Restaurants such as the Cinnamon Club and the others that I visited get their wild game from shoots that take place on private estates in the English regions of Yorkshire and Northumberland, as well as in the Scottish Highlands.
Shooting in Yorkshire is a world away from American “Duck Dynasty”-style hunting. On an English shoot, gentlemen dressed in head-to-toe tweed stand in an open field, known as a moor, with assistants who load and sometimes aim their guns. Fieldworkers flush the birds out of hiding, and the shooters fire into the sky. Participating in a shoot isn’t cheap and usually requires inside connections.
The elitism associated with shoots has contributed to the perception that game is only for posh people, but young entrepreneurs like Waugh and respected chefs like Singh have introduced a cool-factor.
Singh opened the first of his acclaimed Indian restaurants in central London in 2001 and has built a name as a culinary game warden. In October, when a number of birds are at their best, he offers an unapologetic revision of game cooking with a six-course tasting menu at the Cinnamon Club, housed in the Old Westminster Library.
On my visit to the white-tablecloth restaurant, I ordered the roasted loin of Cumbrian red deer with sauteed potatoes, rock moss and onion sauce. It was one of my best meals. The venison tasted lean and moist and was deftly complimented by a dark, sweet, Indian-spiced drizzle. The chef’s inspiring methods combine the best of old and new, using tandoor ovens and Rajasthani flavors and techniques.
“I look at this whole aspect of game as an opportunity to reinvent, revisit or reimagine how things might have been in the past,” Singh said in a phone interview.
Turban to top hat
No culinary wild game excursion to London would be complete without a visit to Rules, which bills itself as the city’s oldest restaurant, in Covent Garden. Antlers and stuffed birds adorn the walls, which are also crowded with political and entertainment memorabilia. Equal parts museum and restaurant, Rules is worth a visit simply to experience the garish ambiance or to sip its signature pink gin cocktail, The Rules, served in an antique-style Champagne glass.
Four bites into enjoying my red grouse entree at the more than 200-year-old institution, my teeth made a discovery.
“Mmmm!” I alerted my tablemates, pointing at my mouth as I jostled its contents, rooting for a tiny intruder with my tongue. After finally separating the lead shot from the bird meat, I set it on my plate.
“A piece of shot! Isn’t that supposed to be good luck?” I asked our waiter.
“If you don’t break your teeth, then you’re really lucky. If you do, you’re not,” he laughed.
“Guess I’m lucky,” I said, flashing him a toothy grin.
Rich is a freelance feature writer based in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.