Vibe: 3.5 stars
Design: A bit try-hard; Victoriana Tea Room meets Thai diner. You need to look past bad decor to find the warmth, but it’s worth the effort.
Food: 4 stars
Damage: Entrees $20-25; Mains $26-35; Desserts $14-15; Wine $35-136
I’m sure you’ve all noticed the Franco-Anglais fu-vasion going on in Surry Hills lately. How could you miss it? Any self respecting restauranteur or chef seeking to make a name for his or herself in the competitive Sydney restaurant scene, is sous videing, foaming, triple reductioning and foraging their way around the urban gardens of the inner east muttering mad supplications to deities in the pursuit of gastronomic riches and accolades. What started overseas with El Bulli, Mugaritz & Fat Duck has finally distilled it’s way down through the social dining classes from haute cuisine, to a more accessible and infinitely more Australian experience. It’s what I dig about Surry Hills right now. All the intense skill and dedication to an art worthy of the best palates without the pretense, and the expense. This is an evolution of dining I wholeheartedly support.
So, to The Devonshire. Firstly, it’s important to get the whole Jeremey Bentley was the sous chef to double hatted Restaurant Balzac top gun, Matt Kemp out of the way. Yeah, yeah, the kids got some big name experience in rattling those pans but lets give some kudos where kudos is due. Bentley is rocking it all by himself at The Devonshire. Sure, Kemp’s an investor in the biz but it’s Bentley that’s responsible for the menu and delivering on some pretty high expectations. And he does it in spades.
Before I get into the food, I do need to take a moment to rail against the wholly flat and overlit ambeince out on the floor. This lack of vibe was enough to hold me back from visting the place earlier. However, after our planned evening at Eathouse Diner was foiled, a savvy member of the Gastro Gang of Four lodged an urgent request to The Devonshire to rustle us up a table at short notice. Lo and behold, the gastronomic gods were smiling, because one quick glass of pinot grigio at the Woolpack Hotel on Chalmers St and we were hot footing it up the street before this Sydney dining aparition could evaporate like last night’s truffle foam.
Whisked warmly to our table by a charming waitress, the Gang of Four had wine ordered and were happily chatting away in what seemed like mere moments after our disappointing Eathouse Diner experience (more on that in a later post). The wine list is perfect for a neighbourhood restaurant in that it is interesting, with a real commitment to terroir, without being over the top and pretentious. There are plenty of great international and domestic wines under $60 and you can certainly trust that if it’s on the menu, its bound to be good. We had a truly memorable 2009 Kientzler Pinot Gris from Alsace that, upon first sip, prompted one of the gang to enquire as to the size of the store in the cellar, lest we should drink them dry.
So, to the food. On this fine Autumnal eve, the Gang of Four were up for a sharezys type of vibe, and The Devonshire were more than happy to facilitate. Before we’d even ordered, our lovely waitress delivered a supremely tasty appetiser of warm, fluffy potato and salted snapper brandade, with some very moreish grissini. After whetting our appetite on that, we quickly moved onto the Quail Bird Nest Salad. A fantasmagorical dream of golden crumbed quail eggs, frisee and bois boudran. A textural masterpiece, it will leaving you dueling with your dinner partners for the last crunchy noodle.
Bouyed by the quality of our first dish, we moved swiftly onto the sweetbreads. Now I’m not normally one for the sweetbreads but, bolstered by the Gastro Gang of Four and that superb Pinot Gris, I felt tonight was as good a night as any to dance with the bovine devil. An artfully arranged dish of Veal sweetbread, tongue, a delightfully crunchy brussel sprout coleslaw with almonds and madeira, my first foray into sweetbreads was intensely piquant and not altogether a bad experience. I’m not sure it’s something I’ll order frequently. But, if you like sweetbreads, I’m pretty sure this dish will do you proud.
Next on our share mission, was the simply devine Bangalow pork loin. Oh my goodness. It’s a fairly recent obsession of mine that if I see pork belly on the menu, I have to order it. The Devonshire’s take on this lip smackingly good dish is to die for. Bentley serves it up in a perfectly zen circle with the loin, belly and shoulder, circling the plate amongst flawless cubes of pumpkin, prunes and apple sauce. I wish I had a photo to upload for you but, the Gang of Four were so enthusiastic about this dish, I had no time to snap it before the hoardes descended. Go order it yourself to see why.
Wrapping up this delicious evening was a trip down nostalgia lane with two desserts that tipify The Devonshire’s inventive take on French-Anglais fine dining. First, the signature dessert; Devonshire Tea crème brulee.
A witty take on your Grandma’s Devonshire Tea (actually a personal favourite of mine on a cold and wintry Sunday afternoon), Bentley’s culinary skill and cheeky approach really sings in this dish. Nanna’s tea cup filled with Earl Grey flavoured creme brulee, cozies up to a scoop of scone flavoured ice-cream, cherry jam and whipped cream. Perfection on a plate if ever I saw it.
An order of Pineapple caramelised pudding, served with ice-cream and soup finished off our meal thanks to a pineapple obsession held by one of the Gang of Four. After a bit of cutlery kung fu, the last morsel disappeared swiftly into our stomachs and we were left satiated and fuzzy.
OK, so The Devonshire is not part of the latest hip Americana-Tiki-Frat House bar/bodega/restaurant trend. But, it is completely on trend with the whole Brit-Franco, fresh-faced fusion thing that’s taken hold of Sydney’s fine dining scene over the last few years. The beauty of The Devo? It’s more laid back and has a bit of a giggle with what’s on the plate. And that’s perfectly on trend for my Surry Hills. Go check out The Devonshire.…coz you know your Nanna loves it!
204 Devonshire Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
P: 02 9698 9427