8 Kingsway Cronulla, New South Wales 223002 9544 0756
|Opening hours||Fri-Sun noon-3pm; daily from 6pm|
|Features||Outdoor seating, Bar|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
Thai restaurants in Australia have a long and proud history when it comes to naming conventions. Think of some of Sydney's gems: Thai Me Up, Thai-namic, Thai One, Thairanosaurus, Thai the Knot. So what do you do when you want to open a Thai restaurant that's not like the others?
You name it after a Prince song, as the owners of Cronulla restaurant Alphabet Street have done. Before the move south, Oriana De Luca and Joe Natale owned Rambutan on Oxford Street. Their chef, Tiw Rak Arin, has come, too.
Alphabet Street is a Thai restaurant, but also not a Thai restaurant. There's not a bronze Buddha or hanging lantern to be seen. Instead, the fitout is breezily industrial, with a faux wall of green behind the bar to offset the coolness of the wood and concrete. The restaurant is at the beach end of Kingsway, practically on the water, with a few tables outside that should be snagged if the weather is good.
I'm disappointed to learn the name is where the Prince link begins and ends: staff don't wear raspberry berets. But they are exceptionally friendly and go out of their way to be helpful. There's a sense of fun here, so a cocktail is a good way to begin - try the excellent, spicy, kaffir lime-flavoured Thai bloody mary.
The menu has its Thai staples, there's papaya salad and stir-fried morning glory and lamb massamum, as it's spelt here, but also Peking duck pancakes and salt-and-pepper squid - food you can, of course, eat in Thailand, but not standard national dishes.
The squid is excellent: crispy, slightly spicy and not in the least bit chewy, served with a sour lemon sauce and finely sliced bird's-eye chilli.
One of the most interesting smaller dishes is a betel leaf wrapped around prawns and peanuts, all encased in an egg net. A great contrast of texture and flavour, it is served at the table in a birdcage for no apparent motivation other than whimsy. Less successful is an overly sweet small pancake wrapped around omelet, tofu and cucumber, served with tamarind sauce, blueberries and passionfruit. It needs salt or spice to balance the sweetness.
Larger dishes are designed to be shared, too large to be eaten - with dignity - on one's own. Pla lad prik is a whole, sweet and sour, deep-fried fish - tonight it's snapper. This is the Prince of dishes, if you will: a riot of colour and a stranger to understatement, the fish decorated with sliced radish, plump, translucent lychees, sweet pineapple, cherry tomatoes, lilac flowers, little branches of fresh green pepper and sliced green chilli. The fish is golden outside, tender within, and supports the strong flavours beautifully.
Knives aren't offered with the massamum, because they'd be redundant: the slow-cooked lamb shanks are so tender the meat needs barely a prod before it falls away onto its bed of mashed sweet potato and citrus and cinnamon flavoured curry. A wonderfully flaky naan - more like a roti, really - is perfect for mopping up the sauce.
The menu is dessert-free but staff happily recite the two on offer tonight: Alphabet Street's version of tiramisu, or coconut jelly. The ''Thairamisu'' is much like the Italian original, with coffee-soaked sponge and mascarpone cream, but with a non-traditional surprise of a popping candy layer. Tradition with a nod to fun: that's Alphabet Street.
Modern take on Thai.
Massamum curry, pla lad prik (crispy whole fish), stir-fried morning glory.