The Devonshire

17 Denman St




The Food:

Potted shrimp, melba toast

Iberico pork chop with duck fat chips

Chocolate mousse with black cherries

The Wines:

NV Guinness

2010 R. Lopez de Heredia Rosado Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva  93

Doomsayers claiming that restaurants are in crisis ought to walk past The Devonshire. The pub's ground floor is so jammed that I cannot even see the bar. I weave my way to the restaurant's small reception desk and give the booking's name. The poor lass can hardly hear the name, and I repeat it several times. A young lad escorts me upstairs to the first floor “Grill Room,” and every table is packed. Up another staircase to “The Claret Room”. Again, it’s chock-a-block. Finally, I’m escorted to a mezzanine at the top of the building, and it is full, thankfully, apart from a banquette for two. There must be some 200 people dining at The Devonshire plus half of London downing pints of Guinness in the pub, crowds spilling outside and down the street despite the drizzle.

It’s 4:45pm on a Wednesday.

The Devonshire pub

I don’t know whether it’s harder getting a table at The Devonshire as Bouchon Racine. The fact that I have managed both is only due to connections, and even then, the best we can obtain is 5pm with a warning we must vacate two hours later. Both eateries epitomize the contemporary London dining scene, where restaurants become the hottest ticket in town overnight after adulatory reviews. Like a shoal of fish, everyone has to be seen there because these days, we cannot entertain the idea of missing out. It makes it almost impossible to keep up with the restaurant scene and, of course, makes it almost impossible to get a reservation, which hypes the restaurant even further. Sitting at The Devonshire with a faint glow of satisfaction that I’m here, a bit like when you sit down in Business Class on a plane, I wonder whether it will be as difficult in 12 months’ time. We’ll see.

Devonshire bread

As I mentioned, The Devonshire follows the trend of installing a stonking place to eat above a London boozer. The standard of cuisine is better than your average gastropub and often features a renowned chef or restauranteur, theoretically going down-market, eschewing some fancy address, to serve delicious dishes in a place surfeit with character and charm, where you can pop down and grab a pint while watching the Chelsea match. The runaway success of both Bouchon Racine and The Devonshire is being copied, but of course, only a small percentage will be successful. The team behind here is publican Oisín Rogers and founder of Flat Iron, Charlie Carroll and Ashley Palmer-Watts, former head chef who previously worked with Carroll at The Fat Duck. Yes, that’s right, Heston Blumenthal’s gaff over in Bray. Apparently, the idea for The Devonshire gestated over several years, a pub-cum-restaurant with accoutrements: a wood-fire oven, a basement in-house butchery and a bakery. The location in a 4-floor, late 18th century building is one that I have walked past countless times, just outside Piccadilly station in Soho, formerly one of Jamie Oliver’s diners. I sometimes describe London restaurants as being “central,” but The Devonshire could be described as the capital’s epicenter. 

Potted shrimp, melba toast

The menu is straightforward. Handwritten on a page of A4, starters include white crab salad, brawn toast and pea and ham soup, while mains are almost entirely meat-based: lamb cutlets, beef cheek and Guinness suet pudding, lamb hotpot. If you really do eschew meat, there’s pumpkin risotto. It sounds like common or garden pub food, but the founders spent months sourcing the best ingredients, and everything just shines on the plate. It’s no fuss, unpretentious dining. Waiting for my friend, I’m given some bread, and it is light, doughy and gorgeous. Don’t ignore the bread. I’m not going to spend acres of verbiage on my potted shrimp with melba toast or the Iberico pork chop that I learned from somewhere that comes from the same source as The Ledbury

Iberico pork chop with duck fat chips

They’re both delicious; maybe my pork was just 30 seconds overdone, but I have no complaints. Perhaps my duck fried chips were over-salted, but there you go. I steal a bit of my fellow diner’s lamb hotpot and wish I’d chosen that. My chocolate mousse with dark cherries is fabulous. That’s all it is, chocolate mousse. No more, no less. Again, I kind of wish I’d chosen the soufflé on the opposite side of the table that unexpectedly comes with a bit of theatre, Grand Marnier poured on top and deftly flambéed by our waiter.

Chocolate mousse with black cherries

You don’t get that down the Red Lion on a Wednesday afternoon.

The wine list is rubbish. Staring at the single sheet of A4, there’s hardly anything of interest, and we were denied corkage. Fair enough. Thankfully, the 2010 Rosado Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva from R. Lopez de Heredia is an obvious choice at a decent price. It’s a wonderful Rioja, blackcurrant, orange rind and white flowers on a nose that is lighter and more elegant than other vintages. Again, the palate is comparatively light and breezy, with fine-boned tannins, dark cherries and blackberry fruit. It is pretty linear and almost conservative in style. But it’s just delicious, and the simplicity of the food means that it acts as the perfect foil. This is accompanied by a pint of Guinness. Now, I have never been partial to Ireland’s most famous export. I’m advised to try a small glass because Carroll and Rogers traveled to Dublin to find out why it tastes much better on the Emerald Isle. They got the recipe and recreated it here, and it is delicious. It’s probably why they get through so many kegs each day in London. If you like Guinness, this is the best in London.

Here's the other thing about The Devonshire.

Two-course set dinner - £25

Three courses set dinner - £29

Go à la carte, and yes, you’re looking at £12 to £16 for starters. My pork chop was £24, but that’s still markedly less than elsewhere. Indeed, there is an egalitarian approach throughout this place, the same ethos as the pub in the sense that it’s a place where anyone can walk off the street and enter. Surveying diners, I notice that it’s full of ordinary people, a mixture of trendy Soho types, office workers, young and old, just anyone lucky enough to have nabbed a table. There’s no extortionate price prohibiting all but the wealthiest from enjoying their hospitality, which is refreshing.

The Devonshire is not perfect, but it does things perfectly. It’s currently the place to be seen in London, and you’ll want to return—so will the rest of the world. It’s pub food taken to the nth degree. There’s no snootiness. There is a lot of noise and laughter. It’s hectic and perhaps teeters on chaos. You’ll love it.

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