A taste of the wild may well be all us urban-dwellers can rejoice in for weeks to come. Relishing grouse and other game is one of the scant pleasures of this Autumn and (contrary to what some would have us believe) recreational grouse shooting and management of the grouse moors by gamekeepers contributes to wildlife biodiversity as well as the local rural economy.
Game connoisseurs know that the better grouse comes into restaurants and butchers from October, slightly plumper and more mature, and heralding the arrival too (from Oct 1st) of pheasant, partridge besides hare, wild duck and anticipate plenty of venison too. Traditionally game is served almost like an early festive dinner with bread sauce and game chips (crisp lattices of deep fried potato) yet, as ever, London restaurants are getting creative with plenty of wildly different ways to feast this autumn.
45 Jermyn Street
Few places ooze old-school-British-glamour-meets-modernity like 45 Jermyn St. on the corner of Fortnum & Mason with its signature Martin Brudneski interior: orange leather banquettes snake across the dining room, with Fortnum eau de nil accents reminding we’re adjacent to the iconic store.
Here grouse merits its own section of the menu offered as a starter of grouse breast with silky liver parfait and a bosky duo of girolles and poached figs. Magnificent golden, flaky grouse and foie gras pie with blackberry jam and malt gravy is the right side of rich, vividly Autumnal and immensely satisfying. There’s a traditional roast complete with game chips and bread sauce too served with blackberry jam and malt gravy. This is food that makes life seem good whatever vagaries are happening beyond its cosiness. The calm buzz and immaculate service make this a dining room to linger in. www.45jermynst.com
Smoke & Salt
In its brand new Tooting home, Smoke & Salt has opened to an excited audience of curious diners in a space more than twice the size of its previous Pop Brixton incarnation. The food is thrillingly inventive yet unassuming. After textbook crisp nuggets of hake croquette with dulse (seaweed) mayo and umami powered marmite glazed runner bean skewers with red onion chutney, grilled pheasant breast on a wonderfully woodland flavoured ragout of wild mushrooms served with a dramatic porcini crisp and a little porcini salt powder is truly exceptional. Better still with a side order of roast figs with red chicory. This is a neighbourhood gem. https://www.smokeandsalt.com
Farm-to-table sustainable cuisine is always order of the day at the Gladwin Brothers restaurants including the delightful Nutbourne (named after their family farm in West Sussex) tucked away close to Battersea Bridge and Battersea Park with a heated wraparound verandah overlooking Ransome’s Dock. For game season, there’s grouse breast chargrilled on their wood-fired indoor BBQ besides farmhouse terrine with pistachios and house pickles or Hampshire mozzarella with Nutbourne tomatoes. On Sundays, Nutbourne offers roast grouse with all the trimmings as a Sunday lunch choice. www.nutbourne-restaurant.com
The Game Bird
The name says it all: The Game Bird is a love letter to the best of game proclaimed by Ben Tish, Chef Director (of Fitzrovia’s Siciiian Norma too) and exceptionally talented chef Jozef Rogulski gives it his best shot. The game is flaunted in bespoke ageing cabinets within the dining room for customers to choose their birds, Diners are given rather chic leather bibs for damage limitation. The service is immensely knowledgeable yet chatty and the whole experience is much more fun than the plump cushioned, somewhat old-fashioned luxurious surroundings might suggest. The Game Bird pithivier with truffle bordelaise sauce is a sumptuous treat. Complete the indulgence with an old-fashioned steam pudding with golden syrup. www.thestaffordlondon.com
The Harwood Arms
The Harwood Arms combines pub classics with expert game cooking brilliantly executed by head chef Sally Abé, with input from co-owners Brett formerly of The Ledbury’ Graham, and renowned game expert Mike Robinson who has pubs .
