Next month will see the re-opening of a much-loved Mayfair institution – The Audley pub, along with the new Mount St. Restaurant above. We speak to Ewan Venters, CEO of Artfarm, the hospitality group behind the project

Words: Selma Day

The Audley and Mount St. Restaurant is the first London hospitality project for Artfarm, the company owned by Iwan and Manuela Wirth – the Swiss owners of global art gallery Hauser & Wirth. It joins a growing portfolio that includes Roth Bar & Grill in Somerset, Manuela in Los Angeles, the Fife Arms in Braemer, Scotland, and the recently-acquired Groucho Club.

The ‘Audley’ name derives from the Anglo Saxon for ‘Old Friend’ and it has been a friend of the Mayfair community since it started life as the Bricklayers arms in 1730. It was then rebuilt in 1888 by Thomas Verity as the Audley Hotel on instruction from the Duke of Westminster who oversaw the redevelopment and transformation of Mount Street.

Now, The Audley is part of another transformation of north Mayfair – spearheaded by Grosvenor. “Every project we do is about place making, creating a new destination,” says CEO Ewan Venters.

Having overseen Selfridges’ food and restaurant divisions before transforming the fortunes of Fortnum & Mason as CEO, Ewan was appointed CEO of Hauser & Wirth in 2020. A lover and collector of art, he had worked closely with the gallery, bringing art into Fortnum’s and hosting one of its artists – Zhang Enli – during Frieze Art Week. He was subsequently brought into the Artfarm family to navigate the company’s relationship with hospitality.

Ewan explains how the project came about. “I made the suggestion to Ivan and Manuela that, in the same way we had a bar and grill restaurant in Somerset next to the gallery and the restaurant Manuela in Los Angeles next to the gallery, here was an opportunity to take an extraordinary building close to our Savile Row gallery and very close to where we will have our second London gallery in South Audley Street (in the Thomas Goode building). It wasn’t just a pub or a restaurant – it was piece of architecture.

“And I think that the way Grosvenor treated the property before they handed it over to us – their attention to detail to rebuild the South Audley Street side of the building – was astonishing. They've restored it beautifully. It’s just stunning!

“When I go back to 2005, when I joined Selfridges, it was not such a glamorous shop in a very unglamorous part of Oxford Street. When Scott’s reopened in 2006, that was a catalyst for the transformation of Mount Street. To [owner] Richard Caring’s credit, it was his foresight to follow through. I personally think that having a variety of owners offering hospitality is a very important cultural statement to the prosperity of an area.”

After a careful and sensitive restoration, Artfarm is breathing life back into this much-loved building and a passion for art, culture and food is at the heart of the project. “They (Iwan and Manuela) have always been firm believers that, actually, we're talking about culture here – where art and food meet. It's culture. It's a way of life. I think there’s barely an artist in the world who doesn't celebrate breaking bread typically in a restaurant environment,” says Ewan.

“So The Audley and the Mount St. Restaurant is just a physical manifestation of that passion and extension of culture here in London.”

Works of art, vintage pieces, antiques, and objects have been carefully incorporated into every room and corner of the building, which consists of the pub at street level, the Mount St. Restaurant on the first floor and the top three floors housing four beautifully-designed spaces, available for private hire.

Extraordinary and important works will sit alongside specially-commissioned art interventions created by Hauser & Wirth’s roster of globally-celebrated artists including dramatic flooring – a site-specific work of art designed by American artist Rashid Johnson.

Table lamps are inspired by the iconic 1918 Powder Box designed by the late Swiss artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943), pioneer of constructivist art. The salt and pepper cruets are inspired by American artist PaulMcCarthy’s much-discussed ‘Tree’ (2014) sculpture and the dining chairs are designed by American artist Matthew Day Jackson.

The interior remains faithful to the original interior environment, keeping it local, a familiar and friendly place to drop in to. As architect for the project Luis Laplace says: “We wanted to feel as though it had been there forever.”

Solid wood furniture, made from fallen branches of Scottish oak, will grace the terrace, while British artist Phyllida Barlow has created an exuberant and colourful artwork for the ceiling.

Community is central to all of Artfarm’s projects and The Audley is no exception. “Mayfair is a community – it’s one of the many villages that make up London,” says Ewan.

“Of course, we’ve got to appeal to the international traveller that comes through London, but more than ever, we've got to appeal to the people who live and work here. And The Audley is going to remain a community pub with proper, real ale, Guinness, oysters, sausages. It’s what you'd expect a London pub should be.”

Overseeing the food is British chef Jamie Shears (previously at CUT at 45 Park Lane) with a menu that features classic dishes presented in a modern way, using fresh, seasonal, local ingredients.

“Our food strategy across the building is to celebrate both British and London-ness of food. So the London Rarebit will be made with with English cheese and London ale. Eel was a great London dish so there will be really beautiful eel on toast – smoked and sustainably sourced from Devon. There’ll be a West Country pork sausage from our own farm down in Somerset and a Swiss sausage as a nod to our owners being Swiss.”

The restaurant will have more of a focus on fine wine and, again, London-inspired dishes, with the pièce de résistance being a lobster pie for two to share. “If you go back in the history books of London, lobster was actually quite a big thing,” says Ewan.

“There will be as many local ingredients as possible, so our salads will use micro leaves that are grown in the underground stations across London. There'll be a special London East London smoked salmon that's been cured especially for us and there will also be a take on the Chelsea bun.”

For Ewan, The Audley is a dream project that combines his passion for food, hospitality and art.

“It’s fantastic,” he says. “We can all go and appreciate art in a museum or a gallery, but they're very controlled atmospheres, whereas we are saying, ‘come to The Audley and come to the Mount St. Restaurant, and you're going to have access to some extraordinary works in a lively, interactive environment of food and wine’.”