It's been almost three months since Devon Cafe branched out into dinner service. By day, they're all about French toast, smoked salmon blinis, fried chicken burgers and hulking great muffins oozing with Nutella. There are a couple of Asian touches scattered across the menu but Malaysian head chef Zachary Tan really kicks things up a notch when the cafe switches over at night. That's when the binchotan charcoal barbecue comes out, and you'll find everything from hawker-style skate wings to Indian snacks to wobbly Chinese custards with truffle.
The rear dining room
There's already a queue of people waiting on the footpath when the doors re-open at 6pm. Devon is a series of nooks and crannies hiding tables, eventually opening out at the back into what feels like someone's extended garage. A graffitied wall and a wire fence covered with camouflage netting only adds to the urban industrial feel.
Batch Brewery Addison rye ale $10
There's a good mix of drinks here including eight wines by the glass, plum wine, whisky and beers. The Echigo koshihikari rice lager ($12) sounds intriguing but I stick with the Addison rye ale by Batch Brewery, made only a few suburbs away in Marrickville. It's light and smooth, and you score half a litre for only ten bucks.
KJI fried chicken $15
Korean-style chicken wings, gochujang and peanut sauce
You can choose the chef's tasting menu for $60 per person, but we decide to wing it on our own. The KJI fried chicken is a unanimous choice, five mid-wings covered in a golden armour of batter served with a side of spicy gochujang sauce covered liberally with crushed peanuts.
Devon's lobster roll $15.50 each
Lobster, radish, tatsoi and kewpie
The Devon lobster roll is fast becoming another signature dish here. The glazed mini brioche buns have a dreamy softness to them but the lobster itself is lacking the sweetness I'd expect, even with a support cast of julienned radish, tatsoi mustard leaves and a generous drizzle of kewpie mayonnaise.
Pork bun $6 each
Hakka-style Malaysian pork belly with taro
The ubiquitous pork bun has popped up here too. Here a hefty slab of Hakka-style sweet braised pork belly is sandwiched with coral lettuce, mayonnaise and a thick wedge of cooked taro inside a fluffy milk bun. I'm not sure that the slightly grain texture of the taro works well against the soft belly pork but the yawning white bun is still hard to resist.
Seared blue fin tuna with radish, shiitake, oyster sauce and truffle oil $15
We'd resisted tonight's special of seared blue fin tuna, but the kitchen sends one out anyway. The tuna is a deep shade of vermillion, stacked onto a tower of layered radish strips, shiitake mushroom and cucumber. It's a one-bite affair, seasoned with oyster sauce and truffle oil.
Chinese egg custard $29
Shiitake, fungus, yellow needle flower, Chinese fried bread and Perigord black truffle
Truffles rear their head again with the Chinese egg custard. The terracotta dish is blanketed with finely shaved Perigord black truffle. It's a dish of varying textures, the soft wobble of sweet steamed custard contrasted against the crunch of white fungus, meaty shiitake mushrooms and the delicate strands of yellow needle flower. On the side are hefty sticks of deep-fried Chinese bread.
There's a lot going on in this dish - I don't think the Chinese bread is entirely necessary as it overwhelms the delicate sweetness of the custard. We detect the use of truffle oil too, overshadowing the fresh truffles, although these are admittedly mild in flavour on their own. What I do love is the simplicity of the Chinese egg custard itself. It's masterfully steamed, with a quivering fragility that glides down the throat like silk.
Pig ear katsu $19
with cabbage, wagarashi and Bulldog sauce
The pig ear katsu is a huge winner too. We almost mistake it for schnitzel at first sight, only remembering it contains pigs ear when we noticed the cross-section.
Pig ear katsu
The pig ear has been cooked to a gentle tenderness, punctuated with its trademark cartilage crunch. Its golden brown panko crumb batter isn't oily at all. A squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of Bulldog sauce - like a fruity Worcestershire - and a dab of hot mustard makes this one of my favourite dishes of the night.
Aunty Yulia's short ribs $29
Beef short ribs slow cooked in Indonesian sweet soy with spicy tomato and basil relish
We can smell the beef short ribs as soon as they hit the table. They've been braised to a melting tenderness, the sweet slow-cooked beef sliding clean off the bone. It's lush with fat and inordinately satisfying. Look out for what looks like a tomato and basil salad on the side. It's actually their version of a spicy tomato and basil relish, fierce with chilli and quite a sensory shock if you don't remember to brace yourself.
Tamarind popsicle $5
We've ordered way too much food for three people and exercise some restraint with just an order of the special matcha green tea fondant for dessert. Zachary throws this to the wayside by sending out all of his desserts instead. This may have something to do with Suze's regular visits for sweets in the past. It could also be part of his plan to see three females eat until they explode.
The tamarind popsicle involves a bit of tableside theatre - the entire ice block mold is brought around so you can retrieve your own treat by grasping the paddlepop stick. There's no compromise on flavour here. The popsicle is supremely intense with tamarind, simultaneously sweet and salty and a little bit sour. It reminds me of the salted plum sweets my grandma used to give us when we were young. This one's definitely for tamarind fans who'll probably go wild over the concentrated hit.
Fried ice cream bao $7
Fried ice cream baos sound brilliant in concept but end up somewhat over-the-top in execution. The lychee ice cream feels lost within the panko crumb coating, let alone the river of chocolate sauce drizzled across the top. Working out to eat this is tricky too. Using hands looks way too messy, but it's difficult to get both bao and ice cream using just a spoon too.
Matcha green tea fondant with houji cha ice cream
The matcha green tea fondant isn't on every night so we leap on it when we realise it's available. It's a prettily plated garden of green tea rubble, honeydew cubes and a precise scoop of houji cha ice cream beside a turret of fondant cake.
Green tea fondant money shot
There's a happy sigh of relief when the lava of green tea spills forth from within. The fondant is on the muted side of sweet but it's the houji cha ice cream I can't stop eating. There's a strong undercurrent of roasted sweetness, almost akin to genmaicha or roasted rice tea. I want to eat this by the bucketload come summer.
Coconut jelly, guava sorbet and freeze dried pineapple $11
And then there's the coconut jelly and guava sorbet dessert that screams summer in a glass. Dig past the snowfall of refreshing guava sorbet, the layer of coconut jelly and freeze dried pineapple and then relish the jackpot of sago pearls suspended in a gula melaka palm sugar syrup. It's the perfect end to a big meal.
Devon by Night takes no prisoners when it comes to offering modern Asian cuisine, and judging by the queues that turn up each night, there's a crowd that's ready and hungry for more.
Devon by Night at Devon Cafe
76 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9211 8777
Devon by Night opening hours:
Thursday to Saturday 6pm-10pm
Devon Cafe is also open for breakfast and lunch
Monday to Friday 6.30am-4.30pm
Saturday and Sunday 8am-3.30pm
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9/18/2014 02:12:00 am