I’ve got a cheeky day off work. Shall I stay home and do housework? Snuggle up and read books or go to a film? or shall I adventure out on the Number 8 tram to South Yarra, visit a cheekily named noodle bar and get me some noodles…
You know it.
So a year ago I discovered St Ali at Night. Chef Benjamin Cooper cooked for all us hungry, hunnnnggggrreee bloggers at the end of the inaugural food bloggers conference Eat Drink Blog.
A room of 50 food obsessed people, drunk on the power of connecting in person and talking, talking, talking about food, wine, food, cocktails, food and blogging. That’s a tough audience to cut through no matter how hungry we were. But I remember the taste of the broth that came around the ox cheek ravioli. Oh how I remember it …salty, citrusy, sweet, sour …balanced. It was a revelation and it stopped conversation at our table more than the fishheads.
This was my first experience with Benjamin’s food. I’ve eaten at St Ali both in the day time and at night time several times since then.
I was keen to try out the new outpost (hah!) of the St Ali empire, just across the lane from Outpost in South Yarra, a short walk from the tram stop or the South Yarra train station. I’m not often in South Yarra, and was a bit surprised that the “laneway” was bright and shiny new and faced with an igloo full of shoes the day I visited. I guess that’s a South Yarra version of a laneway then?
Anyway – food … as I walking down Yarra Street I could smell the chilli and fishsauce, and I started salivating.
I slid the heavy door open and entered into an concrete and mesh design den. It’s dark, with polished concrete and honey coloured timber. Outside looks like it’s been cladded in old pallet timber - lovingly and very neatly cut packing timber, but you know what I mean. Inside there are cupbaords with cutout doors. There’s a large communal table and a fewer than I expected small round tables for two or three. It’s slick, but warm and welcoming.
I sit at the concrete bar that separates the kitchen from the dining room and I can smell chilli and woks and all manner of good thing. The menu is split into wok noodles, soup noodles and salad noodles.
The Hokkien Noodle with slow roast BBQ pork is usually served with oyster mushrooms as well as the broccoli stems, chilli and garlic ($17), but it wasn’t any bother for the kitchen to whip me up a version without the mushrooms. The noodles were nice and springy, the broccoli crisp and there was just enough chilli there to be taken seriously, but not too scarily. If you really like chilli, I’d ask them to amp it up for you.
For the Spicy Pork Wonton Soup ($16.50), Benjamin made the wontons to order, and they were poached in a good flavoured broth (the stocks are made inhouse, and you sure can taste the difference) and served with egg noodles and shaved cabbage. Delicious and moreish.
I was lucky enough to dine the same day as their liquor licence arrived, so I enjoyed an asian beer with my cheeky lunchtime treat. From this week they will be open nights and will serve the cold and hungry masses that live in the many apartments nearby.
Sure you can get cheaper noodle dishes in cardboard cartons around the corner somewhere – but they won’t taste a patch on this food, and you won’t get anywhere near as much cheap filler at MoPho. The flavour is good and the ingredients top notch. It’s not making me want to move to South Yarra, but it’s definitely worth a visit.
Next time I want to try the Yellow Curry of Coconut Braised Chicken with Son-In-Law Egg and Mint ($19.50) or the Rendang of Brisket, Pumpkin and Ginger ($20.00) or the Pho, or a noodle salad … maybe some roti?
Oh yeh – and the panda with the green mohawk – that’s pretty cute Ben!
Read about the interior design on Habitus Living
Michael from My Aching Head likes it (and was visiting again the same day I was)
and the Very Very Hungry Caterpillar rates the Pad Thai.