Chef Chat: James Avery Draws Inspiration from Across the Pond

Avery's newest restaurant, The Black Swan Public House, brings an authentic European pub experience to downtown Asbury Park.

public house james avery
Restaurant partner Sebastian Walker (left) and chef James Avery. Photo by Ernesto Cullari

Earlier this summer, chef James Avery opened a European gastropub he’s been dreaming up the past couple years. However, shamrocks and corned beef and cabbage aren’t things you’ll find at this new spot.  

“I thought, ‘How do I [transport] people from Asbury Park to the London financial district?’” Avery says.  

Located in Asbury Park’s 1886 Byrum Building, The Black Swan is an English-inspired pub, with food, cocktails and design reflecting the pubs of London today. 

The Black Swan encompasses four different sections, like the English-style pubs that inspired Avery. A floral tea room, an old study dubbed “the vault,” a warm and inviting dining room and a classic, cozy pub area. 

Avery also owns The Bonney Read, a restaurant around the corner from The Black Swan, so he is no stranger to the community. 

“It’s the public house,” says Avery of the new eatery. “It’s the center of town where everyone wants to hang out and eat. We have all these different things and everyone is finding something there, which is important because that’s what a pub is all about.” 

[RELATED: In Asbury Park, a Chic Surf-and-Turf Eatery]

Table Hopping: What was your inspiration in opening The Black Swan?
James Avery: The kind of restaurants I like to open are everyday restaurants, things that are familiar to people. For four or five years I’ve wanted to do a pub in Asbury. I really think pubs are done a disservice in America and specifically in New Jersey. I’m Irish and all the Irish pubs are kind of cheesy, like there’s shamrocks everywhere. They’re very commercialized looking, they’re not warm and cozy. They don’t look like they’re historic. I would look at the [1886] building in Asbury and think that it would be the perfect place for an English-style, London financial district pub. That was the main inspiration.  

TH: How did you make it feel like an authentic pub in London or Ireland?
JA: I worked really hard on what it’s going to feel like inside. How do I take this big cavernous room and carve it up into different moments? Because that’s really how pubs are in the UK and Ireland. They have different rooms and nooks and crannies.

public house black swan

The vault, one of the four distinct sectors of The Black Swan Public House. Photo by Brian McCabe

TH: What are the different sectors of The Black Swan?
JA: We have this really warm, rich, masculine—for lack of a better word—vault room. It’s kind of like an old, creepy study. Then we have a really floral, dainty-type room that reminds me of a grandma’s house. Then we have a dark, cozy pub side and a big, loud, boisterous dining room. 

You can go and watch a soccer game with your buddies and grab a beer, or you can celebrate your anniversary in the tea room. Or you can share a bottle of wine with a loved one in the vault. There’s something for everybody, or four different things for one person. People can utilize the space in different ways. 

public house asbury park

Fish and chips paired with a pint of Guinness

TH: What kind of food did you add to your pub menu?
JA: I have a history of working with Gordon Ramsay, and doing some English style food was kind of a nod to him. Shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, fish and chips, tikka masala.  

I purposely kept the menu small so we can execute it properly and get all of our systems in place. As we start revving up more, I want to do more of a steak house–type menu where you choose from a few different cuts of meat, get them grilled and add whatever sides you would like. I’m going to add more Indian inspired dishes, and even some vegan and vegetarian options. 

TH: What was the reasoning behind adding Indian food to the menu?
JA: I think in this area we have an absolute lack of Indian food. In England, they have a lot of curry and Indian dishes on their menus. They have the highest Indian population outside of India, so I was really excited to put that twist on the food as well. There’s a very strong Indian influence in a pub. 

The chicken tikka masala, which is a national dish of England, is just incredible. It’s made with a really fragrant, aromatic, spicy tomato sauce that we finish with butter and cream, and it’s served over saffron rice with freshly grilled naan. We can’t make it quick enough. 

TH: What was your thinking on beer and cocktails?
JA: We wanted to pull back from the heavy emphasis on American craft beers. I wanted to get more imported beers, some obscure beers that you don’t really see on draft anymore. I wanted to compliment that with old-fashioned-inspired cocktails, so we have things like Manhattans and all really “boujee” drinks.  

We took some classic cocktails and breathed new life into them. For example, we have a truffle martini made with gin. We start by making a truffle salt brine [to be used] instead of olive juice. 

TH: You opened just a couple weeks ago. What’s the atmosphere been like so far?
JA: I was thinking, let’s try to get open and do a minimal amount of service. I want to start doing lunch. So far, the response has been nothing short of amazing. Everybody seems to love it. Post-Labor Day I’m going to have some extra hands from The Bonney Read able to come and help so we can be open more for lunch and have more of a late-night crowd. 

TH: What are your hopes for The Black Swan?
JA: I really want it to be an institution in Asbury Park. I hope people are talking about it for the next 50 years. That’s my goal. When I open a restaurant, I don’t care to win Michelin stars. I like opening restaurants that become ingrained in the fabric of the community. I’m always looking inside and outside of Asbury for new opportunities, and, right now, we’re ready to roll at The Black Swan. 

The Black Swan Public House is located at 601 Mattison Ave. in Asbury Park. See the pub and drink menus online. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays, with lunch services during the week and on weekends; hours subject to change. 

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