I dined courtesy of Craig, one of the owners of Saint James Cafe. Opinions are still my own. And if I had to choose how I would describe my experience? Surpassing Expectations.
Consumed: Beef Tacos and Fish Finger Butty
Drank: Coffee – Long Black
Located in Malvern and close to the Tooronga train station, this is one place I would recommend that you catch public transport too. Or have a heap of patience. You will get a car parking spot, and you got to be willing to walk a little, to get the cafe. But once there, this place has the right kind of feel – vintage on the outside and trendy on the inside.
Having a chat with Craig, I wanted to know what were the items that he would recommend on the menu – without hesitation, he mentioned the Beef Tacos and Fish finger butty. Unbeknown to him, internally, I had already chosen the tacos, and wasn’t convinced about the fish. Like most Australians, I enjoy my fish greasy and from the local fish and chip shop. So seeing an upmarket and trendy take on it would be intriguing to say the least.
The long black was the first item out the door. Coming from their own brew, These Days (half Colombian and half Brazillian), shared with their sister cafes I found it to be quite an interesting drink. First – it had bold flavours and I couldn’t ascertain which ones were in there. I thought I could taste either almond or hazelnut. There was a nut flavour in there for sure, but I didn’t ask what one. Either way, it was delicious and their own blend. Besides, I liked the fact that they served it with a shot of sparkling water – that’s the number one sign I look out for in a coffee place that knows that they take their coffee seriously as it helps to clean the palette to taste all the different tones in the brew.
Beef Tacos: brown ale braised brisket, tamarind BBQ sauce, house slaw, charred corn, fresh coriander and lime (21)
First and foremost, the presentation. It was like the holy trifecta was presented to me!
Three awesome soft shell tacos. How would I go about tackling this beast? They looked so amazing, that I wanted to encase it in a glass container and put it on show. The tamarind sauce had the beautiful smell too contrasted well with the colours of the fresh slaw.
My first attempt was to try and eat it by rolling it up. MASSIVE FAIL.
So then I had to the culture thing of eating it with a fork and knife. It was the most uncoordinated thing I have ever experienced. I am so used to hard shell tacos or having a kebab, that this kinda threw me. Though it allowed me to have an unfettered access to the experience of all the various items mixed together. I was not convinced with adding lime. Maybe it’s just me, but it brings back memories of drinking Coronas (beer) or doing vodka shots (I know it’s meant to be a lemon, but when has having shots ever made sense? Or lead to making good decisions…) I AM SO GLAD I DID. The flavours took on a whole new meaning once I added it to the second taco. It was finished way faster than I would like to write. And the third one followed suit. But this time, I infused the fork and knife AND the wrap method (once the contents got smaller) and the lime was the icing on the cake! I was sold on this dish alone. I say, take the journey from wherever you are to try these tacos!
Fish finger butty: market fish, crushed pea aioli, dill and cabbage salad on fresh white bread (16)
When it arrived, I was not convinced. The tacos had blown me away, this one. It was… well, too simple. Boy, was I in for a shock. In all my time doing reviews, I am yet to come across a meal where the fish was done in the way this was served up. One, there was no oil. At all. And the meat was so tender and the flavour managed to scour through the fish even though it was clearly crumbed. Mind. Blown. Then, top it with the combination of the aioli, dill and cabbage and you had one amazing dish that really gave me a new found appreciation for simplicity in meals. Sometimes, it’s in taking away things that you can make an item great. And I must admit, the chef has done a phenomenal job. If the tacos is something I raved about, the fish finger butty is like… let’s see. Imagine a war movie and your leading your band of soldiers and have full faith in your gunner (tacos) and not sure what to make of the other guy you were given (the fish butty) who carries a single sword, except you were told he is “worth” it. The tacos delivered and then you’re cornered and the butty comes to the rescue. He is the quiet stoic warrior in the back, that turns to the enemy and says calmly “let’s do this”. And deals a single blow (with his sword, that just so happens to be a light saber) that takes down an entire 100 man squad. Yes. That was the Butty ladies and gentlemen. Simply delicious. I tried the other half with lime and I was in heaven. This butty made me into putty. Hats off to the chef!
With the Tacos at 21 and Butty at 16 – the coffee (4) rounded it out to $41. It is the average price that you would expect to pay. No one would have two meals like I did, heck I wouldn’t recommend it, but on their own – each meal would leave you satiated before you needed a refuel at dinner. I didn’t need to eat dinner that night. I was that content!
I loved the vibe – the music was on point. Nothing too fast or slow, just the right kind of tempo that allowed you to enjoy your meal. The place was spacious enough to hold both a busy cafe style bustle and a more dine-in feature. Plus the outdoor courtyard made for a great sunny day retreat.
The service was impeccable. Craig greeted me the moment I entered and I was served my coffee almost straight away. The time to clean up post-meal was quite remarkable too. Even though there were only 2 people serving at the time of my review, it felt like they had 5 people in there.
The Domestic Traveller Special
Saint James has only been in operation for the last 7 months. It’s a story of two hard working guys that want to travel the world and started off their journey in Australia. They take their customer feedback so seriously, that they have even changed their menu twice in the short period of time and to be honest, it shows! There is nothing more thrilling and validating as a customer to know that someone listened to you.
The other interesting thing is their coffee machine from Slayer. Being the first cafe in the world to order this machine, it uses steam to produce the perfect amount of milk to water ratio. Shot volumes, brew temperatures and steam settings are available to be calculated individually via a digital dashboard. The brew alone is worth the trip – just to experience the new way of making coffee.