|Flat white, St Ali, Clerkenwell|
Another month, another Aussie-run cafe opens in London. Good! The more places we Londoners can get a well-made coffee, a smile, and something eggy and delicious on sourdough the better. But just in case you've got Flat White Fatigue, you should know that the most recent opening, St Ali, has got serious chops.
This new cafe in Clerkenwell is actually the 2nd branch of St Ali. The first is 10,496 miles away, in Melbourne. Named for the patron saint of coffee, St Ali opened in south Melbourne in 2005, and is now a granddaddy of Melbourne's coffee scene, inarguably one of the finest in the world.
The cafe's small, discreet entrance belies a cavernous and impressive interior. There's two floors of wooden tables, and an in-house coffee roastery. The decor is very Clerkenwell-appropriate: exposed brick walls, Conran-y galvanised metal stools and a huge wrap-around counter in the centre of the room, not to mention a 2-storey 'living plant' wall and the hulking roaster which are both lit with natural daylight from a skylight above. Caffe Nero, this is not.
Service was both swift and chipper. When my friend A arrived ahead of me on a Sunday morning at peak brunching time, there was a fairly sizeable queue. When she reached the front, instead of requesting that she wait until her rubbish, stuck-on-the-bus friend (yep, me) arrived as so many establishments would do, the waitress gave A a prime spot upstairs and fixed her a flat white.
The flat whites passed with flying colours - punchy but not overpowering, with a silky finish. According to Time Out, St Ali's espresso machine was custom-made in Seattle and cost in the tens of 1000s. 'We cup then carefully roast the beans in small batches to make sure they keep their flavour,' says the cafe. Coffee is akin to religion here, and it shows.
The brunch menu is fun and diverse with some really interesting combinations of flavours, though the names of the dishes are a little too cute: 'Summer Glow','Banana Republic', 'World's Your Oyster.'
|'My Mexican Cousin', St Ali Clerkenwell|
A's' My Mexican cousin' was more sophisticated offering than the theme-bar name suggests: organic eggs, poached to a perfect level of runniness, perched on top of fat corn fritters, baby spinach, thick wedges of halloumi and kasundi, a punchy Bengali tomato relish.
|'Dutch Oven', St Ali Clerkenwell|
'Dutch oven' was a promising concoction of house-braised beans with ricotta, lemon, mint and a poached egg. Unfortunately, the egg was poached way past runny and was freewheeling to rubbery by the time it reached my plate, and the sourdough toast was blackening at the edges - it looked like it had spent 30 seconds too long under the grill. I put both of these down to easily-solveable timing errors, but the beans were a disappointment - the flavours of the lemon, ricotta and mint were barely discernable, and the beans lacked seasoning, real depth of flavour and tang - a little chilli and perhaps swapping sharp Feta for the bland ricotta would've sorted things out . They were pleasant enough, but I began looking longingly at the good-looking, colourful plates of food flying past.
In sum: the coffee is superlative, and the menu has big potential. I'll definitely be back to scoff my way through dishes like the homemade banana bread with St Ali coffee-infused mascarpone, and French toast with West Dorset dry-aged smoked bacon and caramelised walnuts. I just wish I'd ordered them this time round.
Oh and St Ali doesn't split bills, so come with cash or a generous patron.
St Ali, 27 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1M 5RM