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Relaxed, friendly brunch place with the best banana bread dish I've had

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One of the latest in the the tide of Antipodean cafes in London, St Ali, at 27 Clerkenwell Rd, EC1M 5RN is the UK branch of a Melbourne cafe established 11 years ago. I went a few weeks ago with 2 friends and as an "appetizer" had an astounding banana bread dish - 2 slices toasted and topped with date-orange jam and coffee mascarpone, served with maple syrup on the plate and large twirly sesame tuiles. I would normally never order banana bread as I make it myself, but the toppings made it outstanding, and it was around £4.50 - great value. I'm not a coffee expert, but my friends are and rated it. Apparently it is "Cult of Done" - love the name.

The savory selections were not as outstanding as the banana bread, but reasonable. 'My Mexican Cousin' was the best - corn fritters with poached eggs, halloumi and a tomatoey relish, salty and sweet flavors that made interesting mouthfuls. The Dutch Oven - house-braised beans on toasted sourdough with salted ricotta, lemon and mint was underseasoned and unwieldy - beans and salad leaves piled on one chunk of bread that was difficult to see, let alone cut. Still, I'd go back for more mexican cousins and to try their other dishes - but mostly to get banana bread. As of June 13,2011, they don't serve food all day and have just tapas platters in the evenings, but they plan to expand their menu and kitchen hours. It's packed for brunch - try to arrive before 11 - but spacious and not terrible noise-wise. I'm moving to Clerkenwell next month and can't wait to try local places like Dovetail & Bistrot Passage Cafe - more posts to follow.

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The Clerkenwell
69-73 St. John Street, London EC1M 4AN, GB

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  1. I love banana bread - and also make my own - and believe it is a very Antipodean thing to toast it and serve it at brunch. I also love dates so the date and orange jam sounds an excellent topping. Wish more places here offered date shakes like you get in the California desert. Have you tried the Veneticus Gelateria on Clerkenwell Rd. I posted about recently?

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    The Clerkenwell
    69-73 St. John Street, London EC1M 4AN, GB

    1. We went to St Ali for breakfast/brunch today. It was pretty busy at 10am. We ordered coffee to start, while we looked at the menu. But while my hubby's capuccino came within 5 minutes, I was still waiting for my latte even after he had finished. Then the waitress brought along another capuccino which we hadn't ordered but as soon as she realised that, she offered it to us for free. So my hubby finished another capuccino while I waited for my latte. It did eventually arrive along with the French toast (with maple syrup, vanilla marscapone and caramelised walnuts) and toasted banana bread (with orange-date jam and espresso marscapone). The coffee was great, so much better than the dishwater that Costa/Starbucks et al dish out. I'm not a coffee connoisseur, but just want something that tastes of more than milk and water. The food was really good. I would rate the banana bread over the French toast. Toasting banana bread is an Australian thing - my husband used to have it regularly for weekend brunch in Canberra. Good portions for the price for this part of London.
      The service was a bit all over the place, epitomised by the coffee confusion and delay in our case. There were quite a few wait staff, but it was difficult to catch their attention. But, to their credit, they had the good grace to charge us for only one coffee. All the waitresses and waiters were very friendly as well. We will definitely return to this place with friends. It has a cool vibe, good coffee and good food.