Amidst the dull grey of an industrial block, the active hum of dozens of people happily eating, chatting and chortling spills out onto the streets and echoes down the laneways. In a less public area of South Melbourne, there is more to this place than meets the eye.
Table centrepieces include delicate saplings growing from second-hand plastic buckets and for water jugs, recycled longnecks. It is a tree hugger's paradise and the random, recycle-oriented theme matches the bouncy, charismatic and slightly eccentric staff.
Introverts beware! If you are seeking a quiet, thoughtful spot to read your book on the weekend, you may want to wait till after peak hour for a visit. If you do choose to brave the crowds, St Ali's will more than likely be packed to the rafters.
On my last visit, during a Sunday lunch rush, the waitress led me through a maze of noisy revellers, to a table where I found myself seated directly across from an unsuspecting couple of randoms who I greeted sheepishly, before burying my nose into my menu. But there's a reason the hordes mass here.
St Ali roasts their own coffee that results in a variety of luxurious blends. The house blend is a safe bet with beans from both Guatemala and Colombia. Alternatively if you are feeling festive and are willing to spend an extra 80c, you may want to sample the coffee of the day, which changes daily and includes blends from Colombia, Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Mexico, Burundi, Kenya, El Salvador, India & Indonesia.
The menu is inspired, and each dish has is own personal flair that would set it apart from the same dish in another venue. Menu marvels I have sampled include: Meredith, Mr Girello, Omega Love and St Ali Burger Royal with Cheese. These dishes are as flamboyant as their names and are made with first-rate produce.
The art in the laneway was actually born when St Ali hosted a street party, where a group of local street artists were asked to paint their work on the surrounding buildings, in hopes of creating an artistic vibe in a generally boring collection of structures.
Whether you've come to feed your face, or admire the art, Yarra Place is your one stop coffee shop, street exhibit and food fix. There is everything to love and nothing to hate in this spirited lane-way.