Gone are the days that wild game is associated with shooting lodges and stuffy restaurants. The past few years have seen a renaissance of wild venison, pheasant, hare and grouse – which often crops-up on menus at some of Britain’s best restaurants.
Burn’s Night (25 January) is a great excuse for a celebration, and even though haggis is traditional, there’s no way that Scottish poet, Robert Burns, would begrudge a braised roe deer shoulder or topside of venison instead. After all, it was Burns who famously wrote:
My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.
THE JUGGED HARE
This new wave game restaurant treads a thin line. While roaring stag heads are proudly mounted on the wall and game terrine (served with hunter’s sauce, of course) is on the menu, it doesn’t feel fusty. There’s a young crowd, house Pale Ale and lots of family-friendly sides for anyone who is nervous of the black pudding croquettes (£7.50) or roast quail and sweetbreads (£12). Check their website over any game-related dates (eg. Burn’s Night, The Glorious Twelfth) –The Jugged Hare will be guaranteed to use it as an excuse for a party.
49 Chiswell St, London EC1Y 4SA
Hunting as a sport dates back to the Mughal Emperors and beyond, weaving game meat into India’s culinary heritage. It makes sense after all – the robust and richly flavoured meat stands up well to spices. Modern Indian restaurants nod to this heritage (see the Rajasthani spiced pheasant breast at Cinnamon Kitchen, or the Muntjac Biryani at Gymkhana). The latest opening to do so is Jamavar, which has a six course game menu (£60 for six courses) – which takes diners on a journey from venison samosa through to mallard served with keena naan and cucumber raita, firmly cementing game on the modern Indian menu.
8 Mount St, Mayfair, London W1K 3NF
À la carte lunches and set dinners (£49) at Lyles often showcase wild game, cooked in James Lowe’s signature style – super creative with a light touch – perhaps teal with swede and blackberries, or grouse with sweetcorn and cobnuts. Wild game fanatics will be most excited by the Michelin-starred chef’s ‘Game’ series, where Lowe hosts experts from round the world at his restaurant (promoting the event with the hashtag #GameMayContainShot). Keep an eye on the website for upcoming dates.
Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High St, London E1 6JJ
MAC & WILD
The ‘Veni-moo’ burger (£10) set many a pulse racing, before winning the much-contested title of ‘London’s best burger 2016’. It’s been an exciting journey for kilt-clad Andy Waugh and the team who founded The Wild Game Company. What started as a meat supply company quickly diversified into street food, then a restaurant in Fitzrovia and recently a second in The City. It’s little surprise – the menu showcases accessible and affordable game, from the wild boar, venison and beef chips on the Charcuterie Board (£10) to a sensational Sunday roast –which features topside of venison (200g) and all the trimmings for £19.50 per head.
65 Great Titchfield St, Fitzrovia, London W1W 7PS
It’s little surprise that Rules does a strong line in game. As London’s oldest restaurant – founded in 1789 – it dates back to a time that game was widely enjoyed by the dining elite. The classic dishes match the old school décor – there’s game soup, crown of pheasant and venison shank cooked in red wine. It’s not subtle, it’s not light, but traditional dishes are cooked to perfection. This historic restaurant will send foreign visitors wild, and after sherry or two, it becomes a joy to time travel and embrace an age of utter decadence.
34-35 Maiden Ln, London WC2E 7LB
This young restaurant is making waves with its small, accessible plates of wild game – free from any pomp and ceremony. It’s tucked away in a corner of Neal’s Yard, with most of the seats in an informal basement dining room. It’s fun and fresh and a modern, interpretation which is a world away from dry birds studded with shot. Expect pheasant dumplings with pickled walnuts, or wild mallard with pickled kohlrabi, washed down with Somerset cider brandy.
3 Neal's Yard, London WC2H
LE CHAMPIGNON SAUVAGE
The two-Michelin starred Cheltenham restaurant is something of a dichotomy. Its plain décor is at odds with the wildly dramatic dishes, and the high street location makes the amount of game on the menu seem all the more unexpected. Rabbit loin appears alongside terrine of guinea fowl, and roasted wood pigeon. Chef David Everitt Matthias finds inspiration from hedgerow ingredients, perhaps pairing pheasant with pickled elderberries in delicate and beautifully-formed dishes. After all, this restaurant is wild by name, so it’s only right it’s wild by nature too.
24-28 Suffolk Road, Cheltenham, GL50 2AQ
THE GUNTON ARMS
When a restaurant is set in a 1,000-acre deer park, it’s more than a hint that they’re going to do a good line in venison – and The Gunton Arms doesn’t disappoint. The bar snacks are a strong start: venison sausage roll (£3.50) as well as spicy wild boar sausages (£4) … but it’s in the Elk Room where things start to get serious. Chef Stuart Tattersall uses the historic hearth to cook on the open fire. The red deer rump (£19) comes with goose fat roast potatoes and rowan berry jelly, which is even more memorable than the dramatic surroundings.
Cromer Road, Thorpe Market, Norwich NR11 8TZ
Chef Mike Robinson stalks and culls over 100 wild deer for the Pot Kiln table every year. It means that there is a variety of different species on the menu – from muntjac to fallow, roe and sika – as well as specialties like pan fried liver. Sunday lunch is, no doubt, a highlight of the week. Not just because a country pub is in its element on a long afternoon, but also because whole shoulders of venison are braised (£45 for two to share) – then glazed in honey and mustard and presented as an amazing alternative a standard roast.
Frilsham, Yattendon, Berkshire, RG18 0XX
Scotland is home to some of the world’s best game, and there are few better places to enjoy it than Tom Kitchin’s Edinburgh restaurant – which was awarded a Michelin star within months of opening. The ‘Celebration of the Season Surprise Tasting Menu’ is far better conceived than the (somewhat clunky!) title suggests will excite gourmands with local delicacies – perhaps roasted teal with roasted plums or hare cooked a la royale (boned, stuffed, rolled and cooked in wine). Those on a budget can pop by for a great value set lunch (£33 for three courses), or head to The Scran and Scallie – Kitchin’s nearby gastropub.
78 Commercial Quay, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 6LX
Words by Rachel Walker