Richard Lander: Devonshire pub in Soho wants to warm your winter

Richard Lander: Devonshire pub in Soho wants to warm your winter

There’s not much to cheer about in the London hospitality scene right now. Food costs are up, fuel prices are twice what they were two years ago, and staff – if you can find them – want ever higher wages. Your customers are feeling the pinch as well, and may prefer a glass of house red to the best your wine list has to offer. The only thing going down is profit margins – assuming you had any in the first place.

Time to hunker down, trim the menu, reduce opening hours, put off expansion plans and hope better things arise. Whoever wrote that memo forgot to send it to Charlie Carroll and Oisin Rogers who this week open the Devonshire, a huge pub/restaurant in central London whose scale and ambition seemingly defy the polycrisis the industry is fighting on all fronts right now.

When I say huge I mean 10,000 square feet over four floors, with a pub on the ground floor, two floors of restaurant and a covered roof terrace. And when I say central, the Devonshire occupies an island site wedged between Soho and theatre land. It’s hard by Piccadilly Circus Underground station – any closer and they’d have to put a ticket barrier by the bar.

Carroll and Rogers (below) have a proper hospitality pedigree. Carroll started the Flat Iron chain of steak restaurants in 2012, selling a chunk of the business to private equity in 2017. Originally offering a prime piece of beef for a tenner a time when established chains charged twice as much for inferior produce, you can still get a remarkably good steak for £14 at one of its 12 branches.

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Rogers, meanwhile, has run some of London’s busiest and best pubs for the past 20 years, reviving tired old large-scale boozers, including the St Margaret’s Tavern in Twickenham and The Ship by the river in Wandsworth, which he established as the place for twentysomething Londoners to spend their bank holiday weekends.

Just to sprinkle a bit more stardust on the place, they’ve been joined by chef Ashley Palmer-Watts, formerly of the Fat Duck and Dinner by Heston (Blumenthal). It’s not quite Messi, Suarez and Neymar but it’s not far off.

A Dublin native, Rogers is obsessive about making sure the Guinness he serves is of the highest quality. When Guinness influencer Ian Ryan posted that the pint of the black stuff at his previous gig, the Guinea Grill in Mayfair, was the best in London, sales went through the roof.

He’s convinced it will be “significantly better” at The Devonshire. “The installation is completely bespoke and mirrors how a pint would be taken in Dublin,” he says. Just to make sure it’s poured correctly as well, he’s lifted Ross Culligan and Sam Donohue, the senior bar team from Kehoe’s in Dublin, to serve the stuff. Selfless early research by your correspondent has been positive.

Carroll and Rogers have had the idea of running a place together since they first met in 2013, but only started this project 20 months ago when the huge site became available. Most recently a Jamie Oliver restaurant that failed before the pandemic, there’s been a pub on the site as far back as 1793 and the Devonshire name has been around since 1830. “I think it’s a noble thing to do, to resurrect a dead pub and bring it back to life in a glorious reopening, which I’m really looking forward to doing,” says Rogers.

There’s no modern minimalism here – it’s all dark woods, comfortable sofas, a coat of arms and hand-painted signage. There’s a lot of money being spent, although neither will say just how much. The aim is to offer the highest quality food and drink at a range of prices, from Taytos crisps, bar snacks and a £30 set menu, to huge cuts of beef butchered and aged in-house and cooked in that massive wood-fired Ember grill that you see in the main photo. George Donnelly, formerly of upmarket London butcher The Ginger Pig, has been hired to do the slicing, dicing and ageing of the beef, pork and lamb onsite.

But to do all of this right now? “Maybe we’re mad,” says Rogers. “But we’ll be running a brilliant site, appealing to a wide audience in one of the busiest corners of the city. If we can’t do it, then nobody can. So, I’m optimistic that the Devonshire will do well on the basis that we’re going to create a space where people can feel comfortable, safe, happy, and well looked after for a fair price.”

As he says, you can’t run a hospitality venue without optimism, but this tends to be a line of trade riddled with doom-mongering on the scale of the apocryphal farmer who will tell you that this year “is worse than last and better than next”.

“This is what I do and I’ve never taken on a pub that didn’t do well, despite headwinds and difficulties and changes and high costs and moaning and declining pubs, all of which have been going on since I landed here in 1989,” Rogers says. “I don’t think there’s ever been a year when the pub industry has gone, ‘Jesus lads, we’ve really smashed it this year. It’s the business to get and everyone should open a pub.’ I don’t think that day ever was here as long as I’ve been in this game.”

If the economic climate is chilly, at least the timing of the Devonshire’s opening is spot on. As the clocks go back and the run-up to Christmas starts, it’s the right time to eat and drink well in a welcoming corner of town, to lose sense of time as it gets dark outside. The Devonshire, along with all London pubs and restaurants, deserves the best of seasons this year. There hasn’t been a decent one since 2019 after two years of Covid shutdowns and last year’s transport strikes. I hope to see you in there soon.

The Devonshire is at 17 Denman St, London, W1D 7HW. Bookings are open now at its website. Photos from @DevonshireSoho Instagram by Mike Taylor. This article originally appeared at Citywire. X/Twitter: Richard Lander and OnLondon. If you value On London and its coverage of the capital, become a supporter or a paying subscriber to editor and publisher Dave Hill’s personal Substack for just £5 a month or £50 a year.

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