After reading about St Ali’s opening in Farringdon, I just had to try it out the next time I was back for a weekend. It’s just that close. Anyone from Melbourne, who is into their food and coffee (and really, who isn’t when they’re from there) will know about St Ali. My first day in the office and someone introduced me to Brother Baba Budan (previous post here) in the city serving their coffee, and I had a really wonderful weekend brunch at their main location.
After reading a couple of reviews about the place already in London, things looked pretty good. I organised to catch up with a couple of friends at St Ali this weekend just gone, and unfortunately I have to report, they have a bit to get going before it’s going to win any awards.
Scheduled to meet my friends at 12:30, I thought I should arrive a little earlier to get a table, knowing how frustrating waiting can be. Things looked positive. As soon as I walked in, I asked for table for three, and they asked for me politely to wait by the door. It wasn’t long after that I was seated and whilst I waited (I still had at least 10 minutes to go) asked if I wanted any coffees.
Let’s get the review under way:
St Ali in London is associated with coffee, and if they couldn’t get this right, I genuinely would have been worried for what they had to stand for. Fortunately the flat white (£2.40) delivered according to expectation with a well made espresso and not too much milk like the terrible lattes served around town.
It was also great not being rushed off our tables. Things were casual, although service didn’t seem to note when we needed something. The perfect charm of not being hassled when you didn’t want to be might have been something else where, actually, you were almost being ignored. It worked quite well for some time.
When the food arrived (more on that later), I had some good reports. The names on the menu are playful and whilst some people report them as annoying, give you a good idea on what you’re ordering. I was a little disappointed by the French Toast I had (the bread a little too dry), however the toasted walnuts provided some excellent contrast and the classic sweet/salty combinations worked like a charm.
We had a few problems with the bill (more on that later as well) and the second time, they took all the coffees off the bill. Nice to see them immediately respond to a problem pointed out to them… multiple times.
Unfortunately, my list of things they can improve are much, much longer. And I’m sure they’re good reasons for it. Living locally, I would hope they find time to up their game.
What soured our experience
Being asked for drinks was a good start. Juice was drunk. Coffee appreciated and then we started getting hungry. It took us a while to flag someone for food, and things looked good when our order was taken down. With our food taken down, I should have been more observant to see them actually put it through to the kitchen. Someone tried to bring us food that we didn’t order, however a simple indication that there were two dishes for the three of us helped them see it wasn’t for us.
We fretted a bit more, when a couple of people, arriving much after us, got their food order sooner than we did. Not just them, but another table. Twenty more minutes on and we asked to see if we had any more progress. Apparently not so much. The food did arrive, and I was so ravenous that I forgot to take pictures – definitely not like me.
The food was pretty good in general. I wouldn’t order the French Toast again though because the bread seemed a little bit too dry to really soak up the delicious maple syrup and fork the perfect combo of salty bacon, crispy walnut and soft bread. Was it worth the £? I’ve had better.
Despite the hiccups in the ordering, we finally asked for the bill. It was nice not being rushed off, however it seemed to take a while to make eye contact and get someone to bring us the bill. What arrived was a surprising four dishes plus extras. Although I may have been hungry, and we were originally served just two meals, these numbers don’t exactly even out.
We asked again for our bill and what arrived was a slight repeat of the first. We finally managed to get a bill (fifteen minutes later) that represented almost what we had only to find an extra coffee on it. Considering that this place serves a cheeky (12.5% service), that extra coffee does make a little difference. We pointed out this mistake and at least our waitress (points definitely for being friendly) took off all our coffees. This equated to approximately the service we would have asked to have been taken off given all of this galavanting. Oh, and did I mention they only accept one credit card – what are we? In Australia? This is why we have advanced portable, technical machines. If you’re going to charge 12.5%, at least earn it? Grrr.
Being a local place, and one where I had a good experience in Australia, I’m hopeful for things to get better. When we finally managed to pay, we were told the excuse, oh, we had Time Out come review us yesterday and still trying to recover.
What? I’m sorry. London deserves better than this. One doesn’t expect people who review a place to be better treated than those who might come everyday. That excuse just doesn’t cut it here. Use the excuse that you’re just opening. Don’t use excuses that allow you to treat people differently depending on what you get out of it.
Coffee is good. Food is promising. I’m still hopeful about the dining and eating in experience you can have.