Tag Archives: St Ali

let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments

 more mix masters

Some time ago, St Ali offered a very special degustation and each course was to be paired with a cocktail creation from the folks from Richmond bar Der Raum. I think I enjoyed this dinner much more than the last one I attended because the seating seemed less cramped and given that there were cocktails, we were more spoilt! I’ve not yet been to Der Raum but figured this was a great way to see what they were about too.

The kitchen and counters were a-buzz with orchestrated chaos. From this chaos burst forth the first course – a single Molting Bay oyster with Thai spiced tomato water accompanied by an amuse bouche. Oysters and coffee to my mind (and palate) is not an obvious pairing but to be honest, I love oysters so I’ll eat them with just about anything. Two was not enough (yes, there was one in the cocktail). All over too quickly, if you ask me. Consider my bouche much amused and poised for more yummies.

 oysters & amuse bouche

The second cocktail was a variation on the mint julep – called ‘Sip, Sip Julep’, it had cognac, Vietnamese mint, Rwandan Karengera infused maple. The coffee and cognac here replaced the traditional ingredient of bourbon. You can also see that there’s Viet mint to garnish. I don’t care how uncool it was, I ate mine. This drink was deeply refreshing and I frequently slurped at it to try and get as much of the precious alcoholic mixture as possible.

 sip, sip, julep

To eat, we had Japanese pumpkin with shaved iceberg lettuce and cherry tomatoes, crushed peanuts and nuoc cham. I like that iceberg was used because let’s face it, it’s not exactly the most fashionable of lettuce leaves. My mum uses it and her culinary repertory is firmly stuck in the 80s (sorry Mum, you know I’ll eat your Filipino dishes anytime!). I feel that aesthetically it let down the dish a little, but taste-wise, not a complaint. It was a vegetarian dish – if only all vegetarian dishes could be this ace.

 japanese pumpkin

The next drink conjured up memories of my childhood, because of the sugarcane. I spent the first eight years of my life in England, though my parents are from fairly tropical climes (Guyana and the Philippines). One day, my father came home with sugarcane for us to try. In England. Thinking back on this experience, it does seem quite the mindfuck, if you will pardon the profanity. Sugarcane in England in the Thatcherite 80s (yes, I am that old).

Chewing on the palate cleansing sugarcane in this ‘Sugarcane Swizzle’ with pandan and chilli-infused rum, cinnamon, pressed lime and Sumatran natural Mandheling bitters took me back to my concrete Greater London backyard. Amazing how powerful scent and taste is for our memories. Sipping on this paper-wrapped concoction made me feel very much the faux-hobo but don’t be fooled: it’s a classy drink.

 sugarcane swizzle

This drink was served with the morsel-sized king prawn and crispy pork belly with sweet fish sauce, Szechuan chill and Thai aromats. I had to look up ‘aromats’…bad foodie (still learning!). I think perhaps this course was a little over-ambitious. The pork belly cubes weren’t so pleasing in texture though they were tasty. Perhaps it would have been better to serve two king prawns and do away with the pork belly? Just my personal preference.

 king prawn

Thus the flirting is over – now we get to the real meat of the dinner, so to speak. The fourth course was a roast duck breast with wilted tatsoi, sherry glaze and green chilli foam. As a side, there were kipfler potatoes. This was probably my least favourite course of the entire dinner – was it due to duck fatigue from St Ali’s previous #duckfest? It looked gorgeous but to my tongue, felt like the least imaginative.

 roast duck breast

 kipfler (potato) chips

To accompany, we were served a ‘New York Minute’ – my notes inform me that this is based on Der Raum’s iconic 1864 Manhattan which I’ve yet to try… anyway, this creation was Brazilian Macausas cold drip filtered tequila, Antica Formula, Luxardo and whisky barrel bitters. I could have downed a gallon of this stuff happily. Again, probably wasn’t cool, but I crunched on the single coffee bean floating in the cocktail.

 new york minute

The last savoury course was an absolute winner even though by this time a lot of the diners were getting quite full. Seriously though, wouldn’t you make space for braised lamb shanks whose meat just falls off the bone? This was served with green beans, caramelised eggplant and smoked chilli and cashew nahm prik, and a bloody generous serving it was too.

 braised lamb shank

This classic-yet-jazzed-up dish was served with an extremely playful and daring drink – called ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’, it consisted of El Senorio Reposado, Colombian Tama Mountain cold drip and Cohiba infused agave nectar. Yes, it looks like an innocent espresso with an cigarette, but not quite. A few people around me struggled to finish this but not me – I wanted more! Yes, yes, we’ve already established I’m a lush (in case you couldn’t tell by my beer consumption). I didn’t smoke my cigarette and it’s on my desk, probably too stale to do anything with. Nice prop though.

