For those of us not lucky enough to have hatted restaurants on regular dining rotation, it can be a forbidding idea to drop hundreds on a venue based on reputation alone and have your first experience of fine dining be a twenty course degustation meal with way too much tableware to keep track of.
In many ways, The Devonshire’s Prix Fixe menu, set firmly at $35 per head every Friday, is about closing that intimidating distance between diner and restaurant, while simultaneously teasing you about what is on offer, should you come back when the sun goes down. It’s also space for head chef Jeremy Bentley to play with new menu items and cooking methods, which will often show up in full regalia on its ‘official’ menu.
The Devonshire’s vibe is all about understated elegance that manages to be approachable instead of forbidding, a trait that extends from its simple, dark wood furniture, to its unassuming storefront that fits in perfectly with its Surry Hills locale. As you might expect from what is effectively a repurposed terrace in Surry Hills, the space is by no means large but a combination of bar skylight and glass doors means it does not feel particularly cramped either. The space at lunch comprises a quiet murmur of voices, with music just loud enough to make any lull in conversation a comfortable one.
The first highlight of the meal comes from an oft-ignored component of the meal: bread and butter. The round honey butter, however, is worth the extra carbs and/or stomach space. Even non-butter-fiends (how do you live so virtuously?) will find it hard to resist the incredibly creamy texture and the subtly sweet, almost toffee-like taste that just melts into the warm bread.
The crumbed lamb shoulder entree plays with your textural expectations as the crumbly batter of the lamb squares is cut open to reveal the fibrous texture of lamb meat. It’s a combination that works surprisingly well, particularly when mixed with the sweet, acidic flavours of the pickled red onion and mellowed out by the dots of more neutral basil cream. The small fried flowers dotted around the dish actually played quite a crucial role of introducing an extra note of salty, slightly charred flavour that called back to the deep fried crust over the lamb cubes. In terms of pickle-to-lamb ratio, the dish could easily have used another cube so the pickles wouldn’t be left alone.
The seared King salmon is well-seasoned, the crispy skin was a highlight of the salmon, which was cooked well but leans more towards the rare side by default. I’m not sure if fresh orange was the best fit for the salmon meat, but the addition of the citrus notes worked well with the fragrant pine nuts and sauce. The addition of the confit potato noodles made this dish surprisingly filling, though the overall taste of the dish is that of lightness and subtle flavours that work to complement the natural flavours of the salmon.
I have to specially mention the house dressing used for the fennel salad ($9) side that we ordered with the lunch because it was absolutely amazing and lived up to its price tag; the sweet vinaigrette was delicately balanced, with a subtly refreshing citrus tang and went perfectly with the crisp greens and the well-toasted, ridiculously crunchy almonds. We had to stop ourselves from ordering a whole bowl of the salad.
Our chocolate mousse dessert, a definitive study of dark chocolate’s many incarnations, was definitely an indulgent way to finish a long lunch. The refreshing coldness of the chocolate sorbet quenelle over the mousse meant that the textures and flavours of the dessert undergo a subtle transition of textures and sweetness levels, from light, cold and sweet ice cream to a more substantial, creamy mousse with a larger hit of dark chocolate bitterness, balanced by the textural contrast of brownie crumbs. Where the dish stumbled was in its choice of fruit; the caramelised pears, while aesthetically beautiful, was dominated by a muted, faintly alcoholic sweetness that was definitely not the flavour required to break up the richness of the triple chocolate hit. Something lighter and more acidic was definitely needed here.
It’s no surprise that the Prix Fixe lunch menu continues to dominate the rankings when it comes to value for money, considering The Devonshire’s usual price point and reputation, though there are admittedly some dishes that could use a tweak here and there. Even better, the menu does accommodate vegetarians, despite its protein-based mains – simply mention this while booking and adjustments to the menu can be made.
With weekly menu changes as guaranteed as its set price, this is a place worth keeping up with, for your end-of-week lunch-treat consideration.
The Devonshire, Surry Hills
204 Devonshire St, Surry Hills
Phone: (02) 9698 9427
Web: The Devonshire
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of The Devonshire