14/20

The Devonshire

204 Devonshire St, Surry Hills, New South Wales

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  • 02 9698 9427

Terry Durack

What sort of on-trend new Sydney restaurant is this? Where's the fried chicken, the sliders, the tater tots? Not only that, I can hear myself speak. I can see my dinner in front of me. It's on a white plate, not a board or a slate. There are even tablecloths. Surely this is swimming against the tide of Sydney dining, circa 2011.

Mainstream cooking in this country has long been influenced by the trends in Europe and Britain. The current young-chef brigade takes great delight in turning to the US instead, with its lively packaging of Asian street food and second-gen immigrant fusion into savvy bars with attitude.

That makes the Devonshire a bit of a throwback, with head chef Jeremy Bentley having cooked for four years at the Square in London, before working with the Devonshire's co-owner, British-born Matthew Kemp, at Balzac. Reflecting the kind of British take on French and Mediterranean cooking that was in vogue in the late 1990s, Bentley's menu has an almost retro, rear-vision mirror feel to it. So there's king salmon rillettes with hot smoked pork belly and watercress bavarois; duck breast with leg confit and fig tartine; and bittersweet chocolate pave with chocolate sorbet and chocolate ice-cream.

Interior designer Victoria Water has taken her cue from my lady's parlour, creating a restrained, cosy but elegant dining room, with one wall broken up with a kooky mix of framed vintage mirrors of various shapes and sizes. Clothed tables and upholstered wall panels do a great deal to harness noise levels. Most tables tonight are set for two, accommodating two generations of diners from Gen Y to way down the other end of the alphabet.

It's the sort of small, sweet, charming place where it feels like the right thing to do is to start with a flute of fresh, nutty, sparkly Cloudy Bay Pelorus ($14). With it comes a complimentary warm, fluffy brandade of potato and salted snapper and mulloway instead of the usual cod, with some very moreish, well-made, golden grissini.

It's the last we'll see of anything so simple. Three big, fat seared Canadian scallops ($25) are presented rather comically topped with mini lifebuoys of fried squid rings, sitting on a saucy mix of pomegranate, golden raisins and celeriac, accompanied by two jet-black overgrown tadpoles of black, squid ink-dyed celeriac puree. The balance of flavours and the precision of the cooking make up for the tricksy presentation – but it's a fine line.

An equally obvious amount of work has gone into a bird nest ($22) fashioned from potato strings baked until crisp, filled with neatly crumbed quail eggs and tender quail pieces. It's an odd dish, finished with glossy dobs of bois boudrin, a tomato, tarragon and mustard-based sauce once described in Britain as "Roux Brothers ketchup". Eating quail is an enjoyably picky thing to do but eating it from a nest? With eggs in it? It feels illegal. The fine line has been crossed.

The wine list is refreshingly brief, with 10 red and 10 whites. Such brevity only works when the wines are at one with the food style, as here. A 2009 Lucien Muzard et Fils Bourgogne ($63) is fresh and punchy and quite capable of mating with main courses of pork and fish.

Again, the kitchen has put the hard yards in with the Kurobuta (since changed to Bangalow) pork done three ways ($34). The shoulder has been slow-roasted, shredded, mixed with prunes and confit onion and wrapped in brik pastry; the salted belly is cooked sous vide for eight hours with pork fat; and the loin is roasted to order. Cubes of apple jelly, swishes of pumpkin puree and dribbles of cider-infused jus make it an extremely busy plate. But there are some good flavours here.

After all of the above, the mulloway is the one that got away, sent out simply steamed and unmucked-about-with, save for a drizzle of surprisingly subtle sardine vinaigrette ($32) and three relaxed discs of softened red onion and two clam beignets that taste more of batter than clam.

The idea of Devonshire tea creme brulee, served in a floral tea cup alongside a scoop of scone ice-cream, cherry jam and whipped cream ($15) is a cute one but just doesn't come off as a single entity.

The Devo will do very nicely for those who want a grown-up dining experience, with its charming salon atmosphere; likeable, attentive service and wine-friendly food. It's a bit old-school and faffy but that can start looking very attractive after a bit too much new-school plonked-on-a-plate stuff. Good to know Sydney's now old enough, and young enough, to do both.

tdurack@smh.com.au

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204 Devonshire St, Surry Hills, New South Wales

  • Prices - about $140 for two, plus drinks
  • Opening Hours - Lunch, Friday; Dinner, Tuesday-Saturday
  • Author - Terry Durack
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