Of course I had to visit it. But before it was highlighted on my radar my brother in London sent a personally designed Christmas card which had a photo of the wooden bench out the front of the newly opened brunch spot with St ALi burnt into it’s top rung. Prior to leaving for London a few months ago he visited us in Melbourne and confessed his love of South Melbourne’s St ALi.
And so one of the few occasions I was able to meet up with the rest of my clan, I was trudging through one of my beloved neighborhoods – Smithfield Meat Market – on my way to seeing what St ALi might offer me on the other side of the world. I wanted to know if it translated to London life and if people would travel to it on the weekend as it sits in Clerkenwell, which becomes pretty much a ghost town on the weekend.
I was surprised how close it resided to a restaurant we visited recently Bistrot Bruno Loubet (reviewed here) as I had totally missed it and must have walked past St ALi on the night we visited. Inside the bare wood floors, light bulbs and airy space is a good blend of London-Melbourness.
The place was relatively quiet when I arrived at about 10.30am but within a half hour the line for a table snaked out the door and didn’t let up until we up and left.
They have their own coffee roaster on site which is quite rare for London and I think people have taken a shine and realised they have never seen such a thing in the monstrosities of Costa, Starbucks and the like.
London does food and drink well but where they really shoot themselves in the foot is in the coffee department. There are duds galore and I found myself visiting coffee houses with my ear tuned to see if any of the baristas had an Aussie or NZ accent. If they didn’t I got the hell outta there quick smart. As with out visit to Sensory Lab UK (review here), St ALi didn’t disappoint. A strong cup of coffee, which Londoners are starting to understand better than the Starbucks drivel currently drunk by the masses.
It seems the London outpost does not call the dish well known in Melbourne as My Mexican Cousin as they have done away with the puns to ensure the English understand the menu. And the going rate is for MMC in South Melbourne is $17.50 but you can get the same dish in London for around $12.50 – How crazy is it to think you can get the same dish cheaper in London. I wouldn’t have believed it a few years ago.
Free-range eggs, sourdough and smoked salmon was the first dish to grace the table and for those that tried it all gave a thumbs up.
Brother PhotoMonkey’s first option was completely sold out (Beef Short Ribs) so he was convinced to have the Dexter Burger, Comte, pain-de-mie bun, fried Ratte potatoes and chili mayo. Where the burger shone was in the cheese department – which was from what is arguably the best cheese shop in town (you can see more of the best of Borough Market stalls here).
Knowing St ALi’s extensive menu from back home it was found wanting when it was my time to choose a dish to have. When you compare the two A4 page menu of South Melbourne to the one page of London it became quite difficult as there was no real pork dish other than the one I ordered – Master-stock braised pulled pork ‘tacos’, with Asian slaw, coriander, crispy shallots and chili jam.
I was right to be wary of this dish as the description had striking similarities to infamous tacos of Melbourne (review here). It was a disappointing dish to say the least. There may well have been a generous portion size but it was severely lacking in any type of sauce so it had real moisture issues. The flavours also didn’t light up my taste buds, which surprised me as a coffee house like St ALi comes from an Asian mecca like Melbourne.
As you can see from the menu prices are very reasonable – I draw your attention to a few items – Lobster and coconut soup ($7) – where can you get anything lobster for under $15? Bottles of beer for under $5. And the average cost of a glass of wine for $6.50. So yes – London is cheap people and now is one of the best times to come and have a taste.