Forget lamb roast – give the vegetarian one a go
With pubs and hotels dating back to the 1800s, Devonshire St in Surry Hills has its fair share of stories to tell. And now with the Sydney light rail complete and the area open to pedestrians again, customers are flowing back to the popular eat street.
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DOVE & OLIVE
Getting together with friends for a few drinks and dinner at the pub is no longer taken for granted. But "the CBD crowd wants something just outside the city but not too far," says Dove & Olive's co-owner Chris Deal.
"Inner-city pubs are evolving. They're not just a place to drink; they are becoming more social gathering places," Chris says.
"As the city grows, it needs places to socialise. Rather than trying to fit three people on the lounge, they meet up at their social hub."
And what better way to catch up with friends and family than a Sunday roast (without having to wash the dishes).
Just as the pub scene is evolving so too is pub fare.
"We realised how popular it (Sunday roast) was so we extended it throughout the weekend. It used to be a rotating roast - beef, lamb, pork and turkey. But then we started getting requests for a vegetarian offering, so figured, sure, we'll give the vegetarian loaf a try," says Chris. "We started with four serves, just so we could cater to the occasional vegetarian. Now we do seven to nine loaves a week, each one making four to five serves. And that's all just from word-of-mouth."
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Knowing that the way to the locals' hearts is through their bellies, he took all this feedback on board and with his team made other sweeping changes.
Like so many other pubs and hotels, they had tried modernising the menu and "make it a bit fancy".
"But when you do that you start to lose the tradition of the meal itself. Where we started to go wrong was when we changed out some of the traditional vegetables. And also, when you do fancier vegetables, you tend to do smaller portions," says Chris.
"We ultimately decided to go back to the original vegetables - and plenty more of them. Specifically, potatoes. Potatoes peas and carrots.
"Turns out, most popular roasts are beef and lamb. And they're also traditional. Plus, a vegetarian one because we were asked for it more and more.
"We do get vegans - which are hard to cater to in our kitchen - but if you take the Yorkshire pudding off the roast, it's vegan." (But why? Why would you possibly want to do that?)
In addition to this change, they made a big a call on their pie selection, and in addition to their award-winning slow-cooked beef version, they've created a vegetarian option.
Fortunately, one thing has stayed the same, and that's their craft beer selection.
"The Dove was one of the first pubs to feature local craft beers and that won't change," Chris says.
"It's what the customer wants that drives our decisions not what we think they should have."
Sounds like the definition of a true-blood local pub.
(Local Rewards cardholders receive 10 per cent off craft beer paddles; localrewards.com.au)
- 156 Devonshire St; doveandolive.com.au
Barely a block from Central Station, Devon Cafe gets its fair share of caffeine-craving commuters.
Should you add to that a blackboard menu that lists the requisite scrambled eggs, smashed avo and raisin toast, they'd have the breakfast crowd locked in and even rack up bonus points for the enclosed courtyard seating out back.
That set-up would be a safe bet, but where is the fun in that, particularly when you have culinary creative, Zachary Tan (Bistro Guillaume, Pier) in the kitchen.
Brought in by owners Noni Widjaja and Derek Puah, together with Tan they hit Sydney's cafe scene with a menu that blended fine dining elements with Malaysian Hawker-style food along with Japanese and Korean influences for dishes such as Breakfast with Sakuma's - grilled miso king salmon with smoked eel croquette, 63-degree egg and kewpie mayo.
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Seven years and three additional cafes later, the essence of the menu hasn't wavered, if anything, it's gotten even edgier amassing a legion of fans who clamour for their sweet and savoury signature dishes and wait with baited breathe for Devon's "brunch experiences" such as the annual truffle menu with their famous salted egg yolk cheesy curly fries topped with grated truffle.
Their current spring brunch experience menu is a veritable homage to seafood, starting with a bite-sized portion of uni hash (long-spined sea urchin, Scarlet prawn tartare, truffle aioli, hash potato and caviar) followed by an uni, unagi (freshwater eel), Tamago (Japanese omelette) sando, served in halves in a cardboard takeaway container.
From there it's the popular Malaysian-influenced mie goreng topped with an F63 degree egg, uni and Scarlet prawns.
From surf back to turf, there is the scrumptious Wagyu D rump steak to which you can add those more-ish curly fries for an extra $10.
