jamie shears the audley

Meet the chef: Jamie Shears of The Audley

24 Nov 2023 | |By Annie Lewis

Go behind the scenes at the pub-turned-gallery, serving healthy doses of world-class art alongside elevated British dishes

There are very few pubs in the UK that feature walls adorned with Warhols, Freuds, Picassos, and Matisses. In fact, I would’ve hazarded a guess and said there’s none – until I was introduced to The Audley. Reopened as a pub and restaurant last year, the listed building has propped up the corner of Mount Street since 1888 and has retained its original name, which translates as ‘old friend’ in Anglo-Saxon. It was an impressive feat to turn this old-school boozer into an attractive eatery, and one that required the direction of an experienced chef – luckily, Jamie Shears was on hand to help. 

Having worked with culinary giants Gordon Ramsay, Chris Galvin and Jason Atherton, and in establishments such as Cut at 45 Park Lane, Shears was no doubt a top choice for the top job. His mission? To elevate pub food without transforming it into fine dining, and to oversee the upstairs sister restaurant, imaginatively named Mount St Restaurant. Two restaurants, one man. 

Spread over five floors at the Mount Street address, The Audley offers three distinct experiences. At street level, The Audley Public House is a relaxed traditional community pub, complete with a piano, extensive beer offering and upbeat classics, such as half a pint of prawns and mayonnaise, Durslade Farm beef and ale pie and, of course, Shears’ signature roast (more on that later). 

Eating upstairs at Mount St Restaurant, however, feels akin to sitting in a gallery. While tucking into courses of London rarebit, pumpkin rice porridge with girolles, and Cornish monkfish in Brick Lane curry sauce, admire the unique mosaic floor by American artist Rashid Johnson, the salt and pepper shakers inspired by Paul McCarthy’s Tree, and walls covered in pieces by Warhol, Matisse and Freud. These elevated interiors are the result of a renovation by Paris-based Luis Laplace and ArtFarm, the hospitality arm of global gallerist Hauser and Wirth. The top three floors, meanwhile, house the Curious Rooms: four private event spaces, each with its own story, artworks and bespoke furniture.

Shears, who began his culinary career in the army, was unsurprisingly attracted to this restaurant-come-gallery concept. So much so, in fact, that it pulled him away from his post at Cut on 45 Park Lane (now helmed by friend, Elliott Grover). So, what did Shears aim to bring to The Audley’s plates? And what’s the secret behind his Instagram-famous lobster pie? Let’s find out. 

What encouraged you to join the army?

I always wanted to be a chef but didn’t like the idea of working in one of the hotels in Torquay where I grew up. My parents suggested the army to get a good grounding and my uncle also served, so it felt like the right move. The army was a great experience, but I am a family man and I can’t imagine being anywhere else other than at home with my wife and baby daughter – the army feels like a world away!

What restaurants did you work in during the early years of your career?

My first experience in a professional kitchen was when I was 14 as a kitchen porter in a hotel in Torquay where my mum worked, and I ended up working as a chef there before joining the army. I loved being part of the team and the camaraderie that came with it – and that is what fuelled me to take up cheffing as a full-time career.

Post-army, I worked with Gordon Ramsay, Chris Galvin and Jason Atherton, and most recently, before joining The Audley, as executive chef at 45 Park Lane.

What was it like working under such celebrated chefs?

It was an eye-opening and invaluable experience. Working in a tough kitchen environment in the army helped to hone my skills which in turn prepared me well for the Michelin-starred kitchens. One of the best and most valuable lessons I learned was to cook it well, keep it simple, and keep it clean. Use the best produce you can get hold of, local seasonal ingredients don’t need to be messed with, and they can be championed for flavour and simplicity.

What drew you to Mount St. Restaurant and The Audley? How do the two differ in a culinary sense?

I feel there are occasions where nothing beats pub grub, sitting back with a pint and a scotch egg, and occasions where I want to wine and dine my wife and was drawn to The Audley because of the challenge of creating two menus for two distinct venues but with a common thread as they are under one roof. I also loved Artfarm’s vision for The Audley and liked the idea of traditional cooking with a contemporary twist in a building with so much history, so I could bring together the past and present through dining.

Both [restaurants] very much celebrate British cooking and pay homage to London’s culinary history in different ways. Upstairs at Mount St. Restaurant, the setting is sophisticated so the menu reflects that with a modern take on traditional dishes. Think refined classics like lobster pie for two, beef Wellington, Durslade Farm sirloin, or hot smoked trout. Downstairs, pub favourites are served in all their simplistic glory, with no fuss or embellishment. I didn’t want to overcomplicate it – my simple aim was to create crowd-pleasers from scotch eggs to sausage rolls, and fish finger sandwiches to pie and mash.

What influences your menus at both?

The brief was British cooking with a nod to historical London dishes, so I read a lot of old cookbooks, including Catherine Ives’ Cookery Book from 1930, which was full of interesting and unusual recipes. This provided lots of inspiration for some of the dishes we have on the menu now.

Seasonality and provenance also have a big influence on the menus. I am always ringing Flying Fish, who I have worked with for over 10 years and who supply the Cornish lobster for the pies, to hear what the best seafood of the moment is and then incorporate that into the menus. I also check in with farmers, growers and makers, and the team at Durslade Farm, who supply produce, to secure the best of the best. This is why the menus change frequently. The surroundings also inspire the menus. I play around with dishes and presentations to make them artworks in themselves.

What is your one other favourite London restaurant?

My current favourite is Dorian in Notting Hill. I love the concept of it being ‘anti-Notting Hill’ to draw in local residents and that the provenance and quality of ingredients is at the heart of Max Coen’s menu.

Are there any other London chefs you're impressed with at the moment?

I’d have to say Phil Howard at Elystan Street. I’m a die-hard Sunday roast fan, I have a scoring chart and rate all aspects of the plate. A week is not complete without one and I probably have 52 roasts a year. If I am not at The Audley, I’d go to Elystan Street, this is my top scorer for a Sunday roast.

What's your favourite dish on the menu and why?

The lobster pie is definitely a firm favourite. Interestingly it used to be seen as a peasant’s dish, now at Mount St. Restaurant it is one of our most indulgent. It contains two lobsters in a rich creamy bechamel sauce mixed with lobster bisque. I like how it was inspired by the pies of old and I had a feeling it would be a signature but has really become a sensation.

I had a lot of fun playing around with the presentation and settled on the lobster head poking out so it has that wow factor. The Audley has only been open a year and we have already sold over 3,000 pies, which I’m very proud of.

Visit theaudleypublichouse.com

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