Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Devon Cafe, Sydney

Update Reviews, 2019

A few years ago, I wrote about Devon Cafe in Surry Hills, an overnight hit in the Sydney brunch scene, where I had a meal that didn't wow me, but I couldn't ever really pinpoint why, as the dishes were creative, balanced, and well prepared.  I still think maybe I was just having an off day.

Anyway, Devon Cafe has continued to flourish.  In addition to that Surry Hills location that I visited, they have since opened an outpost in the newly developed Barangaroo, and, another, larger location in North Sydney.

During the summer of 2018-2019, the Barangaroo and North Sydney cafes introduced a very, very trendy, very, very Instagram worthy item: milk tea soft serve ice cream sundaes.  Yes, combining ridiculous soft serve ice cream sundaes and bubble tea into one signature item.  Let's just say, the crowds quickly came.

Each location had slightly different creations, but I had my eyes on one in particular: the one based around taro.  I love taro.  The only problem?  Barangaroo, the location closest to the CBD where I was staying, had only milk tea and green tea flavors (with foams, boba pearls, etc).  The taro, along with coconut and red velvet were all located on the other side of the harbour in North Sydney.  And Surry Hills doesn't have a soft serve machine.

North Sydney Location, January 2019 Visit

I had never looked into getting to North Sydney before, never even considered crossing over, but, the moment the weather was warm I had no choice.  I was going to North Sydney, to Devon Cafe, for that sundae.

My transit options: take the train direct from the CBD, easy 15 min ride, nearly door to door.  Take a ferry from Circular Quay, with a slight walk on either end, but a chance to ride on the ferry and take in some harbour views.  Walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, something I had never done before.  Uh, take a cab ... bo-ring.  I opted to walk over, and ferry back, kinda making the journey part of the experience.

I loved everything about my afternoon.  The walk there was lovely, through the Rocks, up over the bridge with fantastic photo ops and a cool breeze.  I'm amazed I never thought of walking the bridge before, honestly.  And then, my prize, the taro sundae, which was phenomenal.  Even the ferry back was pleasant, again, good views, and a ridiculously quick trip.

I highly recommend this itenery to anyone up for a little adventure.  It took only 2.5 hours all in, and that was with plenty of wandering on my way back.  You could certainly do it faster if you chose.
Taro Bubble Tea Sundae. $10.
"Taro Soft Serve, Coconut Foam, Burbur Cha Cha, Boba, Tapioca Pudding, Taro Syrup."

So, yeah.  This.

The taro soft serve is obviously the main attraction, a large portion.  It was fantastic.  The texture was absolute perfection, everything I look for in a soft serve.  Smooth, creamy, rich, and actually tasted like taro.  Plus, it was pretty!

The base of the container had tapioca pudding, small pearls, in a cream pudding.  Soft, creamy, fine tapioca pudding, and, um, not something I'd normally have with my soft serve.  It was a nice textural element as it mixed in.

Above the pudding is the burbur cha cha with coconut jellies and chunks of taro.  These were my favorite components, adding lots of texture and chew.  Then a generous scoop of large bubble tea style boba, which I actually disliked, but I've realized recently that I just don't like this style of pearl.  They were cooked fine, although a bit soft.

The whole thing was topped with a coconut foam, that quickly oozed all over and filled in all the cracks.  A drizzle of taro syrup finished it off, plus, of course, the upside down sugar cone.

I loved this thing.  The taro soft serve was just so fantastic, honestly, a cone of just that and I would have been happy, but with the chunks of taro and jellies, I really adored it.  The coconut foam and tapioca pudding were just icing on the cake.

I'd get this again in a heartbeat, but I'd leave of the boba, ask for more jellies/taro in its place, and leave off the cone too.
My one complaint?  It melted SOOOOO fast.  I ate it quickly, as fast as I possibly could, faster than I wanted actually, but still, I couldn't keep up.  Granted, it was 94 degrees out.

But do you know what melted taro ice cream, coconut foam, jellies, pearls, etc is?  Yeah, its a taro milk tea, basically.  And that is not a bad thing either.  I gladly switched into slurping mode.  They should serve it with a bubble tea straw!

Barrangaroo Location, March 2019 Visit

After the amazing success of the taro sundae at Devon Cafe North Sydney I was excited to try the offerings from the closer location, Devon's newest, in Barrangaroo.

I knew that they wouldn't have taro, and the flavor they seemed to have, at least according to my Instagram stalking, were milk tea and salted caramel, not really things I'd go out of my way for, but, I liked the soft serve before, and I knew they had fun sundae combos made up, so, I gave it a try.

