815 Nicholson Street Brunswick East, Victoria 3057
|Opening hours||Daily 6.30am-5pm|
|Features||Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Mastercard, Visa|
|Phone||03 9380 5455|
If you were putting a cafe in a time capsule to show the future what Melbourne 2013 was like, you might as well stuff in St Ali North. Everything about it is indicative, and plenty of its features could vie for best of breed. There's the urban-playground nature of the place: on a bike path behind a cycle shop, and with a tangle of two-wheelers in the parking lot.
There are showcase piercings, hipster tattoos and conceptual hair arrangements - and that's just the staff. There's the little dude phenomenon: kids in cool T-shirts eating from a children's menu that doesn't read like a what-not-to-eat chart. There's even a Jimi Hendrix colouring page on the back for the Voodoo Child who likes pencils.
The interior is very now: stone and glass and shouty-loud; clean lines splotched with a little kitsch and art. Then there's the food (thorough, DIY restaurant approach, cafe angle, allergy friendly), the drink (coffee as culture), and the service (professional, totally chilled with sprinting power when necessary).
St Ali North opened in December. Its older sibling, St Ali (South), trucks on merrily in a South Melbourne laneway. Bolted to both menus are the crisp, lively corn fritters with haloumi, still the go-to CF in a town that's clogged with them. There's also a lovely, deeply toasted granola, with a great balance of grains, nuts, coconut and honey, served over a decent dollop of vanilla yoghurt. Healthy, too.
I can make a health argument for the roasted nectarines on brioche with bacon ice-cream: things that make you feel that brain-poppingly happy must be good for you, even if they tick a couple of food groups a couple of times too many.
The (very) big breakfast is served with a smashing array of sides, including porky sausage nuggets and doughty bean ragout. A gluten-free sandwich was less than sparkling: maybe kale just isn't supposed to be sandwiched, or maybe it was that the chickpea braise was bland. The cakes cabinet, meanwhile, encased serious riches.
The place gets busy, so the time capsule will need to include the strange 21st-century phenomenon of the breakfast waiting list. But the experienced St Ali North crew tend to handle whatever's thrown at them, whether it's a crush at the door, a fierce need for caffeine, or, I'm sure, the notion of representing Melbourne cafes in a 2013 cache.
3 stars (out of five)