Monday, January 31, 2011
There's no mystery as to how this restaurant got its name, but The Devonshire is still sharp-witted enough to catch diners by surprise.
Located near the point where Steel Street sneaks into Devonshire in Surry Hills (or as your mental GPS will calculate it: footsteps away from The Shakespeare Hotel), this new establishment takes its geographical surrounds much more to heart than you'd expect.
A key dessert actually pays tribute to the street address – as well as the tea of the same name. Devonshire Tea Crème Brûlée ($15) is served with whipped cream, cherry jam and a scoop of scone ice cream perched atop sweet crumbs. It's a very likeable and whipsmart deconstruction of an afternoon tea; the brûlée keeps the crackable-caramel sweetness in check with a brew-flavoured custard.
As our waiter served the dessert, I told him that I thought the idea of placing a tea-flavoured brûlée in an actual teacup was quite "cute".
"Our grandmothers don't think so," he deadpanned. "They've got nothing to drink their tea out of."
Apparently the staff members went around sweet-talking their Nans into handing over their teacups. It involved a lot of convincing and overstating of how chipped the crockery was (and actual chipping action, to further strengthen the case that their grans would find the cups unuseable). This was the level of banter at The Devonshire, which probably boasts the most good-humoured service I've come across. (The staff also could double as an interior decorating crack team, given the hands-on role they played in physically making the restaurant happen.)
Devonshire Tea Crème Brûlée was not the only appetite-sating dish we had at The Devonshire. The beetroot + goat's curd standard is reconfigured a little here, with sweet beet discs partnered with crisp, fat-golden potatoes, toasted pine nuts and a salty mousse whipped from Woodside goat's curd ($18).
Will's main contained three (rich) takes on Bangalow pork (belly, loin and shoulder), which reminded me of that conversation between Homer and Lisa on The Simpsons (Lisa: "Dad, all those meats come from the same animal". Dad: "Right, Lisa, some wonderful, magical animal!") Pillowy-soft Potato Gnocci ($26) were served with flavour-rich pine mushrooms and peas cooked in a reduced mushroom stock.
Also, you know your dinner is off to a good start when you are won over by the bread-and-butter alone. I'm not one to usually moon over a butter dish, but ours came with a scoop of such knife-spreadable goodness. It was a curl of light, aerated butter, sweetly accented with honey. It was so delicious – I could have easily just eaten it endlessly.
Sometimes when we go out and we're the youngest diners in a room, and the tone of the restaurant seems serious, proper and overconcerned with the right tablecloth, we worry that the experience will be very stuffy. When I first walked into The Devonshire, I feared that this could be the case, but I was completely wrong. The service was so witty and likeable, while being professional, knowledgeable and totally onto it. Each nosey question was answered in a comprehensive and friendly fashion. And the food managed to be well thought-out and high-quality, while being accessible and, at times, inventive.
This seems to be another instance of Sydney's over-riding trend in fine-dining: a high-pedigree culinary team taking an approach that's more relaxed and less serious (although this particular restaurant has more of a traditional touch than renegades such as Duke Bistro or Ms G's). Credit for The Devonshire goes to Matt Kemp and Jeremy Bentley (both of the hatted Restaurant Balzac) and they've brought a nice European flavour to this stretch of Surry Hills. Like the variety of ornate and odd-shaped mirrors that adorn the wall, a few different styles are mixed in together, and it somehow all elegantly works out.
The Devonshire, 204 Devonshire St, Surry Hills NSW (02) 9698 9427, www.thedevonshire.com.au. You can follow The Devonshire on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Dog-eared novels aside, the best summer reading right now seems to be the specials board at Gelato Messina in Darlinghurst. It's shot through with humour, surprises and unexpected characters – the King even makes a cameo in Elvis The Fat Years: his oversized waistline and appetite inspires a fatty mash-up of peanut butter gelato with banana jam and fried brioche.
