Active Citizen #2 – Charles McDermott
Active Citizens is a Journey City Guides series where we interview the people who participate in making their own city a vibrant and exciting place. With each new guide we ask questions to two personalities: an entrepreneur deeply rooted in its city and the owner of a business featured in our city guides.
Our very first “address interview” leads us to London where we interviewed Charles McDermott, owner of Augustus Harris, a wine bar and coffee shop featured in our London guide and one of our favorite places in the city.
Charles was born in London from American and Swiss parents and grew up there. He spent some time in Italy and in the US before returning to his hometown to start his career in the food & beverage industry. In his free time, Charles loves to paint. He is also an excellent cook.
Hi Charles, could you tell us more about yourself?
I started my career in hospitality in my late twenties. I had always had an interest in food and wine – I remember as a child being allowed into the kitchen of our local restaurant and watching the symphony of the chefs working together as a team and was entranced. After a few years in finance in London, I decided I wanted to take a new direction – I went to culinary school in New York and got a job as a line cook at Keith McNally’s Morandi in the West Village and that set everything in motion
Tell us about your vision when opening Augustus Harris, and what led you to start this adventure?
Augustus Harris is an Italian wine bar in Covent Garden, based on the the bacari of Venice. Italians rarely drink without having something to eat and I wanted to recreate that here in London and offer cichetti – little snacks to go with your drink – whether it’s a plate of beautiful prosciutto or some Italian cheese. It reflects the change in the way people are choosing to socialise in restaurants in a much more casual way.
We saw a gap in the market for somewhere that spanned the divide between a restaurant and a bar and worked on finding a location in Covent Garden, here in London. After a lot of knocking on doors, we found our current space and had the perfect opportunity to bring our idea to life. I love seeing who comes through the door everyday, from our regulars to those who have heard about us through friends. The buzz and the atmosphere in the evening is infectious.
If you didn’t live in London, where would you like to live?
I would love to live in Tokyo because it is such an incredible city with an amazing food scene and a great aesthetic. There is such a wealth of tradition there, I think in many ways it would be like having one foot in the future as well as one in the past. Having said that, London is such an exciting place right now; it’s hard to imagine leaving. There is an energy here that rivals the best cities out there and I feel like as both a city and as a team at Augustus Harris, we are really hitting our stride.
What drew you to London?
I was born and raised here, so London for me will always be home. My parents came here in the ‘70s and never left. I think many Londoners have a similar story – it is such an attractive place not just from an economic standpoint but also a social one – people come to work and stay to live. I see that with my team at Augustus Harris everyday. They love being part of something bigger than themselves – London has it all.
Where do you live in London and what do you like about your neighborhood?
I live centrally and that means that everything is close. London has so many villages to live in and each has its own flavour so there is a place that works for everyone. The one thing that ties them all together is the pub – the single greatest English invention. Pubs are like catnip to the world and for good reason. It’s something I’ve always missed when I’ve lived elsewhere and it is impossible to recreate abroad. My favourite is The Nags Head in Belgravia – a contender for one of the smallest and most atmospheric pubs in London.
Where do you go to escape the city for a weekend?
I’m always happy to stay in the city on weekends, trying out new restaurants across town – there are so many new openings that it feels like you’d never be able to try them all. I love going down to Maltby Street market in Bermondsey on a Saturday morning and meeting with some of our suppliers.
When I leave, I go to see family in the Cotswolds, ideally swinging by Lambournes Butcher in Stow-on-the-Wold to pick up something good to throw on the barbecue.
What’s your favorite city to visit and why? And what’s the next one you plan on travelling to?
We’re heading to Peru later on in the year so I’m looking forward to hanging out there. I haven’t spent much time in South America, so it will be exciting and different.
As for my favorite city to visit – that’s a tough one – but Venice always draws me back again and again. I’m always adding to my list of hidden away bacari and love sharing them with friends – does Journey City Guides need a summer intern…??
We do. You’re hired!
Augustus Harris is open on Monday from 5pm to 11 pm and Tuesday to Saturday – from 12pm to 11pm.