Controversial content is seldom posted on this blog. At a basic level, I try and visit eateries for which I have reasonable confidence in their quality. Anyone, not just food bloggers, would either have some seriously poor taste, or posses some kind of iconoclastic zeal, to seek out poorly-rated locations. Thus, reviews on most food blogs there are overwhelmingly positive.
Well, on July 3, Devon Cafe opened its doors for the first time for night service. Aptly named “Devon By Night”.
In my experience, I understand that they would need some time to get the hang of night service, as well as ironing out any kinks in their menu. It was with this thought that I visited two weeks after their official opening. The results surprised me, more than anyone.
Date Last Visited: 17/7/14
Address: 76 Devonshire St Surry Hills, NSW 2010
Recommended Dish(es): Aunty Yulie’s pork ribs
To be a little forward – “Devon by Day” and Devon By Night are two completely different beasts. I could nigh consider them to be separate restaurants, such is the divide.
The menu is quite extensive, with 24 food items ready to go. By this point in time, head chef Zachary Tan (of Guillaume fame) has concocted a banquet-style meal (for $60) which consists of several entrees, several mains and several desserts taken from the menu, or so it seemed.
What’s on the banquet can be swapped out to a limited degree, but otherwise, the menu items that make it onto the banquet are decided by Zachary on the night, representative of what he feels is appropriate.
With one switch (the beef ribs substituting for the mushroom egg custard), we ordered the banquet, and were on our way.
Unfortunately, the start wasn’t great. While I expected an ample amount of tarty, chill freshness from the Coffin Bay Pacific oysters, what I got instead was a rather mucky, muddy texture from oysters that didn’t taste particularly clean. Not to disparage, it felt like I was eating slightly off oysters – they didn’t taste fresh at all. It’s the taste of the sea, but the wrong side of it.
I wished the yuzu granita would overwhelm the oyster, but it was too weak to do so. All in all, one of the less stellar examples of raw oyster.
While I had no choice but to admit the start was a letdown, the second course of king salmon sashimi re-primed my expectations of what Devon should be – this is a much better dish, and probably one of two that I really liked in this banquet. Devon knows what it can do with salmon, as evidenced by the salmon salad and Breakfast with the Sakuma’s they serve as part of their breakfast menu.
This dish follows the trend of great salmon, with loads of flavour imparted by the tangy-sweet tomato jelly, as well as ikura. Dollops of avocado add a bit of richness to the dish. It’s simple, it works, and that’s a bit of Devon by Day shining through.
At this point, we begin to wonder just how the dishes on the night menu are priced – the menu says $15, but how do we know what kind of a portion size that equates to? Evidently, for 3 people (I dined with two others that night), the amount pictured sufficed. But what if I ordered it solo – do I get the same amount? There’s no indication.
The lobster roll is probably the most-talked and most-photographed dish from the night menu. Who doesn’t love a great poached lobster roll? I sure do, but maybe my expectations were a bit up and above.
I was a big fan of the bun – the slight sweetness and toughness made it most enjoyable to chew through. It’s fluffy enough so that it’s not heavy, but still resistant enough to be moreish.
The lobster itself is well-prepared in terms of flavour, but it was actually *gasp* somewhat overcooked. A roll that was nearly a winner for me is more of a bronze medalist now. The thing is, in winter, in sitting in the cold the perception of coldness and hardness change somewhat, such that a cold poached lobster will actually taste a bit over. That could have gone on here, but whatever the reason, I felt that it was just a bit too hard for me.
I wish it were different, but that’s what I tasted, and that’s what I report.
The pricing curiosity continues to puzzle – is it $15.5 (as shown on the menu) per lobster roll? Or is it $15.5 for two? It makes sense for it to be $15.5ea, but then
a) why are oysters (and as you’ll soon see, the dessert) priced with the letters “ea” after the price?
b) $15.5 for one roll is quite dear – it’s only a quarter tail of lobster meat in there, but this point is more debatable.
Funnily enough, the comments made about the lobster roll apply to Devon’s pork buns, but in reverse order. In this particular case, the buns themselves are too chewy, with a “hard-edge” kind of crustiness with every bite, that’s so very different to the pillowy soft pork buns at say, Melbourne’s Wonderbao [review pending], Ippudo, or Momofuku Seiobo.
As for the pork itself – fantastic. It’s supposedly Hakka-style, which apparently involves the usage of five spice, rose wine and fermented beancurd. Not sure if I could taste all of that, but it was a darn good regardless – the layers slide off each other with little friction, the fat melts in the mouth, and the meat is juicy and succulent. Mmmmm.
But as it is, there’s two parts to the equation, where only one has a satisfactory value.
Not to nitpick, but there was also a taro “cream” near the back of the bun that didn’t really feel necessary – it added a bit of grittiness to the bun, and gave it too much sweetness. We could have gone without it.
