Llankelly Place is a grand total of 240 metres long, lined almost shoulder-to-shoulder with bars and cafes. If the crowds aren't drinking wine at Dear Sainte Eloise, they're waiting for coffee at Room 10, and tucking into eggs at Pina.
Up the other end, they're sitting outside over Reubens at Joseph Hyde and pad Thai at Llankelly Thai, peering into the about-to-open Kings Cross Distillery, or sitting under the new awning at Et Al. It wouldn't surprise me if that's more than one venue per four square metres, but nobody seems to mind.
And the good news? Et Al finally has an Al. The Latin phrase for "and others" previously covered only chef Daniel Backhouse and restaurant manager Stephen Craig. Now Al, as in one Alastair Little, replaces Backhouse as co-owner and head chef, in order to make sense of the name at last.
Craig, whose gentle, smiling presence has in the past improved dining at Cirrus, Billy Kwong and Colin Fassnidge's Four In Hand, can make a damn perfect negroni ($16) and is just as happy cracking open a can of Camperdown's Wayward Brewing Company pilsener ($9). "Don't think too hard", it says on the side of the can. "Just enjoy." It's not a bad way to approach Et Al.
The bespectacled Little scurries around the small kitchen just as he did in his pioneering London restaurant in 1985, just as he did at Merivale's Little Bistro throughout 2019, just as he always will.
He has been one of the constants of scholarly, serviceable Franco-Italian cooking, and he's not going to change now, just because the world has. In this current existence of uncertainty and readjustment, that's positively anarchical.
His menu is relatable (family pie at weekends, rump steak and bearnaise sauce midweek), pitched somewhere between a restaurant kitchen and a domestic one.
If he says "mushrooms on toast", then you get mushrooms on toast ($15), chunks of garlicky, herb-flecked field mushrooms on Grain Bakery's sourdough.
If he says "warm roasted winter vegetable salad" ($18), it's luscious rounds of red and yellow beetroot, Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, and fennel under a thatch of ricotta saltati (a good dish that's so much more than just a bunch of vegetables thrown together).
A stew is a stew, in this case, Little's peposo ($28), a glossy ladleful of beef brisket strewn with carrots, alongside a lovely smooth mash. Nothing fancy, nothing untoward, just good comfort food, that fits like an old favourite jacket, and warms like a rug over your knees.
The only time the menu breaks the bank is for Tasmanian truffles, shaved over a simple bowl of buttery Barilla Collezione fettuccine ($45) that isn't quite buttery enough to carry through to the last strand.
With it, Craig suggests a soft, juicy, organic Mount Edward gamay from Central Otago ($68), a good call.
You'd think a small diner open to the laneway would be cold, but it's sheltered enough to be almost cosy. And on a bright, cold, sunny weekend with a thin square of caramelised apple tart and creme fraiche in front of you ($15), it's quite delightful.
Et Al has the tiny details of service, steady hand in the kitchen, and non-grabby prices for food and wine that will endear it to the neighbourhood. You could live without a caldo verde that's little more than a potato chowder, there's no bread and butter, and I'm surprised the pasta is bought in, but such pragmatism befits the times.
We are entering an age of conservative, comforting cookery, with very little daring degustation dining on the horizon. Chefs are going back to their real jobs, feeding people, rather than their own egos. Alastair Little didn't even have to pivot, he was already there. Don't think too hard. Just enjoy.
Address: Llankelly Place, shop 7, 24-30 Springfield Avenue, Potts Point, 02 8018 6722, etalrestaurant.com
Open: Lunch Sat-Sun noon-3pm; dinner Thu-Sun 5.30-10.30pm
Dining window: Two hours.
Protocol: Hand sanitiser available, cutlery brought separately.
Vegetarian: Three options, including a warm salad of winter vegetables.
Drinks: All wines by the glass available by carafe and bottle, plus craft beers, expertly made cocktails and an impressive list of mainly natural wines.
Cost: About $110 for two, plus drinks.
Score: Scoring is paused while the industry gets back on its feet.