When I spotted ST ALi just before it opened, I was more than a little bit intrigued. Was it a bar, club, boutique or restaurant? The slick black exterior gave nothing away and the long corridor with ST ALi emblazoned across the wall in bright lights added to the mystery.
Housed in a former nightclub, ST ALi is the second outpost of the Melbourne restaurant/cafe that boasts its own roastery and artisan coffee.
ST ALi is named after the ‘patron saint of coffee’, Ali ibn Umar al-Shadhili, a mystic who introduced coffee beans to the muslim world in the 15th century.
London seems to have fallen in love with the meticulous, perfectionist Antipodean coffee culture, so where better to open the sister joint than in one of city’s top foodie quarters, Clerkenwell.
I met up with the lovely Krista of The Neon Hub for a long lunch at ST ALi, followed by sampling the famous coffee and a peak at the roastery.
Downstairs, ST ALi is buzzing and packed at lunch time, but upstairs is a bit more calm and relaxed – perfect for a good natter. The L-shaped room has a rustic communal table and individual ones for more privacy and it overlooks the atrium and the living plant wall.
The menu is a feast of posh sandwiches with mouth-watering combinations and the inventive breakfasts are served all day, which makes it even harder to pick a dish and stick to it!
I went for the Australian Holiday – Grilled rib eye steak sandwich with roasted garlic aioli and caramelised onions on toasted sourdough. It was a beast of a sandwich and needed to be tackled with a knife and fork.
The steak was excellent quality and was cooked medium-well done – just right for a sandwich as a more bloodied steak would drench the bread.
The roasted garlic aioli was rich and subtle with plenty olive oil and the sweet slow-cooked caramelised onions went perfectly with the meat.
It’s such a mountainous sandwich that it should really come with a steak knife to hack into it. I was concerned that one over-zealous move would send me sandwich flying over to the next table like a Frisbee.
Krista chose the Earl of Sandwich (£13.75) – Soy and mirin spiced pulled pork belly ciabatta with Asian zucchini slaw, cos lettuce and chilli jam. It looked even bigger and more visually pleasing than the steak sandwich, although perhaps mine had the edge on the taste scale.
The sandwiches were more than enough for lunch, but we couldn’t resist sharing a side of Royal Fluke (£4) – crispy fried Jersey Royals with chipotle mayonnaise.
The potatoes were crispy and soft in the middle with a smoky pimento flavour and the chipotle mayonnaise was delicious and spicy. The portion size was very generous and we struggled to finish the plate.
We decided to make it a boozy lunch mid-way through the meal and ordered a glass of Malbec each. It was the first time I’d tried Malbec, surprisingly as it seems to be a big favourite in London, so I can’t compare. However, I loved the rich, smoky, red berry flavours and it went pretty well with the potatoes.
After a much-needed rest, we went down to inspect the roastery and try one of the famous coffees.
The roastery looked pretty impressive and the smell of freshly ground beans was intoxicating. Unfortunately they’d finished roasting for the day, so we couldn’t see it in action, but get there earlier and you can watch the process.
The baristas told us that the ST ALi in London is much slicker than the original South Melbourne cafe, which is housed in converted warehouse and still has paint splodges and attracts a more bohemian crowd.
With Antipodean coffee culture came the arrival of the ‘flat white’ and surprisingly, it doesn’t feature on ST ALi’s coffee menu. I ordered a latte and it seemed to have all the characteristics of a flat white.
The coffee was strong, rich roasted and creamy and just the right size. It could have been a bit hotter, but it was definitely worth the hype. The combination of the freshly roasted coffee and the expertise of the baristas made it a cut above most other London coffee emporiums.
The tray of baked goods looked so delicious that we found some room and split a Valrhona Chocolate Brownie. It was rich, dense and gooey with chunky walnuts and a drizzling of white chocolate on top.
ST ALi is a wonderful addition to Clerkenwell’s foodie quarter and we can feel quite smug that they picked London for the second outpost. The staff are friendly and have a dry sense of humour – a refreshing change from the perma-smiles and up selling at regular coffee chains.
Another visit to ST ALi is high on my list, to try one of their all-day breakfasts and of course, one of those delicious coffees.
Cherie City was a guest of ST ALi
All photos by Cherie City