It’s also fairly expensive, coming in at $6 a piece, but in this respect, I take no issue – the slab of pork you get is very generous, so make that what you will.
$4 for one piece of chargrilled corn thinner than my finger and only slightly longer. The value proposition isn’t singing this dish’s praises.
I won’t comment much here, but suffice it to say, I would not order this voluntarily. It is not worth the price. Taste-wise, it’s a nice Japanese twist on the traditional butter-grilled corn, but really, there’s very little that stands out. Boring, is what it would be.
I must say, Devon’s KJI burger (on their lunch menu) has always been a subject of my attention, but I have never been able to order it, due to the fact that I’m never able to visit during lunch. Being able to have it as KJI chicken wings is a great idea. The skin is fantastic – so crunchy, textural, I had a hard time believing that it was just chicken skin I was eating. That batter must be something else.
The chicken meat itself was less flavoursome, more relying on the sweet and ever so slightly spicy gochujang sauce to give it the kick that it needs.
That pricing dilemma? Still here – is it $15 per wing? $15 for two? We got three, but that’s part of the banquet – what about as a separate dish? Who’s to know without the staff being constantly asked?
So if the salmon dish was one of my two favourites, Aunty Yulie’s short ribs make up the favourite. These ribs have a much subtler flavour profile than say, ribs you’d get at Pancakes on the Rocks/Hurricanes due to the Indonesian soy (pretty much Kecap Manis here) used. It makes the meat more fragrant, while retaining the usual “fall of the bone tender” characteristics that ribs are so loved for.
This dish comes with a side of broccolini as well, which was over-blanched, such that the vegetables have lost their crunch. Oh well, back to the ribs!
I’ve seen the tamarind & plum popsicles aplenty in many blogs now, and while I appreciate the novelty, I’m not completely sold on the idea of these popsicles being the primary dessert. My two dining companions did not like these, as tamarind is quite an acquired taste to have it sweet. I was more partial, as I’m used to tamarind in sweet, savoury and spicy forms.
That said, it’s not as suitable, or as refreshing as a good ball of ice cream. This one’s for the more adventurous out there. As such, the meal didn’t really finish on a sweet note.
Before I conclude, I need to point out a few matters about the experience itself:
It was very cold where we sat (in the middle section). Yes, you could argue with me and tell me to either sit inside, or to wear more. Except, that won’t do – I was fully garbed up for a start, but what Devon staff need to realise is that when people sit for about 2 hours (how long our banquet took) without moving very much, the cold will find its way in, unless you were overdressed in the first place. In my case, this manifested in my legs going very stiff. It was not pleasant.
There are heaters on both sides of the middle section of the cafe, but it really isn’t enough. A comfortable dining experience is not something that Devon by Night provides.
The service was…unfortunately subpar. While our waters were refilled frequently and without prompt, the time in between courses were occasionally very long, with no apparent reason. Also, as you may have noticed with our dessert – we got five popsicles. Why 5? Why wasn’t it 3? Or 6 (2 each?). I don’t think there was a pattern to this – we noticed a table of two had 9 popsicles delivered to them, only for staff to later realise it as a mistake, and rectified.
While getting more than bargained for isn’t usually a problem, this speaks of more other underlying problems. Case in point:
After we polished off our tamarind popsicles, the staff placed napkins and a dessert spoon on the table for each of us. This made sense, as
a) we were told we would be getting several desserts (emphasis on the plural)
b) one of the desserts, a snow egg-like ice cream, is on the menu and that looked appropriate for a dessert spoon. So we waited.
About 15 minutes later, we were about ask the waitress what the deal was, when she abruptly came over and removed the napkins and spoons.
We chased up, asking if there was anything more to the banquet, to which we were told “no”.
Well, that’s cool.
I have never been more torn on concluding a review as I am with this one. On the one hand, I love Devon during the day – and I still do. The food served during those times is nothing short of amazing, easily deserving an 8/10+ every time. The service is also decent during the day.
Yet, and yet, Devon By Night is a real shamble – much of the food was a disappointment to me, with the service on the same level to boot. It’s a shame, really – Zachary Tan is brilliant, but the dinner menu needs some serious tweaking. Or maybe we were just given all the bad stuff, but that doesn’t really excuse the restaurant either.
Rework the food, rework the menu to make pricing and portioning clearer, rework the banquet so terms are made clear, and make sure the staff know what’s up.
I score this experience as I do below, yet, this Friday, I’ll be visiting Devon Cafe during the day for breakfast. If that’s not “torn” in the figurative sense, I don’t know what is.
Devon By Night – a different beast to Devon by Day indeed.
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀
- Beef ribs are a winner
- Devon still knows its salmon
Not so Awesome:
- The heating issue – it’s winter, heating should be appropriately provisioned
- The service is very inconsistent and requires reworking
- Overall, food is a far cry from the quality that Devon sets for itself on its daytime menu