Hello Sailor syncs pink grapefruit with aperol sorbet while Danny Two Times is a double-hit of citrus: yoghurt and marmalade gelato paired with flourless orange & poppy seed cake. Names aside, other flavours have attention-seeking factors, too.
When I was accidentally within ice-cream-buying distance of Gelato Messina on the weekend, I cursed myself for mistiming my visit – I'd just finished a filling breakfast at The Falconer and had zero stomach room for anything else. But it turns out that you can't actually walk past Messina without requesting at least one scoop – it's a universal law (or at least one that reigns strongly on that stretch of Victoria Road).
So after a long peer at the display case, I had the Cardamom with Apricot Puree – the lively, bracing spice and the jammy-sweet fruit making the greed worthwhile.
And, because it's hard to minimise any order at this gelato parlour, I even had a Tiny Cone topped with Raspberry and Rosewater as a chaser. It's a light, unexpected and summer-perfect flavour, the kind that evokes a mood-lifting hum as you walk the streets, the rhythm of footsteps punctuated by cone-finishing bites.
As for the next installment of Gelato Messina specials – I imagine that will probably be must-read material, too.
Gelato Messina, Shop 1/241 Victoria St, Darlinghurst NSW (02) 8354 1223, www.gelatomessina.com.au. You can also get 'Flavour Alerts' by following Gelato Messina on Twitter or Facebook.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Sometimes deciding what you'd like to eat can lead to an endless loop of counter-arguments. How nice it'd be to just order everything on offer and sort it out according to whim and appetite.
With the "Little Brekkies" menu at A Little On The Side in Darlington, with half-serve portions from $5.50 to $9 each, we realised it'd actually be possible.
So we went in a group of four (making those early-morning portion-dividing calculations less painful on the brain) and asked for one of everything – creating a DIY breakfast degustation by accident.
With so many dishes, inevitably some outrank others, and my favourites were the Mint & Feta Toasted Tortilla Wrap ($7), Spiced Beans ($8), served with scrambled eggs and Turkish toast, Grilled Haloumi Roll ($5.50) and the Croissant French Toast ($8) which comes with spiced berry compote and instantly sparks the thought, "why have we never seen this before?" Croissant slices served French-toast-style – it's ridiculously genius. Who knew you could make French toast even more French and heart-clogging? It's really tasty, too, even though it's probably a nutritionist's very idea of stress.
If you follow in our menu-ordering path, be prepared to eat A LOT of scrambled eggs, as they seem to insert their way into almost every dish. Also, your skills at maxing out a table's ability to take many plates will be tested, too. There's a lot of plate-juggling and plate-consolidation needed to make everything fit.
It's always fun to have a multi-portion breakfast, though, and as our friend Chris says, it means your meal truly lives up to the cafe's title of A Little On The Side.
A Little On The Side, Corner of Boundary and Ivy Lane, Darlington, (02) 9698 7767
Monday, January 10, 2011
Despite its brand-new status, the year's start is always built-in with familiar features: well-intended resolutions (marked "Fragile" for their easy-to-break status); an amazing glimpse of what your life is like when it's not overrun by office hours – a phenomenon that's quickly eclipsed by back-to-work grumbles; and, of course, the beginning of Sydney Festival.
I like that our appetites are programmed into the guide, with Fast Festival Feasts being something you can reliably look forward to. We went to try what was on offer at Bistro Moncur, but even though a vegetarian option was advertised both in the program and online, and the fact I even rang ahead to check, like the worrywart that I am (and was reassured that, yes, a vego alternative would be available), it wasn't on offer at all when we got there.
So here's what made me glad we stuck around: the day's specials featured a Peach Raspberry Parfait, served with peppermint-poached peaches, shreds of young coconut and fresh berries. It was the kind of dessert that spells out summer – and the year's start – in an unfamiliar, bracing way.
Bistro Moncur, 116 Queen Street, Woollahra NSW (02) 9363 2519, www.woollahrahotel.com.au