I was bewildered when I found the cafe around the back of Velo Cycles as there were so many people with bikes; but it turns out that St ALi North sits along the busy Capital City Trail which has a high influx of cyclists. They even have a ride up window for take away coffees to make it even easier.
We both arrived at the same time to find an ominous-looking long line which only kept growing after we joined. Lucky for us, the wait for groups of two was minimal as we were happy to sit at the bar. I really took to the clean-cut, bright interior and felt the style was similar to 'two birds one stone' in South Yarra. There is a big emphasis on coffee-food matching at St ALi North so when we ordered our dishes, you can request the barista would send over coffees that would go well with our dishes. I was confused as Peach ordered a coffee to match her food and I didn't - although I believe my filtered coffee was the 'coffee' element to my dish which wasn't explained to me by the waiter. In the end we both received a filtered coffee to match our food which was light on the palate and I didn't detect any bitterness although I missed the robust flavour and creaminess of my usual coffee.
Filtered coffee ($3)
I also ordered a juice as I wasn't expecting a coffee to come with my dish. It was freshly squeezed from beautifully ripe oranges, so naturally sweet and reminded me of summer.
Freshly squeezed orange juice ($6)
The bone marrow was topped with bread crumbs for texture, while the morcilla (Spanish blood sausage) was delicate in texture, not overwhelming in flavour but definitely complemented well with the luxurious bone marrow and fresh fennel. My dish came with toasted brioche which was light, fluffy and buttery and added to the decadence of the dish.
Bone marrow, morcilla, coffee, egg yolk emulsion, fennel and capers ($19)
She ordered the following dish, I think, mainly because of her love of mushrooms and we both agreed it was a winner. The assortment of mushrooms were all tender and silky while the rest of the elements were all fresh against the cheesey balls of ricotta.
Ricotta gnudi, forest mushrooms, green peas, parmesan and sage ($16)
We were satisfied from our food but decided to share a small cake for a sugar hit. Peach went to check out the baked goods with all rights to choose a cake, the only provision was 'no kiwi' as I'm allergic, weird I know.
After a bit of a delay, we were presented with this beautiful creation. Cutting into the crisp tart base, revealed a creamy concoction of vanilla baked cream. We debated whether the fruit was nectarine or peach (it was peach), which suited perfectly as it was sharp and tangy against the combination of the velvety vanilla cream and sweet jelly and macadamia crumble mix. With Shaun Quade looking after the sweets at St ALi North, it's no wonder why it was so scrumptious.
Peach & Macadamia Tart with Baked cream ($6)
There were a few incidences - a delay with receiving my coffee after she received hers and our cake went missing for a while before we asked someone to chase it up, so it seems like the staff still need time to settle before it is a seamless operation. Nonetheless, all the staff we dealt with were wonderful and very friendly; given that it was still in its first week of trading and the hordes of people waiting, they did pretty well.
We sat at our spot chatting away for a good couple of hours and did not feel pushed out by staff at any time. On the way to paying our bill, there was a fridge filled with jars of coffee beans which I would have loved to raid.
I am looking forward to coming back again soon to try out the rest of the menu items that piqued my interest. St ALi North has had a lot of haters (negative votes on Urbanspoon before even opening) but I immensely enjoyed my visit. I can imagine how great it would be to live locally - bike paths, good food and coffee at St ALi North and a playground just next door for the little ones. They're open every day of the year so it might be an idea for those who have no plans on Christmas to give it a try and beat the crowds - booya! I've already planned a visit on New Year's day after dropping some folks off at the airport.
Will I return? Yes, I have always been a fan of St ALi and the north-side venture is no different.
St ALi North
815 Nicholson Street (corner of Park & Nicholson St)
Carlton North VIC 3054
(03) 9686 2990
Daily 7am - 6pm