In Cronulla, a little local knowledge goes a long way. While much of the charm of the seaside suburb has to do with its proximity to beautiful bays and beaches, the 'Nulla, as it is affectionately known, has also been revitalised thanks to a dynamic new dining scene that has seen new eateries and bars spring up from hole-in-the-wall hideouts to Jamaican-inspired jerk joints all competing for Cronulla's new money.
In postcode 2230 it's the cafes with the cult followings that lead the way, followed closely by pizzerias, bars and restaurants that range from bright and beachy to rustic patchworks of brick, stone and wood. Here is our guide to an exciting mix of old and new spots – from top-notch eateries to cult cafes and much-loved institutions that have breathed new life into old haunts.
Breakfast and brunch
Brothers Harry And Mario Kapoulas's initialled cafe HAM remains a popular spot for breakfast, brunch and lunch. Look for the specials scribbled on the brown paper menu at this clamorous corner cafe that doles out killer paninis ($11.90) on Thoroughbread sourdough. Around the corner, tucked down the lane is Blackwood Pantry, where everyone from well-heeled locals to beefy Sharkies players nosh and natter around the communal table. Signature dishes include the tahini-whipped hummus, seared baby gem lettuce, jalapeno and garlic butter, toasted pine nuts and fresh lime ($27), and warm coconut porridge, black rice, rhubarb, rum-kissed coconut, pomegranate and rose syrup ($16). Post-surf, go for breakfast at the Press, where a fire-breather shot of turmeric, ginger, orange and cayenne pepper ($4) and a Buddha bowl of avocado, pickled kimchi, radish, egg and roasted veg ($10) is the order of the day. Down the southern end of the suburb is the Nun's Pool, where the fit-out is as fresh and light as the new menu designed by new owner Kim Camilleri (ex-pastry chef at Marque). Join the Real Housewives of South Cronulla who converge on the white-on-white space for the oh-so-virtuous 'Nun's Granola' with apple, raspberries and cinnamon yoghurt. D. Bowls' devotees will be delighted with the new premises near Munro Park, where health-conscious hordes kick back in the sun enjoying sushi bowls inspired by the Hawaiian-Japanese fusion dish: poke (pronounced po-kay, okay?)
Ham Cronulla, 3/17 Gerrale Street, hamharryandmario.com
Blackwood Pantry, 5/33 Surf Lane, blackwoodpantry.com.au
The Press, 2/123 Cronulla Street, 0457 329 307, facebook.com/thepresscronulla
The Nun's Pool, 103 Ewos Parade, 9523 3395, thenunspool.com
D. Bowls, Shop 2, 138 Cronulla Street, 0428 689 977, facebook.com/DBowls
Places to lunch
1908 began life as a Methodist Church before morphing into a library and then the Old Library Restaurant in 2011. In its current incarnation as 1908, the elegantly appointed dining room remains popular with everyone from local politicians to ladies who lunch. Perch at the bar and enjoy a glass of champagne with half a dozen freshly shucked oysters ($24) and a 'bit on the side' (witlof, pear and parsnip salad for $14).
The beautifully designed Breeze Apartments has helped Cronulla's transition to happening hub, with the pretty strip along Gerrale Street now lined with inviting places to eat. Those who want to linger over lunch should book in to Gerrale St Kitchen, the swish space designed by the team behind Chiswick. If you're hungry, order the duck confit with sweet potato puree, bok choy and chilli ginger caramel ($36), or pesto lamb cigar ($24), from new chef Shayne Martin's (ex-Mejico, the Duck Republic) menu. You can also 'Go poke yourself' at nearby Poke Bowls with a terrarium-sized bowl of greens, or join the assembly line at Zeus Street Greek to customise your own fantasy Spartan Box. Followers of the Fatty Burger Appreciation Society should make the meaty medleys on offer at Jake Chalmers and Eat Burger a must, while those in need of a fix of greens should join the Shire's alt brigade at Pilgrims Cafe. 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 a bliss burger ($13) and the yang of a dandy soy latte ($3.50) in this gorgeous Art Deco space.
