Carla Grossetti

As Shire types will quickly tell you, much of the charm of Cronulla has to do with its proximity to the water. 

But it also has a proliferation of great bars and restaurants, a grungy live music venue, an artisan bakery and a seriously good gelateria. The dining scene is definitely changing in this seaside suburb, for the better.

Here is our guide to an exciting mix of old and new spots – from top-notch restaurants to cult cafes and a rejigged RSL.

Contemporary Thai ... Alphabet St. Click for more photos

Cronulla: best places to eat and drink

Contemporary Thai ... Alphabet St. Photo: Brianne Makin

Breakfast and brunch

Locals could barely contain their glee when Harry and Mario Kapoulas opened HAM, a über-popular spot for breakfast, brunch and lunch. The clamorous corner caff – which doles out mean paninis ($10.90) and platters of antipasti ($13.50) – has taken things up a notch with the opening of the Gerrale Street Corner Farmers' Market every Saturday morning. Hug a hippy a few doors up at the Hari Krishna-run Heart & Soul Organic Chai Cafe, with house-crafted chai ($3.50) and a mixed plate of vegetarian fare ($11). Post-surf, do as the locals do and order a grilled barramundi burger ($12) at cult cafe Two Figs, or a bacon and egg roll ($5) at North Cronulla Beach Kiosk.

Ham Cronulla, 3/17 Gerrale Street, 8521 7219
Heart and Soul Organic Chai Cafe, Suite 6/17 Gerrale Street, 9523 6146
Two Figs, 35 Mitchell Road, 9544 3222
North Cronulla Beach Kiosk, 1 Prince Street, 0413 140 575

Places to eat and drink

The Old Library & Bar was one of the first restaurants to shake things up in Cronulla. The elegantly appointed dining room is popular with everyone from assorted local luminaries to neighbourhood friends. Perch at the bar and enjoy an antipasti platter piled high with prosciutto, salumi, melon and mustard fruit ($39). Croydon Lane Wine & Tapas Bar is another game-changer. Ask chef George Sideris (ex-Glass) to rustle up a rustic delicacy such as the octopus escabeche with smoked chorizo and kipfler potato confit ($16). The Duck Republic Kitchen & Bar has also found its groove in its intimate new premises. Go-to dishes are roast duck betel leaves with peanut praline ($20) and “pecan” duck ($33). Joe Natale and Oriana de Luca further impressed locals when they lured Toey Boonyapat (ex-Nahm) to run the contemporary Thai restaurant Alphabet Street. The results are in: his food is excellent. A standout is the yam pak ($24), a salad of lotus root, apple eggplant and starfruit tamarind.

Old Library & Bar, 15 Surf Road, 9544 5360
Croydon Lane Wine & Tapas Bar, Shop 8/30 Kingsway, 0434 742 265

The Duck Republic, 2/59-65 Gerrale Street, 9527 9427
Alphabet Street, 5/8 Kingsway, 9544 0756

Hot off the press

Pilgrims is a wholefood cafe that has been doing beautiful things with mung beans in Milton, on the NSW south coast, for three decades. Enjoy the yin of avocado slathered on sourdough ($9) and the yang of a dandy soy latte ($3.50) at this new locale. Standards continue to rise with Yalla Sawa, which means “come together” in Arabic, says Jad Nakhle, who runs Cronulla's grungy live music venue the Brass Monkey. Yalla Sawa offers a bounty of Middle Eastern mezze-style treats such as wild barramundi with spicy tahini sauce ($29). In contrast to the Brass Monkey, Old Joe's is a bright, shiny new diner-inspired eatery that is an ode to the much-loved old milk bar of the same name. The retro-styled space is where party girls come to graze on shrubbery as dudes chomp down on lobster sambos ($18). Ex-Beresford boys Anthony Canturi and Ben Lewis have returned to the Shire to open The Blind Bear Saloon Bar & Eatery. Outfitted like a 1920s speakeasy, the distressed space is already a certified hot spot. Gather for a guzzle of whisky and down a deluxe dog with Australian kransky, jalapeno relish and pepper sauce ($11).

Pilgrims, 97 Gerrale Street, 9523 7580
Yalla Sawa, Shop 8, Beachpark Arcade, 138 Cronulla Street, 8544 0614
Brass Monkey, 115A Cronulla Street, 9544 3844
Old Joe's, 141-143 Elouera Road, 9523 6866
The Blind Bear Saloon Bar & Eatery, 28 Cronulla Street, no phone

Food and drinks with a view

Giro Osteria was another gift to the neighbourhood by Alphabet Street's Joe Natale and Oriana de Luca. Observe chef Ruben Martinez (ex-La Scala) in action in the cut-out kitchen festooned with a curtain of chopping boards and cured meats. Do take a twirl with the tagliatelle served with slow-roasted ragu ($24). Cronulla's fashionably casual crowd is also enjoying the hearty food on offer at the Watergrill, in the revamped Cronulla RSL. Save your calories for battered flathead fillets with salad, fries and tartare ($26). Another menu that takes its cue from the view is Alley Break: go for grilled fish of the day ($26). Every Friday over summer, the local Sailing Club is Cronulla's best-kept secret and a great spot to enjoy cheap beer while watching the boats skim out to sea.

Giro Osteria, 1 McDonald Street, 9523 0137
Watergrill, Cronulla RSL, 38 Gerrale Street, 9523 6833
Alley Break Cafe, Shop 2, 4-6 Kingsway, 9527 6119
Cronulla Sailing Club, 50 Waratah Street, 9523 6114

Coffee and a nibble

Join the knots of people congregating at Frangipani Gelato Bar and ask for a scoop of the award-winning creamy pavlova, a mix of meringue pieces and passionfruit pulp. Nearby, Cronulla's very own artisan bakery GroundBake is worth a visit for a sturdy sourdough loaf ($5.80) and of course no visit to Cronulla would be complete without genuflecting at the altar that is Grind Espresso and enjoying a creamy piccolo ($3.50).

Frangipani Gelato, 117 Cronulla Street, 9544 0216
GroundBake, 8 Surf Road, 9527 2253
Grind Espresso, 4/15 Surf Road, 0403 844 533