Oisín Rogers loves a good pub. When he’s not behind the bar pulling perfect pints of Guinness or front of house welcoming people with his Irish charm, he can be found propping up the other side of the bar, most likely that of Soho’s The Coach & Horses, more affectionately known as Norman’s after its former landlord Norman Balon.
From The St Margarets Tavern in Twickenham to The Ship in Wandsworth and, until recently, The Guinea Grill in Mayfair, Rogers has made a name for himself as the host with the most, generating an uptick in revenue at his venues in the process. It is of little surprise, then, that his first project with Flat Iron founder Charlie Carroll was devised in the pub.
Rogers - or Osh as he is better known - and Carroll recall their first meeting as we sit among the detritus on the top floor of their soon-to-open pub and restaurant The Devonshire in Soho, surrounded by numerous pub-related purchases Rogers has sourced on eBay - including a beautiful Martini-branded mirror - as well as piles of boxes of Guinness glasses. The pair met at a roundtable event hosted by this magazine around a decade ago, it transpires, later decamping to the pub having established that they shared things in common.
“Charlie had just open [Flat Iron] Beak Street and wanted to roast a whole ox somewhere and asked whether I knew a venue,” recalls Rogers. “I said ‘let’s do it at The Ship’. Both of us thought the other was not going to see it through at that point.”
But see it through they did, with the resulting ox roast, held over the Easter period in 2014, not only creating something of a stir in south London but cementing a friendship and a shared love of food, drink and hospitality that will culminate in The Devonshire.
An Englishman and Irishman walk into a pub…
Sat opposite Kricket on Denman Street, the multi-storey venue that is to be The Devonshire was most recently home to chicken and burger restaurant Coqbull, but is better known in recent times when it was a Jamie’s Italian, abandoned like the Mary Celeste when the TV chef’s UK business went pop back in 2019. To Carroll and Rogers, the site has significantly more history, having been a pub since 1793, and it was the opportunity to return the building to its spiritual use that appealed to both of them.
“I’ve got pubs in the blood, my great grandmother ran a pub, and my grandmother was born in a pub,” says Carroll. “My parents ran a pub in Lancashire. I always had a thing in the background that maybe I’d do a pub one day. The pair of us love pubs, and love Soho.”
“There’s something about Soho,” adds Rogers. “People’s demeanour changes when they come here - it’s a place of fun and colour and jollity and general ballyhoo and shenanigans and that kind of suits me.”
Neither are strangers to Soho as both are residents and Rogers’ most recent posting in Mayfair was only a short hop on a Santander cycle away. Although close in proximity, the two areas couldn’t be further apart, he says.
"The pair of us love
pubs, and love Soho”
“Soho is not far from Mayfair, but it might as well be a different country, and what we are doing has no reflection of what I did in Mayfair. But there’s elements of all the great pubs that I’ve run - the fun and size of The Ship with the back room and the music; the localness of St Margarets.
“We are really making an effort to ingrain ourselves with the people who live and work locally so there’s a place where they can come and stand at the bar and talk to somebody like minded, which is the essence of a pub anyway.”
The odd couple
A shared love of pubs is one thing, but to go into business together and run one is a different matter. As is often the case, the opening of The Devonshire is just as much about timing as anything else.
Having founded Flat Iron in 2012, Carroll has now taken more of a back seat role in the business as a non-exec director and shareholder, handing over the running to its CEO and former Byron founder Tom Byng. In recent years he has set his mind to investment, supporting restaurants including Bouchon Racine, Brutto and Rambutan.
With The Devonshire, however, he is back doing things his own way and is funding the venture personally, apart from a bit of investment from Rogers that he describes as “an almost insignificant amount, but significant to me”.
The timing was also right for Rogers who was looking to take on a new challenge having helped The Guinea Grill enter the list of the UK’s Top 100 Restaurants as well as the Top 50 Gastropubs list among other achievements. When the pair began talking about the project in January 2022 the coming together of restaurateur and publican finally made sense.
“Pubs are chaotic, dark and boozy; restaurants are more organised, codified and delicious,” says Rogers. “People want to be seen in restaurants; they don’t want to be seen in pubs. But we’re doing both.”
The pair admit to being very different in their personalities - Rogers is a garrulous, no-problem-too-big kind of person to whom people often instantly warm while Carroll’s style is much more measured and taciturn – enigmatic even - and together they are a force to reckon with.
“I don’t think I know anyone cleverer than Charlie,” says Rogers of his business partner. “I tend to make decisions quite quickly whereas Charlie is incredibly measured and will always make the right decision at a different pace.”
“Pubs are chaotic, dark and boozy; restaurants are
more organised. People want to be seen in
restaurants; they don’t want to be seen in pubs"
Carroll is equally complimentary of his partner. “I’ve never seen people be magnetically drawn to work with someone like Osh. He has this ability of making a room full of people all feel valued, looked after, special, and safe.” A bit like the pub world’s scruffy Jeremy King? “I’ll take that all day long,” says Rogers with a laugh.
This brings us to the final person in the equation, the mystery third co-founder who has hitherto been kept under wraps (although it has been an open secret in Soho). That person is no less than Heston Blumenthal’s former right hand man Ashley Palmer-Watts.
“We were talking about what we wanted to do with the food and where it should be pitched,” says Rogers of Palmer-Watts’ involvement. “It was always going to be British, and we were discussing where the iconic experiences are, and I remember going to The Hind’s Head in 2004 or 2005 and having its suet pudding. I still remember to this day putting my spoon through it and thinking ‘fuck me I’ve never tasted anything as nice as that’, so I said we have got to have that on the menu. Let’s see if we can get the recipe.”
