Matt Kemp is well known in Sydney for two things: swearing and Franglaise food. You may have spotted the geezer chef at his Randwick restaurant Balzac, cooking up fine French fare with an English bent, all the while tearing a new one out of the dictionary's 'F' pages.
A lot people are talking up the Devonshire as Matt Kemp's new Surry Hills digs. Before you go in, guns blazing and cutlery at the ready expecting a hipster Balzac, you should probably know a few things. First, it's not Kemp at the pans, but his 2IC, Jeremy Bentley. Kemp is backing the operation. Second, the Devonshire isn't so much hip as steady. And in many ways, that's a relief. It's been so long since Time Out's been to a restaurant where the food isn't a riff on LA-style tacos or New York-style mod Asian that we'd almost forgotten the joy of a straight-shooting neighbourhood fine diner.
But before you start freaking out about nacho and sriracha withdrawals, take a deep breath and read the menu. Yes, it's a little more expensive than you first might expect (entrees $18-$25, mains $26-$36), but the reasonably priced wine list makes up for it, with plenty to choose from under the $60 mark. The food definitely has the Kemp stamp of approval on it and yet Bentley, dare we say it, may have the lighter touch when it comes to dishes such as the unexpectedly light and rich quail bird nest salad. Here, juicy pieces of quail sit on top of a messy salad of bittersweet leaves topped with golden fried quail's eggs. It's all caged in a tangly nest of deep-fried noodles with a sweet sauce of shallots, red wine vinegar, tomato sauce and Worcestershire sauce. The whole thing is finished with dots of liver cream around the plate.
Food is the focus at the Devonshire. The dining room is neutral and classic, relying on what's on the plate and in the glass rather than what's on the walls. Pork three ways (roast belly, sous vide loin and shoulder captured in pastry with prunes) comes complete with swirls of fine pumpkin puree and cubes of apple jelly. The interplay of textures is smart, there's enough acid on the plate to cut the sweetness and fat and the leftovers would make an epic sandwich. But it's the fig tarte fine that's captured our hearts. Sure, it's one small component of a larger duck dish of breast, confit leg, leaves and baby onions. But the puff pastry, decked out in fine slices of fig coated in a fig-juice toffee and basted in roasting juices is so concentrated in ducky-figgy deliciousness we'd happily forego the rest of the dish to eat two of these beauties.
The vego options are fine (a beetroot and goat's curd salad and gnocchi with pine 'shrooms, parmo and peas), but it would be great to see a chef like Bentley break some boundaries on the vegetarian front. Hey - most vegos know to eat a few crudités before they go out to a serious restaurant, anyway. Dessert-wise, the super-cute Devonshire tea crème brulée sees a little tea-flavoured custard crusted in toffee and served in a dainty tea cup with a scoop of scone-flavoured ice cream on the side. And yes, there's jam and cream.
Service at the Devonshire is classic and straightforward. The floor is run by sommelier Matthew Jolly, who used to work the room at CBD fine diner Bécasse. He's got that winning mix of in-jokey and stone-cold-pro down pat. The wine list is short and sharp, travelling from Australia to the Alsace. Between Jolly and Bentley, you're well sorted.
The Devonshire is not a two-fisted, legs-up, party-down restaurant - it's a straight-up, no-nonsense fine-diner. It's good to see the universe regaining a little balance.
Essential eats! Devonshire creme brulee + duck breast and Quail bird nest salad.