St Ali North

815 Nicholson St
Carlton North, VIC 3054
If a restaurant is popular enough to open a second branch, then it must be good… right? Except I wasn’t so sure when St Ali North opened up shop on the other side of the Melbourne CBD. Sure St Ali does some great coffee and is seen by a lot of people as a jewel in Melbourne’s brunch crown, but my personal experience there was atrocious.
St Ali North most certainly did not impress on first impressions. The staff seemed like they were determinedly avoiding our eyes, and after we stood around awkwardly for a couple of minutes, we decided to flag someone down ourselves just so we could get a seat. There was also some confusion as we tried to order; it seemed like our server didn’t know the menu too well. But given that St Ali North is still a fairly new venture, I’ll put it down to teething issues.
But after we had settled down with tin cups of water in our hands, things became a lot more pleasant. Gone was the overly grungy mish-mash that was the original St Ali, replaced by a bright, open room with clean lines and lots of natural light (as you’d expect, being situated in a park and all). Personality is nice and all but it’s good when you can tell effort has been put into the decor, as opposed to the ‘we don’t care what you think’ vibe you get at some of the too-hipster places. Such as the original St Ali. No I won’t stop being bitter over a bad experience from one year ago.
St Ali Royale with Cheese ($16.5)
St Ali Royale with Cheese ($16.5)
Never mind that we had just gone to the gym, K wanted a burger. The St Ali Royale with Cheese($16.5) sounded good on paper – a medium rare patty with cheese and bacon, Russian dressing and pickles. Unfortunately it wasn’t as delicious as it sounded. The beef was more or less well-done and as a result, dry and a bit crumbly. It was also a bit too rich for me on account of the cheese, bacon and brioche, though the bun was toasty and soft. Lastly, I found that the trio of dressing, onions, and brioche made the overall taste of the burger predominantly sweet and overpowered the beef. It’s a decent enough burger but there’s no real focus to it.
Deep Blue ($19.5)
You know that little dance you do on the inside (and possibly on the outside too) when you take a risk, order a dish, and it comes out way better than you had originally expected? I’m pretty sure the Deep Blue ($19.5) is a fairly recent addition to the menu as the change is not yet reflected on the website (at least when I visited), but as soon as I read ‘pan seared hapuku’, I just had to have it. I first encountered the firm, white fish at MoVida NextDoor, and was in love from the first bite. So it was good to see these hapuku fillets done perfectly, the meat flaky and moist, and the skin was crispy to the very end. The stew/broth the hapuku sat complemented the fish wonderfully with the timeless combination of mint and sweet peas, and whilst the bacon is a little bit excessive, I found the porkiness it lent to the unexpectedly light and slightly sour soup to be delightful. I also loved the well thought-out presentation of this dish; it actually looked like fish swimming in a pond.
St Ali North is everything the original St Ali isn’t. It’s airy with a relaxing colour palette, and whilst the food is still on the pricey end for brunch, it’s actually rather good (though a little hit-and-miss based on our experience) this time. Aside from what I’m am sure would be consistently brilliant coffee most people have come to expect from St Ali, the two branches are as polarised as they are on the compass, and same goes for my opinions of them. If you’re ever at this crossroad, do yourself a favour and head north.
Rating: 14/20 – northern lights, southern bites.   

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