Finish off the meal with yummy Milo-misu - it's tiramisu, only Devon-style. ($69pp, minimum of two people. Share plates with menu applicable to the whole table)
- 76 Devonshire St; devoncafe.com.au
After years of 80-hour work weeks leading the kitchen of a busy Darling Harbour restaurant, Dareo Lee decided it was time to leave and return to his childhood home in Korea, or more precisely, Korean foods.
Dareo explains most of his food memories are of dishes he had when he was young but rapidly expanded when he trained in both French and Italian cooking.
"We both love cheese and tomatoes but Caprese is not quite suited to a Korean menu," says
Illa Kim, Lee's wife and co-owner of SOUL Dining, noting that such quandaries ultimately led to them opening SOUL Dining.
Blending the soul of Seoul with premium Australian ingredients, they've created what Illa refers to as "Contemporary Korean" dining and taking pride of place on the menu is indeed cheese and tomatoes.
"We just made our own version of burrata - buffalo mozzarella with an heirloom tomato kimchi. We've been trying to get it right for so long, but now it's finally ready to make the menu."
Unlike regular kimchi where vegetables are left to ferment, that just can't be done with tomatoes.
"If we made it beforehand, it would just get too soggy and sloppy but if you kept the tomatoes fresh, the marinade gets grainy which is why we could never figure out a way to do it."
Adamant about using Australian produce, they knew they wanted to feature market-fresh heirloom tomatoes.
"Each one tastes a little bit different," says Illa.
After years of trialling, they've figured out a time-consuming process that allows the individual flavours of tomatoes to come through while still enjoying the complex taste of the kimchi.
"What we are doing more and more with this menu is we try to combine the good things from Australia and the good things from Korea. Especially Australian produce, but only in its best state," he says.
"Without that purity, they lose their character as Australia has such great produce. But what happens quite often in Asia is that people just overpower things with dressings or sauces - so it ends up that everything tastes the same."
So, if a seemingly simple dish such as cheese and tomatoes get such meticulous attention, just imagine the intricacies of everything else on the menu such as the greenlip abalone risotto and crumbed lamb rump in a potato bun, whose names alone speak to their complexity.
Dareo and Illa see these dishes as s roundabout compliment in that they are only able to put those creations on the menu because of their return customers' trust.
"When you spend good money at a place, particularly when you don't' go out that much, you choose a place carefully so we want them to have the best experience they can have," Illa says.
"It's the smalls things, the nuances that people enjoy and make for a memorable moment." Which is just one more reason they took so long to perfect their burrata. They understand the unique flavour of each fresh heirloom tomato, no matter how subtle, can be that thing that makes the moment.
- 204 Devonshire St; souldining.com.au
TILLY MAY'S @ THE TRINITY
There are two sides to every story, or in the case of The Trinity Hotel, two floors.
Prior to a complete revamp of this 140-year-old Surry Hills institution, there was an upstairs and a downstairs, but under the guidance of veteran publicans and brother-sister team Peter and Anna Calligeros, they've given each level a historic personality: the
ground-floor bar area, much like decades past, is a social hub with televisions to satisfy sports-mad Sydneysiders and classic pub fare such as chicken schnitzels, parmi and burgers as well as smaller plates to satiate every punter.
Upstairs, at Tilly May's, the expansive sun-drenched space with vaulted ceiling, exposed pale-brick walls and curved bar, is rather serene and well suited to the more refined dishes head chef Derek Bell has put on the menu, such as the kingfish ceviche with a champagne lime dressing, truffle mushroom arancini, and ocean trout with beetroot yoghurt.
"We wanted to differentiate and create a feminine space that was separate from the more masculine Irish pub/sports bar that we have downstairs. Reading into the history of the area having a strong female represent the space seemed like the right fit," says Anna.
Granted, those women may have favoured the unsavoury side, working in a "man's world" they had to be tough, which is where Tilly May steps in.
"She is the worldly older sister of The Trinity," says Anna noting the name is a play on Tilly Devine, a notorious Sydney mob boss whose middle name was Mary, a nickname for which, was May.
"As strong and hard as Tilly May was at the end of the day, she like most women also have it in their nature to look after everyone. That's really what we strive to do as a pub," Anna says.
"It's a place that all people from all walks of life are welcome and we offer something for everyone.