 coffee & cigarettes

If you’ve stuck around this long (hopefully for the pretty pictures at least), then you’ll be pleased to know we’re at the end – dessert. Our last course was an apple and almond galette served with ‘Thor’s Affogato’. After having bumped into cocktail-making Thor at this dinner, I now know he was one of the folks sitting opposite me at St Ali’s duckfest. Anyway, minor starstruckedness: back to the affogato – a St Ali Champion espresso and maple ice cream with lashings of Amaro Nonino and Strega. Every bit as decadent as it sounds. The lack of sweetness in the galette was just perfect with this very alcoholic cocktail. I think it might have been too alcoholic for some, as I did notice people not having much of it, though to be fair, we were stuffed at this point.

 thor's affogato & apple and almond galette

Since I’ve started trying to be the best beer nerd I can be, I’ve neglected wine a little, and cocktails even more. This dinner definitely makes me want to visit Der Raum. I don’t really have anything new to add about St Ali – it doesn’t matter if you go for breakfast or lunch, or dinner (do note that nights have a completely different feel to St Ali in the daytime) as you’re always guaranteed to get great food. Also, cheers to Ben Cooper, the capable chef for coming out to say hello after the kitchen madness was done (though if you need to go to the loo, you can get a glimpse of what goes on in the kitchen – everything seems to run pretty damn smoothly).

St Ali on Urbanspoon Der Raum on Urbanspoon

(wondering about the post title? you might like to read this)

#duckfest at St Ali, squee!

Even though I’ve been to St Ali before and reviewed its delectable breakfast options before, it hasn’t been very long that they’ve been open for dinner. Understandably, the Melbourne food and coffee loving community was excited. St Ali are remarkably savvy – they’ve shown their support for the inaugural Eat Drink Blog conference in March this year, and at the time of writing this, I learnt that they are hosting a degustation with (alcoholic) mixmasters Der Raum.

Not too long ago, St Ali hosted another degustation dedicated to the duck and I got to attend. Upon welcome, diners were invited to browse the food blogger photography exhibition in St Ali East (you can find out more about it here at Tomato) and greeted with a glass of pinot gris. It was there that the first course of “duckfest” was also served – the humble Peking duck pancake. So often, I’ve had Peking duck pancakes and the pancakes have been unbalanced – too much hoisin, not fresh enough spring onion (which is a bitch to chew if not chopped up) and stodgy pancakes. Ugh. These were the most perfectly balanced ones I’d ever tried – the duck had the right amount of meat, skin and fat, the vegetable content provided a satisfying crunch to attest to its utmost freshness, and the pancake! Whisper-soft. Like eating air. Gush.

When we were ushered into St Ali proper so that the table dining experience could begin, it was communal seating. My partner and I were very fortunate to be seated opposite a Der Raum bartender and his partner – I cannot thank them enough for their patience as we photographed the dishes that were designed to be shared equally.

The first sit-down course on offer from duckfest masterminds St Ali head chef Benjamin Cooper and MuMu Grill head chef Craig Macindoe was the duck parfait with shiraz jelly and biodynamic rye bread.

 duck parfait with shiraz jelly

A lot of people on my table were put off by what is essentially pâté – but not me. Scrumptious. The shiraz jelly was the perfect contrast – wonderful texture, and not too sweet. Comparatively, more successful than Libertine’s similar such course at their Valentines’ Day dégustation.

Next up, duck consommé. Whenever I see the word ‘consommé’, I’m reminded of the scene in Tampopo when the middle-aged Japanese businessmen all order it at a fancy French restaurant. Duckfest’s consommé was served in a shot glass. I found it a little salty and a bit of an umami overload, but very warming. It seemed very Asiatic in flavour, and not just because of the spring onion.

 duck consomme

Literally and figuratively, we get to the real meat of the meal, beginning with the crispy duck breast with deconstructed XO sauce. I’m not entirely sure how a sauce can be classified as ‘deconstructed’, but I’m guessing perhaps this one had less ingredients? In any case, it whet my appetite for more duck. I may have demolished it gracelessly due to enthusiasm.

 crispy duck breast with xo sauce

The next offering was duck san choi bow (with shredded duck leg), accompanied with freshly shucked oysters and kim chi. Oh my. It was pretty hard to share this! The duck was so delicately flavoured, and so tender, and the kim chi very addictive. Regarding oysters – you will never hear me utter a complaint against them. This was a very well received dish, even though the duck had a similar flavour profile to the consommé: the latter being more concentrated. It’d be wonderful if this were a regular main – somewhere, anywhere. It has me a little enchanted.

 duck 'san choi bow'

Alas, all good things must pass…onto better things, the roast duck breast with wilted tatsoi, poached pear and sherry glaze. Again, I found it a smidgen too salty but oh, how succulent the breast was. What a tasty tease.