1908 Cronulla, 1/15 Surf Road, Cronulla, 9544 5360, 1908cronulla.com.au
Gerrale St Kitchen, 19-21 Gerrale Street, 9523 4111, gerralestkitchen.com.au
Poke Bowls, 19-21 Gerrale Street, pokebowlcronulla.com.au
Zeus St Greek, 19/21 Gerrale Street, zeusstreetgreek.com.au
Jake Chalmers, 4/33 Surf Lane, 0420 994 774, facebook.com/Jake-Chalmers
Eat Burger, 43 Gerrale Street, eatburger.co
Pilgrims Cafe, 97 Gerrale Street, 9523 7580, pilgrimsmenu.com
Pilgrim's wholefood cafe in Cronulla. Photo: Smudge Publishing
Eat 'til you are stuffed to the gills at the no-frills Italian restaurant Albi's Table. Run by three charming young Italian friends, this homespun trattoria is where hungry locals go for rustic plates of gnocchi with slow-cooked lamb ragu ($27) or risotto with porcini mushrooms ($26). Italian-born chef Albi Cuni trained alongside Michelin-starred chefs in Europe and at Quay under Peter Gilmore. Head southeast around the block to Henrys where you will find a congregation ranging from young professionals to 40-something socialites drawn to Rafael Tonon's rustic, yet refined fare. The Brazilian-born chef has you covered no matter what you fancy: from flathead tacos ($6.50 each) to heftier mains such as smoked baby chicken ($36), you can build a feast of share plates as light or as ample as you like. If it's a culinary souvenir of Cronulla you're after, book dinner at Yalla Sawa, which means "come together" in Arabic. Local favourites include falafel with pickled turnips ($6 each) and the lamb shank tagine ($34). Part wine bar, part wine restaurant, the food and wine at Yalla Sawa are both fantastic, as are the bar bites at sister venue, the Brass Monkey, where you can also expect a bounty of Middle Eastern mezze-style treats while listening to live music. The AVPN-accredited family-run Queen Margherita of Savoy is another sweet spot, satisfying pizza purists with its beautifully blistered bases swirled with tomato sauce and perfumed with basil and melted splotches of fior di latte.
Albi's Table, 10 Cronulla Street, 8544 3064, albistable.com.au
Henrys Cronulla, 1 Ocean Grove Avenue, 9527 0305, henryscronulla.com.au
Yalla Sawa, Shop 8 Beach Park Arcade, 138-142 Cronulla Street, 8544 0614, yallasawa.com.au
The Brass Monkey, 115A Cronulla Street, 9544 3844, brassmonkey.com.au
Queen Margherita of Savoy, Shop 9, 2-8 Surf Road, qmos.com.au
Bars and pubs
At the northern end of Cronulla Plaza is where you will find Croydon Lane Wine & Tapas Bar, the cosy little bunker with the Snoop Dogg meets Martha Stewart vibe that is a favourite refuge for locals. Ask owner John Rechichi to recommend a few creative share plates – such as the slow-cooked beef cheeks with polenta, crisp shallots, shredded horseradish and red wine jus ($30) – from chef Sunny Sharma and select a wine flight from the soaring bar, tucked away behind a vertical herb garden in a once-neglected corner of Cronulla Plaza. Roll down to the hill toward the beach to find Old Joe's, the diner-inspired eatery designed by Sibella Court as an ode to the much-loved old milk bar of the same name. Don the Sharkie colours of black, white and blue and feel right at home at Northies' Sports Bar and the Cape Solander Pizza Co. where the retro styling has continued to include a warren of booths, stools and bright colours. Low & Lofty's is where party people dock to slurp cocktails and chomp on jerk-inspired protein ($26) while playing the pinball machines. The Tackle Shack, designed by Joshua Clapp, has one of the best fit-outs in the 'hood. The space features a copper-clad bar, sexy banquettes and custom-tiled tables that reflect a 1950s Americana meets fancy Burraneer Bay boatshed vibe. This is both restaurant and bar: order a bucket of prawns and cold bottle of beer for $25. Ex-Beresford boy Ben Lewis also doles out dude food at The Blind Bear Saloon Bar & Eatery. Outfitted like a 1920s speakeasy, the distressed space is where hospos gather to guzzle whisky and throw back a few tequila shots, wings and things on their nights off. Follow locals up the stairs to clash chopsticks at the brand-new Happy Panda dumpling den.