"Whether you want to watch the footy downstairs with a schooner and schnitzel or for a more sophisticated and debaucherous atmosphere head upstairs to Tilly May's for a touch more elegant food and drinks." (Show your Local Rewards card for 10 per off cocktails between 12-8pm; localrewards.com.au)
- Level 1, 505 Crown St (Crown St and Devonshire St); trinitybar.com.au
STRAWBERRY HILLS HOTEL
While heading from the main bar area on the ground level up the refurbished wide wooden steps to the popular rooftop beer garden and bistro, you may be surprised to note that many of the lead windows, subway tiled floors and bar are reminders of this historic pub's past as an art deco haven for jazz aficionados.
Now, though, it's the impressive pub menu that has become a draw for the Strawberry Hills Hotel, one of Sydney's largest city-fringe pubs, including such daily specials as $10 rump steak, chips and gravy on Mondays or $15 Surf 'n Turf and trivia on Wednesdays.
There's also a regular rotation of drink specials including 15 per cent off cocktails Sunday-Thursday from 12-10pm with Local Rewards card (localrewards.com.au).
- 453 Elizabeth St (corner of Devonshire and Elizabeth streets); strawberryhillshotel.com.au
SHAKESPEARE 'THE SHAKEY' HOTEL
Known by local as The Shakey, it's all about good times, cold beer and pub food classics at this Surry Hills institution.
Staying as true to its 1879 origins as possible, The Shakey epitomises the best of Aussie pub culture with friendly faces and great service.
There's all and all-day bistro with a menu suited to every palette with hearty steaks and lighter salads, plus from 4pm - 6pm every day, you can grab $4 tacos and $5 house beers, wines and spirits plus 15 per cent off all orders with a Locals Rewards card (localrewards.com.au).
- 200 Devonshire St; shakespearehotel.com.au
The menu is kept simple, mainly because their sandwiches are simply delicious.
Locals will tell you that their chicken katsu sandwich with cabbage, sesame, mayo and tonkatsu sauce is the best around, though their banh mi with pork belly with duck liver, pickled carrot, daikon, cucumber, coriander, mayo and sriracha is a close contender. (10 per off all orders with minimum $10 spend and Local Rewards card; localrewards.com.au)
- 6 High Holburn St (corner of High Holburn and Devonshire streets); luckypickle.com.au
PADDOCK ON CROWN
At this old terrace house turned cafe, everything is just pretty as a picture. Lovely garden seating is an ideal setting for the delicious dishes that emerge from the kitchen in all their colourful glory.
The stunning Insta-famous pancakes with vanilla mascarpone, raspberry coulis, whipped maple butter and fresh fruits are both stunning and yummy.
Paddock on Crown is proof positive that we do indeed eat with our eyes, and with such dishes, enjoy every moment. (10 per cent off flat-rate with Local Rewards card; localrewards.com.au)
- 509 Crown St (corner of Devonshire and Crown streets); facebook.com/paddockoncrown
Food trends may come and go, but the humble fish 'n chips is one meal forever on the menu.
Mohr Fish, located in a tiny corner shop off Devonshire St, has been serving seafood to Sydneysiders for nearly 30 years picking up many accolades along the way.
Don't let the little kitchen fool you as both the dine-in and takeaway menus are big on flavour with grilled fillets, fresh oysters, seafood pies and crumbed calamari and so much more. (Free glass of house wine with $60 dine-in spend and Local Rewards card; localrewards.com.au)
- 202 Devonshire St; mohrfish.com.au
Whether you're after something light and quick or a bit more filling, nothing beats a home-cooked meal and Bao Hoang, owner and founder of Roll'd is happy to serve up some Vietnamese faves from recipes he's picked up from his mother's kitchen including healthy Vietnamese rice paper rolls, pho (noodle soups), banh mi (pork rolls) and more.
- 116 Devonshire St; rolld.com.au
It was two years in the making, and just as they were set to open, like so many other places this year, those plans were put on hold for a number of months.
Undeterred, Chris Sheldrick of Passiontree Velvet Patisserie, a name already associated with stunning cakes, delicate macarons and every dessert in between, got his team together and finally opened Banksia Bakehouse, a top tier-cake shop and bakehouse suited to the CBD.
Everything here is made fresh daily, and with three glass walls, people can watch the creative process from go to whoa of everything from celebratory cakes to flaky golden croissants.
So now, rather than trek out to the burbs to pick up that birthday cake, you just need to head to Grosvenor Place to get it, and of course, with that spare time for lunch, a pie and cup of The Grounds Roastery coffee are in tall order.
- Grosvenor Place, 225 George St, The Rocks; banksia.sydney
Originally published as Forget lamb roast - give the vegetarian one a go