Game, one of the most traditional British delicacies of the season, is finding its way onto some of London’s most enticing Indian, Thai, Nordic, and Italian menus.
The “Glorious Twelfth”—or Aug. 12—marked the beginning of the grouse season, giving a much-needed boost to the UK’s rural economy after two lean years of poor weather and pandemic restrictions. Grouse shooting alone supports more than 2,500 jobs nationwide and is worth £100 million ($115 million) annually to the economy.
Grouse and other wild game—lean, healthy, and flavorsome—is also a boon for the nation’s chefs. More restaurants are offering it on menus, and in less traditionally British ways. Its affinity with spice is key.
Kutir, chef Rohit Ghai’s flagship restaurant, offers a whole tasting menu of Indian-spiced game. “The strong flavors of game lend themselves perfectly to spices,” he says. “Game is always lean, so marinating in yogurt and spice and cooking it on a slow heat keeps it tender and juicy.”
Mark Dobbie, co-founder of Som Saa, looks to the dense forests of the mountains in northern Thailand for inspiration. “The big, bold flavor, fragrant herbs, and umami-rich seasonings work really well with British game,” he says.
Brits haven’t been the only ones with a taste for the hunt.
“Wild game was historically an important part of Rajasthani cuisine,” says Vivek Singh, chef and proprietor of the Cinnamon Club. “When the Rajput, Rajasthan’s ‘warrior’ caste, didn’t have anyone to fight, they would go hunting instead. It is a way of life that doesn’t exist in India anymore. It’s a privilege to preserve some of these recipes.”
Meanwhile, Aquavit London, in St James’s Market, offers a distinctly Nordic take on wild game, while chef and restaurateur Jacob Kenedy draws on both his Italian and his American Deep South heritage to inform his menus at Bocca di Lupo and Plaquemine Lock, braising venison in a wine-rich ragu at the former, for example, and blackening spiced mallard in a searing hot pan at the latter.
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Here are a handful of London’s most exciting restaurants in which to go wild:
Many Indian restaurant menus stay the same year-round, but not Kutir’s. “I like to keep my chefs motivated and interested,” Ghai says. “Game season is great for that: You never quite know what will turn up in the kitchen.” The five-course Hunter’s Expedition menu (£65 a head) at his intimate Chelsea town house features Chettinad-spiced mallard with curry leaf and coconut as well as venison slow-cooked with fresh chiles and fennel. Look out, too, for Ghai’s tandoor-roasted grouse, pepped up—in a nod to the grouse’s origins—with a dram of smoky malt Scotch.
September’s menu at the buzzy, industrial-chic Som Saa in Spitalfields offers a banana-leaf-grilled curry of mallard with long-leaf coriander as well as a classic northern laab (a warm, meaty salad) made with venison and fresh spices. Later in the season, expect fiery, brothy jungle curries, perhaps with pheasant, and salads of mallard with sour leaves and ancient chile jam. About £80 for two, excluding drinks.
Bocca di Lupo
Kenedy’s hugely popular Soho Italian restaurant (book well in advance) delights in celebrating the seasons, and none more so than the game season. Recipes come from the Veneto, Lombardy, and Tuscany regions: Right now, there’s grouse, lavishly stuffed with butter and herbs, then grilled with a thick slice of guanciale over the crown. Later in the season, look out for hare marinated and slow-cooked in red wine as a ragu for pappardelle. Kenedy says his philosophy is “to try to cook game as Italians would if they lived here.” About £90 for two, excluding drinks.
The menu at Kenedy’s lively, laid-back canal-side pub and restaurant in Islington pays homage to his Louisiana ancestors, and Southern-style game is now on the menu. The Regent’s Canal isn’t the bayou, so there is no alligator, but you’ll find grouse and pheasant breasts that have been buttermilk-brined, coated in Cajun spices, deep-fried, and dressed with pineapple, tarragon, and jalapeño. Hunter’s jambalaya—made Cajun-style, with no tomato, in a wide cast-iron pot—features rabbit and a miscellany of game, and partridge is pot-roasted with chestnuts and served with grits.
The Cinnamon Club
Singh was an early champion of game at this airy former library, which is still lined with books and has proven a favorite with Westminster politicos. Grouse has just landed on his menu—the breast marinated, then cooked in the tandoor, the leg meat minced and wrapped in a parcel of roomali roti (“handkerchief bread”), served with peppery charred corn and creamy black lentils (£37). Roast partridge follows in September, marinated in ginger, garlic, and amchur (green mango powder) and crusted with crushed peanuts. Finally, October brings pheasant, marinated in fresh herbs, flash-roasted in the tandoor and served with khichri (spiced rice and lentils).
The handsome, high-ceilinged London outpost of the Midtown Manhattan original, Aquavit London has a September menu offering head chef Jonas Karlsson’s Nordic-inspired roast Yorkshire grouse with a grouse liver parfait, buttered cabbage, and licorice jus. Venison aficionados, meanwhile, should book for one of three six-course “A Savour of Scandinavia” dinners (£95, details and bookings via the website) before Christmas, at which the pièce de résistance will be roe deer from the Scottish Highlands paired with chocolate and beetroot.
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