs for inspiration, but what I’m hoping fellow food lovers and seekers of truth will be able to share with me are those little pearls of wisdom that never quite make it into the travel guides and search results for “best restaurant melbourne”.

I really want some great, unique dining experiences that showcase the best of what Melbourne has to offer, at all stages of the price spectrum.

So far on my tentative list are:

Bar Lourinha or Movida
St Judes Cellar and/or Panama Room
Bistro Guillaume
Lau’s family kitchen
The Commoner
The Press Club
Giuseppe Arnaldo and Sons

This of course may not work out, because I’ll be there for roughly 6 nights, and there are clearly more than 6 restaurants on that list. A little whittling down to the absolute essentials may be in order.

So… those in know… please step up to the plate. Let me know where the real Melbourne is, and also how to tell the difference between the cool alleyways, and the ones I’m going to get mugged in.