 roast duck breast

The last savoury course was much anticipated given it is often thought of as a grotesque gustatory offering – turducken. It sounds so junk-food indulgent due to the fact that it contains so much meat. However, in Tudor times, it was customary at feasts to ‘invent’ imaginary animals as a spectacle no doubt to impress guests. This meant constructing a beast made of the meat of several existing animals. The immediate popular culture reference that might come to mind is Heston Blumenthal’s recreation of the Tudor feast. If you search appropriately on YouTube, the relevant clips will come up. A slight digression. So, turducken: it has its origins in aristocratic dining…


Accompanied by a gorgeous mixed leaf salad. There were also duck fat potatoes.

 mixed leaf salad

Our table seemed to have divided opinions on this dish, and it wasn’t gobbled up as enthusiastically as the other courses. It’s definitely a lot of meat to scoff down. I think I was just glad to have tried it. It wasn’t literally a turkey with a duck with a chicken inside of the duck, but rather a very refined meatloaf-terrine hybrid. We also had the added bonus of guinea fowl (keep up! turkey stuffed with duck, then stuffed with chicken, and lastly stuffed with guinea fowl). Quite the grotesque, fascinating culinary masterpiece.

If some of the diners had trouble processing the idea of turducken, it was immediately forgotten when dessert came out: duck egg caramel served with fresh papaya and pineapple pieces which were meant to be dipped into the caramel. A lot of the diners around me found the duck egg too rich and unsurprisingly, too ‘ducky’. My main concern was whether or not I was still allergic to duck eggs! As a child in the Philippines, I enjoyed egg flans made from duck eggs, which were larger than chicken eggs. I loved it, but my body rebelled and broke out in itchy hives. It’s challenging, but I’ll be damned if I leave any dessert unfinished! We were instructed that the fresh fruit was meant to be dipped into the caramel, and I feel that this didn’t quite work. Papaya, when ripe, is very slippery, so perhaps it needed to be served slightly green. The caramel didn’t adhere to the fruit, so the serving suggestion was rendered unsuccessful. Perhaps, rather than chunks, the fruit could have been cut up a little thinner so that the suggested method of enjoying the dessert could be achieved? I realise this seems nitpicky, but I gave up in frustration and ate my fruit and caramel separately.

 duck egg caramel

There was an extremely tempting wine list for the evening, but due to driving duties (sob!), I only had a single glass of the Delta Pinot Noir 2008 from New Zealand. I have however included the complete wine list below, much thanks to Ben Cooper.

MuMu headman Craig Macindoe has provided heaps of wonderful infomation on his blog about the origins of his produce for the evening. Reading through it was most certainly illuminating.

Having paid $65 a head for dinner for the evening was ridiculously good value. There will be the more expensive Der Raum one this week and if you’re able to go, you should be in for an absolute treat.

St Ali on Urbanspoon

the patron saint of coffee

Even though it’s a fair trek from my edge of Melbourne, the specialty coffee roasting house St Ali in South Melbourne is absolutely worth the journey. Admittedly, I’m not a big coffee drinker (sadly, coffee doesn’t interact well with some long-term medication I’m on) so it always feels indulgent to have it.

Even more so at St Ali. I’ve tried three different blends (though rotation of blends is constant) and the aromas and tasting notes have always been markedly different from one another. I genuinely had no idea coffee could be so diverse – it’s like wine, beer and tea. Going to places like this inspires me to want to learn more.

It seemed an excellent idea to revisit for a birthday breakfast. My partner had a short black of an Ethiopian blend, and I tried the syphon. I was curious to know what was special about the syphon coffee and was told it was tea-like. Being a mad tea fiend, that was enough to convince me.

The syphon coffee is very mellow – as if all the harshness has been squeezed out of the coffee. It comes in a very fancy contraption.

syphon coffee

The first time I had breakfast here, I went with the classic traditional breakfast – scrambled eggs, bacon and braised beans. Tomato relish and sourdough always comes with eggs (and of course you have the choice of poached, scrambled or fried).

trad breffix

Even though it looks simple, do not ignore fruit toast as a choice. This places does the breakfast basics beautifully.

fruit toast

For birthday breakfast, more recently, I nearly went the eggs again. I thought that would be silly and a little safe. I opted for the grilled salmon instead. I’m determined for a childhood of canned sardines not to get me down. These very adult sardines were served with slow cooked tomato, a pepper and apple compote with a dressing of mint, parsley and capers. Hiding underneath all that was rye bread. It sure sounds a mouthful, and a delicious one it was too.

grilled sardines

My partner had the sultan’s eggs – eggs (poached or fried, the former being chosen) with sourdough soldiers, cumin salt, herb salsa and garlic yoghurt. Judging by the speed on consumption, it was very much enjoyed.

the sultan's eggs

Would have loved to have gone to the Melbourne food blogger dinner St Ali are offering, but it booked out pretty quickly. However, there is an upcoming duck dégustation that I’ll be going to, and naturally hope to report on that.

Cheers St Ali for a great birthday breakfast, and some stellar service. It’ll be good to see you soon.

St Ali on Urbanspoon