We heard the hype about Sydney’s Devon Cafe opening their first branch in Brisbane’s Garden City, but delayed visiting until some of the furore had died down, as we are generally queue-avoidant (though we will make some exceptions) and there is a tendency for opening teething problems and crowds to combine to cause sub-par dining. Given Devon Cafe’s solid standing in the competitive Sydney brunch scene, however, we couldn’t not check it out. Figuring a few months’ buffer might be enough, we headed there for a weekend brunch.
Being located in the large complex of a Westfield shopping centre was a well-calculated move on some counts, as there is a guaranteed pool of potential patrons, and there is certainly plenty more parking available for them than might be found on a suburban street. The other side of that though, is that the shopping centre is packed with other customers on a weekend, and finding parking is still a nightmare, as is navigating your way through the crowded mall to the cafe. Not quite the chilled out weekend experience.
Devon Cafe is located in the Town Square section of Westfield Garden City, just on the other side of the water feature as you come out of the main shopping centre. “Devon’ is spelled out in stylised lettering that your brain does recognise once it realises that it is looking at alphabets. It is easy enough to make your way around to the cafe entrance once you have spotted that.
You see the service counter once you are just past the entrance, with the requisite espresso machine at one end and baked goods in a glass shelf at the other end. A chalked sign propped up against the espresso machine advised that patrons should wait to be seated, and so we did. It felt like it took a while to catch anyone’s attention though, with the people making coffee seeming to steadfastly ignore us, and the people processing payments at the till doing the same. While we do understand the division of duties, for instance that the barista might not necessarily have anything to do with any part of the rest of service, it would have been nice to have acknowledgement that we were there, rather than just being looked past and walked past.
Someone did eventually come and ask if we wanted a table, and after we affirmed this, we were shown to the main seating area, which is just around the corner from what you can see when standing near the entrance. This was what you could see from the other side of the water feature. With the mild weather, the glass windows were folded away, so it was open to the resort-style greenery and water just beyond the perimeter of the cafe. Natural light streamed in, filtered above by translucent roof panels. A padded bench in dusty pink and blue wrapped around the gentle curve of the wall, and light wood chairs and tables made up the rest of the seating arrangements.
The kitchen was housed on the other side of the seating area, with a large cutout in the wall giving patrons a glimpse of the kitchen staff at work preparing their meals. The white paneling on the walls and the sky blue doors of the cupboards kept the area looking bright. With the polished concrete floors, and the pale wood paneling on the ceilings, the area had a clean, modern feel. The “Stay Curious” neon sign is a carryover from the original Devon Cafe in Sydney, when it was Devon on Danks. Easy listening jazz played over the speakers at a comfortable volume.
Menus, a glass of cold water, and glasses were brought to the table as we were seated. The food menu was on a single sheet, with the striped name of the cafe and similarly striped icons of assorted foods on one side, and the available dishes on the other. They have different items available with some overlaps for breakfast, brunch, and dinner. Given the time we visited, we were given the brunch menu. The drink options came on a wooden clipboard, with a couple of sheets of options.
We began by considering the drink options. There were a couple that particularly caught our interest, as they seemed unique to there. The Iced Orange Mocha was listed as a house made chocolate and orange reduction mixed with a cold brew. The Devon Affogato was described as a house-made soft serve with Devon’s unique espresso blend. We ordered those, but were then told that the soft serve machine was out of order, so they couldn’t do the affogato. We were subsequently told that the Iced Orange Mocha did have milk in it, and that they could not do a non-dairy version as they had already prepared all of their mix for the day with regular milk. They also could not do the Nutella Banana Milkshake dairy-free as that too had already been mixed for the day. While we could understand that that helped with their efficiency, we found it somewhat concerning that they would only serve pre-prepared drinks. That leaves little flexibility for customers who have particular requirements. We ended up ordering a less adventurous Iced Matcha, which they could make on soy, and a flat white. We had had some hesitation about ordering the matcha, but given the Asian leaning of a number of their food items, we thought that there was enough of a chance that it might turn out reasonably.
The food menu had dishes divided into sections of starters, bowls, pasta and rice, small dishes (“Smalls”), larger dishes (“Biggie”), and signature dishes. A number of items looked interesting, like Shrooms on Toast (mushrooms and cheese are generally a delicious combination) or Two Chicks in Goa (an fusion dish with baked eggs, yellow lentin dahl, vegetables, kale, curry leaf, haloumi, coriander, and roti), but we eventually narrowed it down to a couple from the signature dishes section. Our presumption was that signature dishes would surely have to be their better ones. We had certainly seen the Croissant St Denis and the Breakfast with the Sakumas photographed on social media. (They list it as Breakfast with the Sakuma’s, but that punctuation is incorrect, and they really should have checked before printing it on multiple menus at multiple locations. It is not clear which Sakuma family they are referring to, but there are certainly a number of historical and fictional people it could be.)
