While I frequently visit South Melbourne and knew roughly where I was going, stepping into an unmarked doorway (which almost felt like stepping into the back of someone's converted garage) - I really wasn't sure I was in the right place. Thankfully, 30 seconds later my brunch companion poked her head through the same door and we both sighed with relief that we'd found St Ali (and each other).
I should note that though we arrived at 10.30am and managed to get a table straight away. By the time we left, around 11.30am, there was a queue of people waiting for a table in the laneway.
Like most friends who haven't had a decent chat in a while, we were completely absorbed in conversation. Thankfully the waiters who continued to check if we were ready to order, didn't seem too bothered by our lack of urgency.
After asking some questions about portion sizes etc. We settled on the My Mexican Cousin (minus egg) and the Deconstructed NYC Bagel.
My juice, VJ - carrot, celery, ginger and apple, was nice but not as chilled as I would have liked. Having bought a juicer after our experience at Hemingway's, I guess I've become a bit fussier.
The Deconstructed NYC Bagel was also nice. Lovely presentation. Fresh bagel. The salmon had the right texture, but perhaps lacked a little flavour or seasoning. And the horseradish cream cheese and avocado & feta mash was delicious. Somehow the combination didn't 'pop', so I finished the dish feeling satisfied but not amazed.
I was also permitted a nibble of the corn fritter and kasundi - it was zestier than I was expecting. Far from unpleasant though, I would definitely consider ordering My Mexican Cousin (corn fritter, baby spinach, haloumi and kasundi with eggs) in the future.
So while we enjoyed the food, my major criticism is that the prices do not reflect the quality or originality of the food. Though $8 for a juice and $16-$20 for a meal is not outrageous, similar dishes are offered elsewhere at an equivalent standard (or better) and at much more reasonable prices.
On the whole, St Ali has the right combination of elements to make it an ideal brunch destination. The staff were friendly and helpful. The atmosphere was remarkably cool and calm, especially given how busy it was. Even the uncomplicated 'recycled' decor and furnishings helped us to unwind and enjoy each other's company, the food and thoughts of a hedonistic weekend ahead.
Whether you are after a late breakfast with a lover or an easy meal with your favourite literature, brunch is truly wonderful.
Name: St Ali
Location: 12/18 Yarra Place, South Melbourne VIC