I joined the line of giddy game lovers salivating over venison burgers and pieces of steak sizzling to award-winning perfection on the grill. I ordered the steak sandwich: strips of fresh tenderloin, cooked medium rare, piled with grilled onions and topped with Gouda, nestled between two freshly baked brioche buns. Seconds later, my American mouth enjoyed the taste of the Scottish Highlands at a lunch market in London.
From that first bite, it was game on for me.
Details: London game
On Aug. 12, known as the Glorious Twelfth, the British wild game season opens. Throughout the fall and winter, it’s fair play to hunt multiple birds and beasts, starting with grouse and continuing with snipe, plover, partridge, duck, goose, woodcock, pheasant and a variety of deer, to name a few. To take advantage of the fresh meat, some of London’s best chefs “nature-ize” their menus according to which animals are available, offering adventurous eaters a field-to-fork experience ranging from traditional roasted grouse with greens to venison burgers with game chips and funky grouse-nest pizza with pumpkin chutney.
And so, over the next four days, I embarked on a gastro-safari across the city, nearly sprouting fur and feathers from all the wild animals I ate.
Savoring the flavor
Menus don’t come much funkier than those of Michelin-starred St. John restaurant in Smithfield. But the eye-popping selections have more to do with chef Fergus Henderson’s revolutionary philosophy of nose-to-tail cooking, involving offal and pig’s cheeks, than with his simply executed recipes.
Sitting solo at a tiny wooden table in St. John’s spartan dining room waiting for my braised rabbit, I saw a sign that read, “Please turn off your portable phone whilst in the dining room.”
Without electronics to pluck me from solitude, the famed chef forced me to savor, contemplate and connect with tender rabbit legs, tiny cushions of smoky bacon fat and sweet green peas bursting with rabbit-infused juices.
Later that afternoon, I joined Henderson and co-founder Trevor Gulliver at a small table in the restaurant dining room, with its bare white walls and industrial black pendant lamps, for a deep dive into game cooking. For two hours, they bantered about everything from the importance of sourcing birds from Yorkshire moors to how woodcocks — because they defecate before flight — can be roasted with the guts in, which heightens flavor.
“When game’s afoot, eat it every day,” said Henderson, wearing his signature round spectacles and sipping from a glass of Burgundy. “And when it’s out of season, don’t eat it. Look forward to when it comes back.”