Croydon Lane, Shop 8, 30 Kingsway, facebook.com/CroydonLaneWineAndTapasBar
Northies Cronulla Hotel, corner Kingsway and Elouera Road, 9523 6866, northies.com.au
Low & Lofty's, 51a Cronulla Street, 8544 3327, lowandloftys.com
The Tackle Shack, 59-65 Gerrale Street, 9544 0645, tackleshack.com.au
The Blind Bear, 28 Cronulla Street, facebook.com/blindbearcronulla
Happy Panda, upstairs from the Blind Bear, facebook.com/happypandacronulla
Food and drinks with a view
Start your night swapping stories with regulars over apple martinis at Alphabet St, run by restaurateurs Joe Natale and Oriana de Luca. Here, the menu moves beyond the usual Thai staples to more-nuanced dishes such as sweet pork, green mango and fish floss salad with red nahm jim ($29). The couple also own Italian restaurant Giro Osteria a few doors down. The menu changes with the seasons to focus on Italian regions and specialties. Take a stroll along the Esplanade before bagging the aubergine leather banquette to enjoy slowly braised beef short ribs with potato mash ($37) or a bowl of tagliatelle with duck ragu ($27.90) – tip: BYO vino every day except Saturday dinner.
For a Will & Co brew with a view, head to Next Door, where you can watch the serious surfers perfect their air reverses while enjoying buttermilk waffles ($19) or eggs done your way with Pepe Saya butter ($12). Sea Level also takes its cue from the view as locals splurge on special-occasion seafood platters ($125 for two) in a dining room that is a leg rope's distance from the crashing sea. Zink is also a great spot to sink a few drinks while watching the sunset. Fish and chips by the sea is compulsory, especially when paired with a few cheeky beverages during the daily happy hour at the Red Radish Bar in the refurbished Eventhouse Cronulla boutique hotel.
Alphabet St, 5/8 Kingsway, 9544 0756, alphabetst.net
Giro Osteria, 1 McDonald Street, 9523 0137, giro-osteria.com.au
Next Door Cronulla, Shop 2, 4-6 Kingsway, nextdoorcronulla.com.au
Sea Level, 2 Kingsway, Cronulla, sealevel.com.au
Cronulla Sailing Club, 50 Waratah Street, 9523 6114, cronullasc.com
Zink, 1-3 McDonald Street, facebook.com/ZinkBar
Red Radish Bar, 20-26 Kingsway, 8536 3131, eventhouse.com/red-radish
Date braised lamb with haloumi, dukkah, carrots and baba ghanoush from Next Door. Photo: Smudge Publishing
Coffee and a nibble
No visit to Cronulla would be complete without genuflecting at the altar that is Grind Espresso and enjoying a creamy latte ($4.50). It's also worth joining the knots of people at Frangipani Gelato Bar to order a few scoops of the award-winning creamy pavlova flavour, a mix of meringue pieces and passionfruit pulp ($6.80). Grizzled surfers and grommets converge for pork and fennel sausage rolls ($4.50) at nearby GroundBake.
Grind Espresso, 4/15 Surf Road, 0403 844 533, facebook.com/grind.espresso
Frangipani Gelato, 117 Cronulla Street, 9544 0216, frangipanigelato.com.au
GroundBake, 8 Surf Road, 9527 2253, facebook.com/GroundbakeCronulla