St Ali

12/18 Yarra Pl
South Melbourne, VIC

Hype for a restaurant can be a dangerous thing. There’s always a tense moment when the food arrives, where I’m both expecting it to make my tastebuds dance, and being terrified that it won’t. And a little piece of me dies every time a restaurant falls short of my expectations. Unfortunately, this post on St Ali, third most popular brunch spot in Melbourne (according to Urbanspoon), comes attached with a broken and shrivelled piece of my soul – that’s how disappointed I was. But let’s start at the beginning. 
Located in brunch-savvy South Melbourne, St Ali follows the tried-and-true formula of locating itself in a converted space of some sort. We think the non-descript white building looks like an old mechanic, but warehouse is also a popular guess.
The interior of St Ali is grungy, even by Melbourne standards. The floors are scruffy, the walls are a mixture of wood, plaster and brick, and the furniture is seriously mismatched, with everything from leather to wood to metal. Thankfully the potted plants (in old paint cans, naturally) and the large door letting in natural light softens the space up.
A large chalkboard boldly proclaims the specials of the day (which includes a whole slab of bacon), and the coffee blend of the day. It took us quite a while to order thanks to the extensive double-sided menu, yet I still didn’t manage to avoid the serious case of order envy when the table next to us got their food.  
Flat White ($4) / Hot Chocolate ($5)
We started off with some of St Ali’s famous house coffee blend in a Flat White ($4) for me, and a Hot Chocolate ($5) for Chris. As you’d probably expect, my coffee was certainly good, very easy to drink, though it didn’t blow my top hat off. The hot chocolate on the other hand was atrocious. Bland and lukewarm, you’d have a better time heating up some chocolate milk and stirring cream into it. How they justify charging 5 dollars for it I’ll never know.
My Mexican Cousin ($17.5)
 According to most bloggers, the corn fritters here are a must-try, so I ordered the My Mexican Cousin (corn fritters, baby spinach, haloumi and kasundi with poached or fried eggs, $17.5) with poached eggs. Being on the steep-end of brunch, I expected this dish to at least come out with a couple of slices of toast. Instead all I got was two baby-fist sized fritters that were barely larger than the eggs on top of them, sitting lonelily in the middle of the plate. And from here it only went downhill. The fritters were cold and dense with nary any corn to be seen, the kasundi (hot Indian tomato relish) was watery with no heat whatsoever, and the thin slice of haloumi perched on top can barely be tasted.  
The only redeeming factor of this dish were the eggs. Round and flawless, they released a stream of golden yolk when they were cut into. I wonder if they offer egg-poaching classes (like they do barista classes); does anyone know the secret of how to get a perfectly poached egg?
Creole Beans with Poached Egg ($18.5)
 I used the only method I knew to lure Chris out of bed for brunch on a Friday morning – meat. He was totally gunning for the steak sandwich until his jaw locked up something bad, and had to pick something else that didn’t involve much chewing. The Creole Beans ($16.5, add poached egg $18.5) fit the bill pretty well, so he got that, minus the hot sauce. The beans were toothsome, the toast was crusty, and the egg was runny. It would’ve been a good brunch dish too if it weren’t for the fact that I whip up beans that taste almost identical to these on my I’m-lazy-but-I-want-something-nutritious days. It’s honestly nothing more than a 4-bean mix stewed in a tomato-based sauce with a dash of cumin. 
So 45 dollars and a broken heart later, we walked out of St Ali. For that price tag I was hoping for something phenomenal, or failing that, at least something that filled me up and warmed my tummy. Instead we had to go and get some pork buns for afters. And how were the pork buns? Well that’s a different story altogether. 
Rating: 9.5/20 – ridiculously overhyped

St Ali on Urbanspoon

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  • Reply tronixstuff 22/01/2012 at 7:48 pm

    Your review was spot-on. So much hype, so little substance. Good for a take-away coffee… and that’s it.

  • Reply ming 26/01/2012 at 9:03 am

    I’m really glad you agree with me, I thought I was missing out on something here :p

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