Monday, April 20, 2015

Devon Cafe, Sydney

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.
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