When I arrived, I looked for the sundae details, as North Sydney Devon had them on the menu, but here they just said "seasonal' or something like that.  So I asked.  "Milk tea or salted caramel", was the answer.  I knew however that they make sundaes, so I prompted, "But you make them into sundaes?"  "Yes".  "Ok, um, what comes on each one?"  "One has boba, the other churros.".  " ... um, which goes with which?"  "Boba with the milk tea, churros with the salted caramel."  "Ok, so that's it? No foams or other toppings?" (I asked because I was pretty sure the Instagram photos looked like more complete sundaes ... ). "Yes, there are foams. One is cheese the other chocolate."  

The conversation went like on like for this for a while, me prompting everything, getting a half answer.  Finally, I pieced together the details of the sundaes.  Option 1: milk tea soft serve, boba, cheese foam.  Option 2: salted caramel soft serve, churros, cornflakes, chocolate cheese foam.

I knew that I didn't want boba (I'm just kinda over pearls), but I did like the sounds of the cheese foam.  I also don't care that much about churros, nor salted caramel, and I didn't really want chocolate foam.  So I asked if I could sample the base flavors first, and I'd just pick the one I liked more.  I was met with ... displeasure.  Clearly annoyed with me, but, she offered to give me a taste of the swirl.  I tried it.  The milk tea was ... well, milk tea.  Not really what I was in the mood for.  The salted caramel was cloyingly sweet.  It desperately needed to be swirled with vanilla or something, but alas, not an option.

I was stuck.  I didn't want either flavor.  But I felt bad because the staff member clearly was annoyed with me already.  I had to get one, right?

In retrospect, I realize maybe I could have ordered a coffee or a side of fries or something and that would have been ok, but, I felt pretty stuck, I didn't want to be a jerk and just walk out at this point.
Salted Caramel Soft Serve / Cheese Foam / Churros / Candied Cornflakes. $10.
So I got the salted caramel sundae, asking to have the cheese foam instead of the chocolate foam.  I hoped that it would balance out that crazy sweet salted caramel.

"Chef, fire a churro", she yelled back towards the kitchen.  This was a good sign, right? Fresh churros?
About ... 8-10 minutes later, my creation was ready.  And I'll admit, even if I wasn't excited for the ice cream, nor churros really, it did look great.  Don't the churros look like arms?  I was ready to give it a hug.

The churro arms were good.  Good cinnamon sugar coating, crispy exterior, doughy interior, and, well, freshly fried.  Certainly a fine churro.

The ice cream, as expected, was far too sweet.  And not really salted in any way I could detect.

The cheese foam I was actually quite excited for, but it was a bit lackluster.  It certainly didn't have the loft of the cheese foam from any bubble tea place (like Chatime or CoCo Fresh) {LINKS}.   It was just spooned on, not charged (which is true at bubble tea as well, theirs just ... isn't as deflated).  It also wasn't really salty or savory or cheesy in any way.  Just some kinda deflated cream, which did help a little to balance out the too sweet ice cream, but just barely.

The corn flakes I didn't expect to care about, but I ended up really liking the crunch they added, and I think they were coated in something or candied, as they maintained the crunch.  In addition to the flakes you see on the exterior, there were flakes on the bottom as well.

The $10 price is certainly a bit high, but if you consider that a churro would probably be $2, and a bubble tea, with foam, is easily $8, it is reasonable.

But again, this wasn't actually a good base flavor, and, the sweetness was only part of the problem.  I had seen complaints online about people saying the soft serve melted too fast, and I had experienced that myself at Devon North Sydney (or, so I thought).
90 Seconds Later.
No, this one melted faster, literally, than any ice cream I have ever seen in my life.  The North Sydney one melted fast on that 94 degree day, as have cones from any soft serve place, on a truly hot day.  But this ... turned into a puddle in <2 minutes.  And it *wasn't* that hot out.  I *wasn't* in the sun.  This was just ridiculous.  I suddenly understood all the complaints.

Another 90 seconds, and I had basically a milkshake.  Which isn't necessary a bad thing, and the already melty cheese foam blended in easily and mellowed it out this way.  I did quickly pull the churros out, and then dunked them into the melty mess, and it was kinda like dunking donuts in coffee or fries in a milkshake (if you do that ...).  So not entirely a bad thing.  And the cornflakes were then just swimming in the melted creation which ... yeah, was kinda like cereal milk.  I didn't actually mind that either.

So in the end, it did kinda work.  I dunked churros in the mess, I ate it like cereal, and somehow polished it off.  But it certainly wasn't that good, and I wouldn't get it again.

Original Review, April 2915

Brunch is one of my favorite meals.  And it turns out to be one of Sydney's favorite meals too.  As soon as I knew I was visiting Sydney, I set about researching brunch locations.  While I wasn't ever impressed with the fine dining options in Sydney in the past, the cafe and brunch scene certainly did live up.