As it turned out, Carroll had done a stage at The Fat Duck while Palmer-Watts was working there, which encouraged them to make contact. This turned into meeting in a pub over a pint (naturally) where the former The Fat Duck chef’s enthusiasm for the project became apparent. Three weeks later he became a co-founder.
Cooking over embers
As one would expect from a project run by Carroll, a self-confessed beef geek, and the former executive chef at one of the world’s most influential restaurants, the food offer at The Devonshire has been planned with meticulous detail.
“The three of us sat down to talk through food and it turned out that we all have a similar vision of serving perfectly executed, simple but just incredibly delicious food,” says Carroll. “Not a twist on something or this dish done prettily, but food that looks like it is and just happens to be the tastiest version you’ve ever tried.”
Special mention goes to the chocolate mousse and risotto, which Carroll describes as the best he’s tasted. “I guess it’s not widely surprising that the guy who has worked in two and three star restaurants turns out to be pretty good at cooking.”
And then there’s the hero dish, steak and chops cooked over a bespoke wood ember grill in a way the likes of which haven’t been seen in the capital before, says Carroll. “No one else is cooking over embers at the scale we are. The flavour over embers is superior to charcoal but it’s much harder. We will be serving the best beef cooked over wood with duck fat chips - and we’ve got Ashley who helped develop the original triple cooked chips.”
Palmer-Watts won’t be cooking day to day in the kitchen, that honour goes to head chef Jamie Guy, who spent eight years with Hix Restaurants as its group head chef, but his spirit is in the menu. Years of working for Heston, not just at The Fat Duck and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal but also for the launch of The Perfectionists’ Café at Heathrow airport means Palmer-Watts is no stranger to developing recipes and processes that can be replicated precisely every time.
The cooking style might be no nonsense but, as befits a chef of Palmer-Watts’ quality and Carroll’s specific sourcing requirements, the prep work and attention back of house would rival any Michelin-starred restaurant. The pork is sourced from Brett Graham at The Ledbury from the UK’s first Ibérico pigs and butchery will be done in house by head butcher George Donnelly, previously of famed Australian butchers Victor Churchill in Sydney. Sausages and bacon will be made in house, as will the bread.
“It’s very prep heavy and supplier heavy,” says Carroll. “A lot of effort has gone into the back end, but there’s no pretension in the front end.” “You say no pretension,” chimes in Rogers, “but there’s a little bit of theatre with the Ibérico ribs and the souffle.”
A building of character
As much attention has been paid to the building as the food, which will have a ground floor pub with space for 150 people and then three dining rooms for another 150 covers that will all serve the same menu. While the upstairs dining rooms will have their own personalities it is the pub that one suspects will be the beating heart of The Devonshire and thus has been planned accordingly.
The pair have gone to great effort - and no doubt expense - to create a pub of old, which they believe has become something of a dying breed. “We wanted to go back almost 100 years and put a bit of effort and craft into it in terms of the joinery and French polishing. It looks like it’s always been there because it’s been done the way it would have 100 years ago. It’s not the cheapest or easiest way but it will not feel like a fancy place - we say binman or chairman, everyone is welcome.” “And hopefully both will be there,” adds Rogers.
Key to this is the partitioned off nature of the room to create separate drinking areas, a far cry from the open-plan style that modern publicans tend to favour. There will even be a private area accessed only through the bar featuring high-backed booths and beyond that another room that can be used as a PDR and will doubtless play host to the raucous renditions of Irish fiddle music that Rogers refers to as ‘diddly’ and for which he is well known.
"I’ll be here every day whether that’s behind the bar,
greeting guests, solving problems,
doing the mine host publican thing I’ve always done”
“People need places to hide in a pub, and this is very much found in the design,” says Rogers. “A lot of that has been lost from many pubs, where they have been opened out to create one big space. Pubs these days don’t have that feeling of a place you can hide away and have a few pints in peace and unwind.”
One horseshoe area of the pub is even modelled on Carroll’s father’s local in Manchester. “When it’s busy you’re going to have to squeeze past 10 people to get to your seat, but that’s kind of the point. It will be a little bit raucous; we are manufacturing a little bit of chaos, but friendly chaos. That’s the local vibe.”
The venue also has a rooftop area that will open in the new year when the weather is more favourable.
Owning a business
For Rogers, the opening of The Devonshire marks something of a watershed moment. Having worked for other businesses and pub companies his whole career, how does it finally feel to have his name above the door of a venue of which he is a co-owner?
“There’s two sides to this,” he says thoughtfully. “Any time I’ve committed to putting my name above the door, even if it was somebody else’s place, I’ve always had that old fashioned ‘it’s my name, my decisions’ attitude, sometimes to my detriment but usually to good profitability. A lot of people who know me from The Ship or St Margarets or The Guinea wouldn’t know they were brewery pubs, they would know it as Osh’s place. That’s very much the same here.
"I’ll be here every day whether that’s behind the bar, greeting guests, solving problems, doing the mine host publican thing I’ve always done.”
The difference, he says, will be in the more mundane, but no less important, running of the pub. “When you work for a company, they have ways of doing things and processes that never change and we’ve questioned every single one of those from supply and processes to recruitment, the tills, the kitchen. We’ve turned so many procedures that I’ve been used to on their head, for the better of the business.
“We’re ending up with something unique and very much tailored to what we see the business to be. It’s been a lot of work, but I hope in six months’ time I can say it was worth it.”
And what about Carroll. How has he found the process of 12 years on from launching Flat Iron and going again with a brand-new concept? The answer is typically taciturn but said with a smile: “Fucking exhausting.”