Game season broadly begins at the beginning of September and runs until the end of January. This varies a little depending upon the type of game but is a good guideline for when you can expect to see menus start mentioning pheasant and grouse. These dishes are hard to do well. Game usually has a stronger flavour than farmed meats such as beef and poultry, meaning only a handful of restaurants are worth visiting if you’re craving something a little wild. Here are our recommendations.
The Jugged Hare, 49 Chiswell Street, EC1Y
This chic eatery technically falls into the category of ‘gastropub’ but, in many ways, feels more like a charming little restaurant. The interiors are clean and modern, with exposed brick walls and red leather booths offsetting the dark wooden tables and chairs. Although open all year round, the Jugged Hare really comes into its own during game season, serving up pheasant, grouse and, of course, the eponymous hare.
Must-try dish: The ‘spit specials’ change regularly, so make sure to ask your waiter, but you can’t go wrong with the Eggleston Moor (Yorkshire) red grouse, Savoy cabbage and bacon, grouse liver pâté, game chips, bread sauce and red wine jus.
The Ninth, 22 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, W1T
A French-Mediterranean restaurant may seem like an odd entry on this list, but Chef Jun Tanaka has decided to update his Michelin-starred menu to include a ‘Wild Pasta’ section this winter. It focuses on British game and wild mushrooms with pheasant, hare and venison all featuring. The interiors are intimate with a rustic feel, all lit by the gentle glow of roughly a dozen dangling lamps.
Must-try dish: Venison tortellini, walnuts and bone marrow makes for the perfect, warming cold weather dish.
Mac & Wild, Devonshire Square, EC2M
Scotland is practically synonymous with grouse and game, so it makes sense that London’s most popular Scottish restaurant group would be a go-to during the winter months. The menu is fun and inventive, with ingredients sourced from the Scottish Highlands. The City branch is cavernous and reassuringly solid, with sturdy, rough-hewn wooden tables and burgundy leather benches giving it an unpretentious aspect.
Must-try dish: If you’re feeling indulgent, try the Dive and Deer – Mac & Wild’s answer to the Surf and Turf, featuring venison fillet and poached Cromarty lobster. Honourable mention must go to the Haggis Pops which have to be tasted to be believed.
Rules, 35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, WC2E
Rules is London’s oldest restaurant. Established in 1798, everything about it is steeped in tradition and old-world glamour, with walls adorned with playbills and portraits and red velvet booths echoing the theatre-going tradition with which it is often associated. Since it opened over 200 years ago, it has been known for its game offering as well as its famous oysters and pies. You come to Rules for a hearty and quintessentially British meal, and you are rarely disappointed.
Must-try dish: Roast young grouse, served traditionally with game chips, bread sauce and redcurrant jelly.
Native, 3 Neal's Yard, WC2H
From decidedly traditional to ultra-modern, Native has a zero-waste philosophy and serves only foraged ingredients and wild game. The restaurant brainchild of Ivan Tisdall-Downes and Imogen Davis, both of whom have countryside backgrounds that inspired them to pursue this ambitious venture. Located in Neal’s yard, the restaurant itself is bright and simple – think white walls, natural wood and fresh flowers with a pair of antlers wreathed in leaves adorning the wall.
Must-try dish: Wild mallard, Sutton Farm squash and pickled kohlrabi.
The Game Bird, The Stafford London, 16-18 St James's Place, SW1A
Given its name, it would have felt egregious to leave The Game Bird off this list. A sophisticated take on game cuisine, expect to find twists on the classic dishes in a relaxed atmosphere. The decor is quietly opulent; inlaid pillars and dark, shiny mahogany finishes are lifted by the colourfully upholstered chairs and a grand, old-fashioned bar dominates one wall.
Must-try dish: Partridge, leek and ham pithivier with sautéed foie gras – so much more than just a pie.
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