For our first brunch in town on this trip, we ventured to Devon Cafe, in Surry Hills, one of my favorite neighborhoods.  I knew Devon Cafe was going to be hip, and that the food would be slightly overpriced, but it gets great reviews for tasty and creative brunch dishes, so I was eager to try it.  

Devon Cafe has only been open for two years, but became an overnight hit.  They recently opened a larger sister restaurant, Devon on Danks, in Waterloo, that we almost went to instead, as we figured it would have less of a wait, and they have some creative sounding soft serve ice cream flavors, but Devon Cafe was closer, and, you gotta start with the original anyway right?

So back to why we were there.  The menu sounded great.  In particular, I saw one to many epic photos of their "Little Lost Bread" dish, which is a brioche french toast, topped with strawberries, balsamic and strawberry gastrique, strawberry cheesecake ice cream, and Arnott’s biscuit crumble.  Oh, and you can add bacon.  It might not sound that crazy, but it looks so decadent.  Thick, crunchy french toast, crazy toppings.  It had me written all over it, except ... I don't really like strawberry ice cream, and at last minute, I decided not to order it.  But more on that later.

The food was creative, nicely composed, and well executed, but we didn't love anything.  The setting was just a bit too cramped to really be comfortable.  I'd return if others wanted to, but I won't seek it out again myself.
Tiny Main Room.
The main room is tiny, with just a communal table and a few seats along the wall, plus a register where you can order takeaway.  It was packed, as expected, but we only had about a 20 minute wait.  It went much faster than I anticipated, given how small the space was, as I didn't know about the back garden that was hidden from initial view.
Magic Muffin, Pork Roll.
Available for a quick grab and go near the register are pork rolls and their famous "magic" muffins.  The flavor changes, but at this time of year, the muffin was chocolate and banana, with nutella oozing out of the center, and a perfectly crusty top.  If I liked nutella, I would have gotten one in an instant, it certainly looked like my kind of muffin.
Baked Goods, Fresh Pressed Juice.
They also have a few other baked goods and fresh bottled juices.
Oh, and of course, like every hip place these days, they have housemade cronnies, aka, their version of a cronut, available in milo, matcha with red bean, raspberry and vanilla, or ... even a savory mayo filled and pork floss topped version, all $6.50 each.  I hoped we'd save room for one, and planned to grab one togo on the way out if we were too full, but never did.
Back Area Fencing.
Most seating was out back, crammed full of tiny tables.  It was nice to be outside, but, the ambiance was a bit lacking due to the crowded nature.  The fence was decorated with a green fabric mess, perhaps to make it look somewhat like a garden, rather than just a concrete space between buildings?
Small Little Table.
Our table was tiny, and totally cramped.  It came with a jug of water and cups on it which was nice, as we easily downed the entire jug in the heat and it would have been annoying to keep asking for refills.  The cut flowers were cute, but once we had food on the table too, there was absolutely no space, and looking around, this seemed to be a common problem.  So while nice, the flowers just lead to clutter.
Iced Long Black, Decaf.  $3.50.
Ok, this was amusing.  Since it was crazy hot, I wanted an iced drink.  The menu had both a cold press and a cold drip on it, but alas, regular coffee only, and I wanted decaf since it was afternoon.  So I asked for an iced long black (their version of an Americano).

I was first struck by the mug it came in, a regular hot coffee mug, not an iced coffee cup with a straw, like I saw at other tables for the proper iced drinks.  And then I was struck by the two token ice cubes floating in it ...

It was clear that they just put a few ice cubes into a hot drink.  It wasn't even lukewarm, it was warm.  Basically, the most unpleasant temperature you can imagine to drink coffee at.  Not hot, not cold, certainly not iced.  Those two ice cubes lasted about long enough for me to snap a photo, and then promptly melted.

I asked for additional ice, but it didn't come.  Sometime after we received our food our server remembered and brought it, and at that point, I finally was able to somewhat enjoy an iced drink by pouring it over the fresh ice.  But whoops, I won't do this again.

There was also no offer for cream or sugar to go with it, so I just drank it black, even though it wasn't very good, and I would have liked something to jazz it up.
Cold Press Juice. $8.
Ojan's drink order was more successful than mine.  He selected one of the fresh squeezed juices, with orange, carrot, pineapple, green apple, and lemon.  It was served in a cute glass bottle with a straw.  I think I had a sip, but I didn't write down any notes, and honestly don't remember anything about it.
Over-priced fresh pressed juice served in a trendy fashion?  Devon nailed it.
Breakfast with the Sakuma’s. $25.
"Miso grilled king salmon, smoked eel croquet, 63° egg, radish petite salad and kewpie mayonaise".

