Alley Break Café, named after a wave break on adjacent North Cronulla beach, could easily play safely by the numbers, although when I learnt that they were holding specialised produce dinners, I was compelled to attend out of sheer curiosity. With numbers limited to 18, and 8 courses for $100 including matched wines, it clearly wasn’t about the money. The composition of the painstakingly sourced menu by talented young Darren de Boer, former sous chef at Danks Street Depot, showed both flair and innovation. This commitment to sustainability, supported by owner Nick Tabet, who shares an incredible passion for food and the dark art of sourdough, was the obvious motivation.
Somewhat fitting then Pepe Sayer should provide their incredible artisan product, for an amuse of roast bone marrow with exceptional house sourdough and marrow cultured butter. Reality check; braised oxtail and duxelle cigar with mushroom foam is not what the local surf club is serving. Nor would one expect carpaccio of 74 day aged sirloin with radish custard, hay smoked beef short rib in spiced watermelon, pilsner braised beef daube and a deconstructed dessert that includes salted caramel jelly, ovaltine coffee puk, rhubarb and vanilla spheres! This bold and challenging style of palate education in The Sutherland Shire may be risky, but a genuine desire to empower the local’s food savvy is driving Alley Break’s desire to be an informed point of difference. Throw in the artisan sourdough that is made in-house, proving so popular that it may expand off-site as a separate entity, and Meccac offee extracted as well as in the CBD, and it’s a pretty persuasive package.
Whilst the caramelised garlic bread with beurre noisette ($9) is a heart attack waiting for a place to happen, it doesn’t stop me from mopping up every last bit. Calamari, dusted in besan flour ($19), is a tad underdone, but with pistachios providing the primary texture, and a particularly memorable house vinagarette, cherry tomatoes and crushed potatoes, cohesively bringing the salad together, it’s worth another look. However, the alternative succulent marinated lamb salad ($19), with knockout house marinated Danish fetta, fregola and roasted cherry tomatoes, is flawless and astutely balanced, freshened up nicely by the lemon juice and EVOO. One suspects that Jared Ingersoll would have given an approving nod to his former protégé.
The 12 hour slow cooked pork shoulder ($19), with grape and shallot salad and fennel seed dressing, has a lovely play of freshness, spice, sweetness and texture from the crackling to make it both joyful and thoughtful. The Assiette ($24) of grilled barramundi, kingfish beignet, and salt and pepper calamari with pommes dauphines, is very sharply plated, noticeably lifting the bar on the usual fare served up by beachside cafés. Like all the dishes, it is well seasoned, and the vibrant spinach puree provides a nice contrast.
Trying to find room for the Eton Mess ($10), with crushed in house meringue, large flavoursome strawberries and spectacular Pepe Sayer CountryValley cream, is challenging as it could comfortably be shared between two. The more petite textbook chocolate fondant ($13), with the before mentioned cream and strawberries, is more than worth a sigh or two of delight. Well executed dishes, elevated by produce from farmersmarkets, and a close association with artisan providores, underpins a deceptively simple philosophy that is refreshingly consistent throughout.
Alley Break operates on two levels, one that pushes way beyond the conventional culinary boundaries of a café through its produce dinners, and the other that actively promotes sustainability through its menu on a daily basis. Whilst both those aspirations are not entirely dissimilar, through slowly gaining the trust of the locals, the distinction between the two will eventually become superfluous. For the moment, enjoy well conceived quality dishes at exceptional prices, executed with a duty of care by a talented and enthusiastic team at this hidden gem. Either way, the surfs up!
Shop 2, 4-6 The Kingsway, Cronulla
Mon to Sun 6am to 4pm
Licensed / BYO