I’ve come to realise that one of the lovely things about growing up is that life becomes a little less surprising, a little less shocking, a little less unpredictable. As a child, it’s still surprising when you tip a bottle upside down and the water inside goes all over your shirt. It’s still surprising that you get in trouble for saying “MUMMY, that lady has a big tummy”. It’s still surprising that you aren’t allowed to eat ice-cream at every meal, every day. You haven’t yet built all these little world schemas that tell you how life generally tends to go – the laws of nature, which things you’re supposed to say in public, what people eat at each meal.
This sort of knowledge is very useful when it comes to ordering in cafes. It’s made even more so by the fact that the Sydney cafe scene tends to follow fairly prescriptive rules. For breakfast, current menu must-haves include a classic egg and sourdough option with sides such as spinach and smoked salmon (cured if you’re lucky), a bircher or toasted muesli with poached fruit and yoghurt; for lunch a poached chicken sandwich with herbed mayonnaise and celery and nuts, a superfood salad with quinoa and other ancient grains. And so on. The regularity of this is comforting becuase it helps you avoid the paralysing uncertainty of a new menu. “It’s ok”, you think to yourself, “there aren’t really 10 choices, because I’m an ‘egg person’. So that narrows it down to the egg options. And I’m in more of a ‘baked eggs’ mood than a ‘scrambled eggs with sides’ mood”. Done. The flip side to all this is that life can become rather boring. And so, it’s a bit of a revelation when someone takes one of those menu staples and turns it upside down and inside out. In a good way, not an “I just spilled water all over my shirt” way.
We ended up at Devon on a Saturday morning absolutely ravenous after swimming a kilometre in the stunning Prince Alfred Park Swimming Pool. Following a tip off from Urban Walkabout, I had a good feeling about the place. Plus I’d heard about its pedigree – having Zacharay Tan (former sous-chef at Bistro Guillame) and Jacqui Ektoros (formerly of Guillaume at Bennelong) at the helm bodes well for a cafe . Devon certainly didn’t disappoint. Devon is a clean, ultra-chic cafe with a Danish vibe. The front room is dominated by beechwood tables and stools with seafoam blue accents, is filled with light and opens out through large windows onto Devonshire street. The water cups are enamel mugs. The counter is covered in french bread, freshly-baked friands and muffins, quiches and brioche that are reminiscent of Hardware Societe in Melbourne. Through a black corridoor the back room is a sun-filled garden terrace with complete with a wall of fresh growing herbs (I kid you not). Yes people, this is the stuff dreams are made of.
Moments after walking in and taking a seat at the stools facing onto Devonshire Street, a waitress makes her way over to offer us a coffee to start as we peruse the menu. We practically jump down her throat in gratitude as we order two lattes, which arrive promptly. The Five Senses Cup of Excellence blend does not disappoint. It tastes dark, with bitter elements and a strong hint of caramel. I’m not sold on the thickness of the stoneware latte cups, but aesthetically the red is cheerful and suits the space well.
The menu itself is an interesting mix of Sydney staples with a twist (baked eggs with stewed red peppers and pesto, brioche french toast with nutella and peanut butter ice-cream) and total surprises (black rice pudding with coconut cream and palm sugar) as well as blackboard salad and sandwich specials. As both of us are feeling a little delicate, we go with our usual fallback fail-safe options – bruschetta of goat’s feta and avocado ($10; a variation on the FAT, a Sydney classic), and eggs with spinach and sourdough ($13.5). But when they come out, both have a delightful twist.
The bruschetta is laid out on a wooden board atop a single piece of sourdough. The bottom layer is a creamy sauce made of blended goat’s fetta and beetroot puree. This is topped with a generous layer of thick slices of avocado, fresh roasted beetroot and microherbs. It is an absolute joy, like no other sourdough FAT combination that I’ve had in recent times.
Meanwhile, my brunch date has chosen the 63 degree eggs on my recommendation (I’ve had a thing for eggs sous-vide since Seven Seeds). They are gorgeous little parcels of protein nestled amongst sourdough and silky fried spinach, the yolk spilling softly out the side as she breaks the white open. As eggs sous-vide are known to be, they are perfectly creamy and soft.
Having been unable to drag our eyes away from the ‘coconut jam’ on the menu, we’ve ordered some as a side (more out of curiosity than anything else). Smothering her second piece of sourdough in the jam, she makes us both a mini dessert. The jam is a light brown colour, and it is heaven in a ramekin. Coconut and caramel blended into a light fresh sauce that doesn’t taste as though it’s going straight to your thighs (although it probably is). It’s like sting a miniature coconut custard pie. On bread. When one of the staff comes over for a chat we ask him about the jam, which is apparently based on coconut cream. It’s definitely going straight to my thighs. I couldn’t give a damn.
Devon, thank you. For taking my Saturday morning ritual and turning it inside out a little. For surprising me – and not in that “water all over my shirt” way. For bringing a little bit of Melbourne (autumn leaves, Scandinavian cafe style, eggs sous-vide, French bread and all) to Sydney. I’ll definitely be back for that cabinet of pastries and ready-made salad specials.
76 Devonshire Street
Surry Hills NSW
(02) 9211 8777
Best bits: an inspired food menu that does Sydney cafe staples with a twist, watching people and autumn leaves pass by on Devonshire street, the clean fresh Danish fitout complete with beech stools and herb wall. Food-wise: the bruschetta.
Worst bits: thick-rimmed latte cups that border on mugs, not open on Sundays.
Price point: $$
Coffee: Five Senses
Go here for… A Saturday morning sanity brunch to clear your head.
What you should know: bring your swimmers and dive in to the divine Prince Alfred Park pool for a few laps afterwards. Or take the dog for a walk in the park.