The Iced Matcha was served a jar-shaped glass. It had good colour, looking actually green, unlike what we had received at some other cafes, and, just as importantly, the matcha was properly mixed, and stayed mixed. There was some precipitate from the soy milk they used floating on the surface, but that was not a big issue. When it came to flavour, the matcha was a good strength, with the right amount of sweetness, so that it wasn’t overpoweringly saccharine.
The flat white had a good, rounded flavour, although the large bubbles on the foam indicated that it had been left to sit on the counter for a while before being brought over.
It was a bit of a wait for food, but given that the cafe was mostly full, and it was pleasant enough environment to be in, we allowed leeway.
The Croissant St Denis was listed in the menu as a ghetto style omelette (had never heard of that before), blue swimmer crab and salmon, bisque beurre blanc, flying fish roe, and croissant. It was presented quite neatly on the rustic-form stoneware dish, with the glossy brown croissant on one side, and the omelette holding the browned bisque beurre blanc sauce back on the other side of the dish, so that it did not run over and make the croissant soggy. The tobiko, in black and more typical orange, was placed along the top of the omelette, along with cherry tomatoes, giving it a punch of colour. We were relieved that the croissant looked better that those we had seen in the cabinet at the entrance. Those had appeared pale and flat, and when we ordered the dish, we were worried about what would come out. Pleasingly, the croissant was light and flaky on the outside, and soft and buttery inside. The ends, in particular, were actually crisp. The omelette was folded and fluffy, and not overcooked. There were possibly some bits of the mentioned seafood in it, but it was certainly majority egg. There was pulled crab meat on top of the omelette though. The tobiko gave it textural pops. The bisque had a good umami, prawny flavour. We wished there was more of it though, because there was actually less of it than there appeared, due to it being squashed along the wall of the dish, and we ran out of it long before we ran out of omelette and croissant to eat it with. The sweetened stewed cherry tomatoes gave it more colour, but didn’t really go with the other flavours in the dish.
Breakfast with the Sakumas was listed in the menu as miso marinated king salmon, eel croquette, 63 degree egg, petite salad, kewpie mayo, and furikake. Again, it was presented quite nicely on the plate..until you realised that the pile of green leaves and dollops of kewpie mayonnaise actually made a significant proportion of it. At very least, the salad added colours to the plate that were not just shades of brown. We found the salmon a bit overcooked, so drier than we had hoped. The menu doesn’t list how it is cooked, but staff we mentioned it to told us that it was grilled, so is more well done there. The furikake gave it salty and sweet flavours. The croquette was crumbed and crunchy on the outside, and the rice inside it was seasoned and sticky, but not gluggy. Until re-reading the menu though, we thought it was a rice croquette, and would not have known that eel was any part of it. The 63 degree egg was done as hoped, with a jelly-like just-cooked white, and a runny yolk. As mentioned, there was a lot of kewpie mayonnaise on the plate. One really didn’t need that much of it. The tang overpowered the salmon, and it really felt like it was being used as a space filler more than anything else. There wasn’t a great deal have to add about the salad, another space filler, apart from that at least the leaves were fresh. As a whole though, they seemed to rely on the furikake to provide most of the flavour for the dish, which was disappointing, as that is really something you can get from a grocery store and put on any food yourself.
Apart from the initial lag before we were seated, we were asked about drink orders a few times in quick succession, after letting staff know that we needed more time to look through the menus. We were then left for a long time before we could place our food orders. Our drinks were delivered to the table, and the person then left before we could ask about ordering food. We then had to struggle again to get someone’s attention to organise food.
Overall, we found the food at Devon Cafe expensive for what it was, at $25 for the Croissant St Denis and $27 for the Breakfast with the Sakumas. While the first was alright, the second was disappointing, and despite its seeming popularity, that is not something we would order again if we returned. Similar to the situation at many eateries in New Farm, perhaps it faces the location tax. Still, one hopes for better at that price point, and hype can only get you so far.
Price point: Brunch items $17 to $35 for more than starters. Our dishes $25 and $27, as above.
Address: Restaurant R5, Westfield Garden City, 2049 Logan Rd, Upper Mount Gravatt
Phone: 07 3422 1870
Website: Devon Cafe