Adjoining Nicholson Street’s Velo Cycles on the border of Carlton North and Brunswick East, St ALi North’s position is an undeniable coup for owner and indefatigable cafe mogul Salvatore Malatesta, most notably because it sits slap-bang one of Melbourne’s busiest commuter bike paths, the Capital City Trail. “It’s magical,” Malatesta enthuses. “You just can’t make that stuff up.” And we all know how much those northsiders love their bikes. And their fancy coffee. Oh yes, shrewd move indeed.
But before we write the whole thing off as a clichéd Portlandia-esque parody, it’s worth noting that the list of key players behind the project (which reads like an all-star cast) is extremely well placed to keep things wholly authentic, suitably interesting and pretty damn tasty.
Malatesta’s official ‘coffee guy’, 2012 World Brewer’s Cup Champion Matt Perger has cherry-picked North’s talented crew of baristas from some of Melbourne’s (and the world’s) best cafes, including alumni from Market Lane, Seven Seeds and Patricia as well as London’s legendary Flat White. Naturally, coffee features heavily and you can expect switched-on expertise, in-house roasting and plenty of the associated gadgetry. “Our roaster here isn’t huge so [the roasting] is going to be very focused, very small,” says Perger. “There’s a emphasis on food-coffee matching too, so we’ll be roasting small batches of what we think is interesting and what works well with the kitchen’s ever-evolving menu,” he explains.
The creative muscle out back comes via skilled pastry chef Shaun Quade (Duchess of Spotswood, The Brix, Royal Mail Hotel) and head chef Chris Hamburger, who has spent several years working alongside Jesse Gerner (North’s co-owner and menu ‘curator’) at Anada and The Ayeslbury. Gerner declares North’s cafe menu as “Melbourne-influenced, which has a lot to do with how we source our produce” and is visibly excited by the prospect of shifting his focus down a few gears to suit a much more casual style of eating. “We’re having a lot of fun with it!” he declares.
The kitchen team’s restaurant-standard attention to detail is evident in the menu’s combo of jazzed-up cafe classics sitting alongside some impressively sophisticated and delicately-plated lunch fare; think heirloom tomato salad, buffalo burrata with edible flowers and olive oil dust or the bone marrow, morcilla and coffee with fennel-caper salad. You’ll also find high-end lunch boxes for taking away as well as an impressive spread of Quade’s gorgeous pastries and baked goods. Salmon and bacon are smoked in-house and kitchen staff will get their hands properly dirty in the planned onsite kitchen garden, which Gerner envisions as “a big rambling patch filled with herbs, sweet celery, nasturtiums and edible flowers”. They’ve also invested in a gas-powered Gaia organic waste recycling system, which will turn 100 kilos of the cafe’s food waste into nutrient-rich fertiliser each day.
In collaboration with neighbouring Velo Cycles, North aims to cater to the bike crowd with free air for flats and a roving bike mechanic making spot repairs. Add to the mix a private PO box service (yes, you can pick up your freshly-roasted beans after hours), ‘ride-through’ coffee for busy bike commuters and a generous swathe of sprawl-friendly outdoor green space we reckon folks from any direction will be pretty chuffed to head North.