A couple of friends alerted me to the opening of The Alley four months ago. Touted as a vegan burger spot, I imagined late Saturday nights on Brunswick St. Far from it! The Alley operates from a St Kilda Rd office block, primarily for lunch, and is closed on Sundays. Nevertheless, it's got the look - the bright yellows, millennial pinks, neon lights and line drawings remind me of Hobart's Veg Bar and just about any fro-yo bar you could name.
The menu takes the healthified, superfood-infused approach. There are chia puddings and acai bowls for breakfast, macro and taco bowls for lunch; noodles are made from seaweed and spaghetti is made from squash. Fries are actually air baked and instead of shakes there are smoothies shot through with coconut water, almond milk, pea protein, macca and (they've hit me with a new one!) camu camu.
Air-baked fries ($6.95) lack crispness but are beautifully fluffy on the inside. The almond parmesan and crispy kale crowning the potato wedges (pictured above, top right) were nifty, and we liked the herb-salted sweet potato fries even better.
The mac'n'cheese (front left is small [$6.95] and gluten-free [+$2.50], top right is large [$10.95]) is on a par with my favourite vegan recipes - smooth and savoury and very, very rich. They stretch the white-bean cashew sauce out with sweet corn, then sprinkle the tub with crispy kale and coconut bacon.
And what of those burgers? The vegan brioche buns (pictured above, right) are perfect for those of us who like our bread soft and sweet, and my coeliac companion K rated the gluten-free ones highly too (pictured left, +$2.50). The five burger options lightly mock meat without using processed soy or gluten-based products: there's more coconut bacon, scrambled tofu, pulled jackfruit and a 'beet steak' among them.
Toby ordered that beet steak (pictured with the mac'n'cheese above left, $12.95), K tried the eggplant-based 'mi_so hungry' (left, $12.95), and I went for the brekky burger ($9.95). They all tasted great, though in combination with the sauces and the insubstantial buns, it all got a bit squishy-mushy. Only the coconut bacon really held its own in flavour and texture.
There are the inevitable raw cakes but thank heavens, the Alley also sanction the baking of cakes, cookies and doughnuts. There's even a soft-serve machine! I've never been a cupcake fiend, but I'm glad I made an exception for this Snickers-themed one ($4.95) with its caramel drizzle and crispy sprinklings.
The Alley is infuriatingly on-trend and fitted out with all the current fad foods. But they're assembling them into some genuinely tasty meals! I could definitely see myself swinging by for more when I'm south of the river, if only they were open for more than five hours on the weekend.
The Alley has won fans in fellow veg*n food blogs Veganish, messy veggies and Vegetarian Burger Life. Omnivorous blogs Short & Stout and gastrology seem to have been drawn in by freebies, and are also positive in their comments.
417 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
meals, desserts, smoothies, takeaway & beverages
Accessibility: The entry is flat and wide. Furniture is spaciously distributed, a mixture of standard and high tables, with backed seats, booth seats and stools. We ordered and paid at a low counter. Toilets were located outside the cafe elsewhere in the building and I didn't visit them.