St Ali

Melbourne's original cult-status cafe.
Lauren Vadnjal
July 01, 2023


When you think about the beginnings of Melbourne's third-wave coffee movement, it can probably be traced back to St Ali. Not just a boutique, local roaster of rich, cult-inducing coffee beans, St Ali was also something much more — an industrial-style cafe on a South Melbourne back street serving brunch that was as good as its brew. With its coffee, it also brought forth a cafe culture that Melbourne hadn't seen before and will probably never see the last of again.

Being the archetype for similar institutions, it is easy to forget that St Ali didn't take its design from other cafes — other cafes took their design from St Ali. That said, the concrete floors, exposed lighting and communal seating are comforting, if not typical by 2023 standards. It's a small reminder that it's been doing this for no less than twenty years.

This is no more apparent than when you visit St Ali. With a mill of staff — at least four on the coffee machine at all times — it's not hard to see that this is a well-oiled machine, especially when it comes to its signature brews. With a coffee menu almost as big as the food offering, you can choose from the current house blend, 'next level' coffee, a daily filter or an 18-hour cold drip. With quality beans from Colombia and Honduras, treat your senses to the ultimate coffee experience and try a few black and milk blends with a coffee-tasting plate.

barista pouring coffee at St Ali in South Melbourne.

Brunch dishes are suitably placed for all-day dining, with the chilli scrambled eggs with creme fraiche, spicy nduja and sourdough being a go-to choice, along with the 24-hour marinated veal loin kebab with cucumber and red onion salad. Then there is the dish almost as old as St Ali itself: 'My Mexican Cousin'. The secret recipe corn fritters with poached eggs, haloumi, tomato salsa, relish and salad remain a stalwart of the St Ali menu; dozens of the golden, crispy beacons are rolling out of the kitchen at any one time.

With this, the specials board is extensive and changes day-to-day, and the cake display houses one of the most perfect gluten-free brownies in existence. While the space is full of chatter and clinking cutlery any day of the week, the weekends see every table full — a small wait is standard but accepted, and always worth it.

Despite the saturation of the city's cafe scene and local coffee roasters providing stiff competition, St Ali has survived the movement to remain a pure Melbourne institution. While this can be put down to its cult-like status, the truth is that — in this town — good coffee and consistently incredible food get you a long, long way.


Appears in:
Where to Find the Best Coffee in Melbourne


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