Abé adores game and cooks it with evident passion and precision, from game terrine bar snacks to whole roast grouse, pheasant, woodcock, snipe and mallard added to the menu seasonally. Out of wild game season, there’s often muntjac Wellington with puff pastry made in house: crisp, flaky, ethereal and delicious.Ha==nd cut venison tartare with pontack sauce, pickled mustard seeds and egg yolk. www.harwoodarms.com
It’s one of the most impressive and opulent dining rooms in London, and most importantly in this present Covid era, there is lots of space plus huge windows stretching up to double-height ceilings, no-expense-spared crystal chandeliers and vases of exuberant blooms. What’s more Andre Garrett, who made his Michelin mark heading up Galvin at Windows and Cliveden hotel brings elegant finesse to his highly seasonal, immaculately sourced menu. Roast fig makes a glorious addition to roast grouse with sweetcorn and thyme and there are stellar terrines too. It’s a great spot for some comfortable cosseting with an impressive British cheese board to linger over. www.corinthia.com
La Poule au Pot
La Poule au Pot has been a romantic Belgravia destination seemingly forever. It is so dated that it is fashionable again with its intimate nooks and festoons of dried flowers and intriguing Francophile brocante. Cosy and intimate, the restaurant comes into its own in winter.. Start with oysters or French onion soup, move on to classic whole grouse served with red cabbage, celeriac mash, red wine and redcurrant jelly. www.lapouleaupot.com
Celebrated for its creative game dishes since it opened and won its first Michelin star in 2014, this polished elegant Mayfair restaurant inspired by the colonial social clubs of 19c Indian high society has (post fire) been completely restyled in jade green with cut glass wall lights, vintage steamer trunks and dark mahogany Edwardian style discreet booths for safety and discretion. It remains the jewel in the crown of the Sethi family’s restaurant empire that started with Trishna and now includes Hoppers, Brigadiers, Lyles and more.
Enjoy partridge pepper fry with Malabar paratha or wild muntjac biryani accompanied by a pomegranate and mint raita. Bar snacks in the dramatic orange and Kashmari chilli red basement include venison keema nans to accompany a dirty Martini with olive brine poppadom. www.gymkhanalondon.com
Resolutely British and bold, James Lowe’s menu at East End minimalist Lyle’s always surprises. Fanatical about cooking game, James usually invites his high profile chef friends from around the globe to create spectacular game menus with him in association with Craigellachie distillery. Though the international element is not possible this year, grouse is served with damson and mallard (wild duck) with sweetcorn and chestnut. Partridge dishes are likely to feature shortly and perhaps a revival of the prawn and partridge wontons that proved such a hit last year. www.lyleslondon.com
Mac & Wild
Visit Mac & Wild Fitzrovia for a Scottish immersion in London. Start with crispy wild haggis pops made with wild venison, lamb and beef. The venison chateaubriand is a revelation. Serve rare, it slices like butter and tastes of its wild woodland diet of grasses, berries and lichen. www.macandwild.com
Would-be first time grouse eaters can order The Glorious Roast Grouse kit from Mac & Wild via Restaurant Kits (£39) includes everything you need for roast highland grouse on toast, including a British Game Alliance approved grouse (ie the shoot is operating to the highest ethical and sustainable standards), all butter brioche.. As well as the ingredients, each kit includes a step-by-step recipe guide and is made to serve two people. www.restaurantkitsuk.com
Italians adore their game especially Massimo Tagliaferri head chef of Belgravia’s estimable independent, family-run Enoteca Turi with its superlative wine cellar of unusual, interesting grape varieties and lesser-known regions. The elegant room is all dark wood, crisp linens and there’s a wall of exposed brick painted shimmering gold. Every dish is annotated with its Italian region of origin and wine match recommendations from owner Giuseppe Turi who trained as a sommelier in London’s top restaurants.
Roast grouse breast and confit legs are accompanied by liver crostini and a superlative barley and girolle risotto, enhanced by Fragolino grape compote and Lambrusco sauce. It’s a stunning dish. In season, there is often a fine hare pappardelle. Try too their tiramisu deconstructed, not for the purist, though the lightest of coffee sponge, cocoa crumble and marsala ice cream impressed me. www.enotecaturi.com
Quo Vadis, Soho
The adorable Jeremy Lee, head chef and often greeter at Quo Vadis insists grouse should be lightly buttered and served whole with sherry breadcrumbs, redcurrant jelly, toast lathered in livers, game chips and watercress. He adores cooking pheasant, wild duck, hare and venison too and delights in creative game salads with seasonal stone fruit and nuts. His pheasant with orange and almond salad is a favourite. www.quovadissoho.co.uk