For our first dish, we went for the "Breakfast with the Sakuma's".  I was trying to be responsible, and not just order sweets, so we needed a savory item (and no, the pork floss cronnie didn't count as sufficient protein, darn!).

I was tempted by the Fillet 'o' Devon: "battered John Dory fillet, tartare sauce, baby fennel and sorrel, on a brioche bun with onion rings", particularly once I saw a few go by.  The onion rings looked amazing, and I love fried fish.

But I had read many rave reviews of the "Breakfast with the Sakuma's", which is on the menu at both locations, and has been for a while, so I figured it was the better pick.

The salmon was perfectly cooked, although it really seemed sous vide, or olive oil poached rather than grilled as the menu described.  I saw no grill marks, and it was just way too soft and fall apart to possibly be grilled, or even baked.  It was fairly mid-rare, although I'd prefer it even a bit more rare, but it was certainly quite lovely, although I didn't taste the promised miso I was looking forward to.  It was a really lovely piece of fish.

The smoked eel croquet wasn't exactly what I was expecting, I'm not quite sure why, as I'd seen photos and read reviews.  It was basically a big fried ball of crispy rice.  I don't like rice, and this was just too fried for me.  I didn't really taste eel either, although it did have some flavor to it that I couldn't quite identify.

The egg was perfectly cooked, and oozed out lovely yellow yolk as it was cut into.

I love mayo, so the kewpie mayo was quite welcome, and the kewpie itself was a nice touch honoring the Japanese inspiration of the dish.

The greens were fresh and crispy, and I loved the dressing.  It was nice to have a light element on the plate alongside the heavier items.

I'm not 100% sure what the spice mix was on the plate, but it was quite flavorful, and I enjoyed making perfect bites with salmon, dunked in mayo, and then rolled in spices.

Overall, there were a lot of good elements to this dish, and it was definitely a plate that gave you a lot of creativity in how you combined everything.  Everything was well prepared, there were lots of flavors and textures, but it somehow didn't really wow me.  I think the real issue is that this just isn't my style of dish.  I don't like rice or eggs, and I like salmon, but not generally for brunch.  I really just wanted that french toast, particularly as I saw it get delivered to nearby tables, and it was only my sense of responsibility that made me order this instead.

$25 is a pretty high price for a brunch dish, although this was quite large, and could have easily been split with another person to satisfied both (plus a cronnie for dessert!).  I wouldn't get it again.
My Second Asian Cousin Gone Summery. $15.
"Tapioca and coconut with fresh mango, young coconut jelly, chia seeds, macadamia and freeze dried lychees."

For our other dish, I went for the "My Second Asian Cousin Gone Summery".  I was still eying the Little Lost Bread french toast, and after I ordered and saw it pass by a few more times I started regretting my choice, but alas, this sounded too interesting to pass up.  Plus, I was on a serious kick of ordering everything with tapioca, mango, and coconut, as I was binging on Thai desserts at Chat Thai the entire week prior.  Plus, you know how much I love puddings!  This sounded like a great excuse to have dessert for my main dish (not that the french toast, that even came with ice cream, wasn't also just a dessert for a main!).

The dish really was as fascinating as I expected it to be.  The base was a pudding of small tapioca pearls, nicely cooked, not too soft, tot too firm, not stuck together.  It wasn't very creamy though, as the coconut milk broth was thin.  It was loaded up with fun toppings, including a decent amount of fresh ripe mango, which is such a treat in Australia.  The mango there is just so much better than ours in the US!  There was also a lot of a jelly substance that I guess was coconut jelly, along with slices of young coconut.  Those components were less exciting to me.  I don't generally like chia seeds, but there was a just a sprinkle over the dish, and they added a nice crunch, as did the chunks of macadamia.  The absolute best component however was the freeze dried lychees.  They were sweet, crunchy, and absolutely delicious.

I did enjoy this at the exploratory level.  It was fun to try the individual components, and to mix them together into different bites.  The dish had so many different textures, from the tapioca to the jelly to the nuts and freeze dried lychee, to the fresh fruit.  It was interesting, it was creative, it was well done.  It didn't wow me though, and I can't really say why.  I'm not sure what I would have wanted different.

It also was unique in that it was somewhere between a proper breakfast item and a dessert.  I know it sounds a lot like a dessert item, but the base tapioca pudding wasn't that sweet, so it really didn't eat like a dessert.  Had I been served it as a dessert somewhere, I would have been disappointed.  Not that it was savory of course, but it really was quite balanced, with most of the sweetness coming from the fruit.  It seemed like it might almost be healthy.  Almost.

Anyway, I was glad to try it, and it was comforting and a bit refreshing on a hot day, but I wouldn't get it again.  $15 seemed fine for a large portion.
Devon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails