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My Melbourne: Salvatore Malatesta

16 Jul 2016

One of Melbourne’s most respected coffee pioneers opens up on his history and coffee’s place in the city.

Salvatore Malatesta has, over the past decade, established himself and his cafes – St Ali in South Melbourne, Sensory Lab in Little Collins Street and many more throughout the city and inner suburbs – at the forefront of what he terms the ‘third wave’ of coffee in Melbourne. With a hospitality resume the envy of many Melburnians, he’s well-placed to recommend some of his favourite local places.

Of course, he wasn’t always destined to become one of the city’s coffee lords. “My parents owned a pizzeria,” he says, “and I was a pizza maker when I was 13, 14, 15 years old. They were desperate to send me off to be a doctor, a lawyer or a priest.”

While he lacked the scientific brain to become a doctor and the constitution to become a priest, Malatesta graduated university with a law degree. And after 18 months as a lawyer – “I’ve also owned a fashion label for three years called Rubric, a travel agency business and a few other bits and pieces”, he points out – it became clear that coffee was his calling.

He opened his first coffee outlet, Caffeine, in the mid-90s while still at uni, but it wasn’t until 2006 when Malatesta took over St Ali, in an unassuming South Melbourne side street, that his reputation in the industry started ascending. It was also a time when, as they were all around the world, diners were looking for a change.

“Melburnians have always had a massive love affair with coffee since the first wave of Italian migrants, so it wasn’t difficult to encourage people to drink single estate coffee. But then the GFC hit. As a result, restaurants became too expensive for many people and cafes became hybrid restaurant-cafes.

“What I mean by that is, where they would’ve previously ordered the smashed avocado on toast, people were ordering ox tongue pastrami and they were getting the kind of fare – and service – that they might usually get in a restaurant.”

These days, although Melbourne’s dining scene is once again thriving, coffee is still the city’s lifeblood. And Salvatore Malatesta is more than a little responsible for that.

Salvatore's Melbourne Picks

Restaurant If you’re wanting fancy, Supernormal [180 Flinders Lane] at the moment is pretty hot and very good. For a bit of a laugh, I’d recommend Welcome to Thornbury [520 High Street, Northcote]. It’s a basic set up of food trucks and a bar, but it’s been done well.

Bar The rooftop of the European, Siglo [2/161 Spring Street], opposite Parliament, even though it’s no longer “cool” because it’s been there for 17 years, is still one of the nicest rooftops in the city.

Breakfast St Ali of course! But if I wasn’t recommending my own venue, I’d say Ora Cafe [156 Pakington Street, Kew].

Precinct The precinct around Domain Road [South Yarra] and the Royal Botanic Gardens [Birdwood Avenue] is just really pretty. Even in peak hour traffic, you feel like you’re in the country even though you’re only a few tram stops from the city.

Walk Walking all the way down Flinders Lane from Spring Street, including a detour up and down Hosier Lane, is a must-do. You’ll see galleries like fortyfivedownstairs [45 Flinders Lane], which give you a sense of the richness of Melbourne’s fabric.

View I love going to the Shrine of Remembrance [Birdwood Avenue] and sitting up top, looking over the city. It’s so relaxing.

Hidden Secret Dean Sunshine’s book, Land of Sunshine, which documents Melbourne’s street art during the period 2010-2012. If you’re into street art, it’s a great place to start.