No doubt many of you have heard of St Ali, the cafe and specialty coffee purveyors who are one of a handful of places responsible for Melbourne’s love affair with ‘third wave’ coffee.

Well, I don’t drink coffee, so this puts me at a disadvantage when a reviewing a place such as St Ali. However, I’m comforted by the fact that there have been lots of good words written about St Ali‘s coffee already (Eat Drink Stagger, Eating Melbourne, Melbourne Gastronome to name a few) so here is my non-coffee-drinker’s guide to St Ali.

First of all, LOVE the space. Tucked down a laneway, away from the often middling cafes on offer on Clarendon Street, the plain whitewashed wall declares ‘we’re so cool we don’t need a sign’. Inside is a high-ceilinged warehouse space complete with retro posters, industrial winches, exposed steel beams and a behemoth coffee roaster taking pride of place in the corner. All that unpolished brick and metal, plus the constant stream of customers, makes it a buzzy, noisy place. Not so noisy that you can’t hear a conversation, but certainly the reverberations of dozens of conversations and the hissing coffee machine can rise to nightclub levels at times.

During my lunchtime visit the place was so busy that the attractive, skinny-jeaned waiters were almost jogging from table to table. Nevertheless, they were super friendly as well as being efficient and the meals were brought out during the lunchtime rush with impressive speed. That might explain the clientele – not just your expected hipster coffee drinkers and young mothers with prams, but also besuited business people from nearby offices.

Instead of coffee I order a Peace & Light chai with soy ($5). Creamy and fragrant and served in a cute pot-bellied saucepan, it was the perfect antidote to the blustery cold outside.

The food menu is surprisingly extensive, covering breakfasty things, a whole section devoted to eggs, pizzas and ‘not just a breakfast chef’ items including my choice, High IQ – roast ocean trout, quinoa, currant, cranberry, mint, pistachios with tahini yoghurt ($18.50). It turned out to be several super-sized slabs of seasoned fish balanced on top of a healthy mix of nuts, seeds and fresh salad leaves. Brain food indeed and excellent value for money.

Desserts were lined up neatly in the counter by the cashier and I choose a neat rectangle of pistachio, cardamom and yoghurt cake ($4) with a side of marscapone ($3). They only had coffee marscapone that day and I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed it as it was too solid and bitter for me – would have preferred the vanilla option. The cake itself with deliciously moist and lightly fragranced with cardamom.

So the moral of the story? There’s lots of love about St Ali, even if you don’t drink coffee. And if you do drink coffee – well, it’s probably going to be a match made in heaven.

  • St Ali, 18 Yarra Place, South Melbourne +61 3 9686 2990

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