Read our expert guide to the best game restaurants in the UK. From wood pigeon at Kricket in London and venison at The Churchill Arms in the Cotswolds, to partridge at Merchants Tavern and grouse at Lyle’s in Shoreditch.
Three Chimneys, Isle of Skye
Located on the Isle of Skye’s rugged coastline (read our guide here), The Three Chimneys is famous for serving dishes that reflect the richness and variety of Scotland’s traditional heritage and world class ingredients, whether it’s seafood, meat or game. Since starting there in 2015, head chef Scott Davies has reconnected the restaurant with its original ambition – when it was founded 33 years ago – which was to celebrate the best of Skye using a variety of Scottish and Nordic approaches.
Scott gets his grouse from a number of Scottish Highland estates and he pot-roasts it, combining it with locally foraged berries. He says: “The grouse has been exceptional this season and it has cooked beautifully. The breast fillets are really tender, but we also use the leg meat and offal in a cabbage-wrapped faggot. All of this rich game flavour is further enhanced by a mushroom purée and the earthiness of foraged chanterelles, which combine with the tartness of the blaeberries and brambles.” threechimneys.co.uk
The Churchill Arms, Cotswolds
In the Cotswolds village of Paxford, The Churchill Arms is surrounded by local shoots and it’s the gamekeepers who dictate the pub’s menus during the shooting season.
“Game is an essential part of what we do here at The Churchill Arms,” says head chef and owner Nick Deverell-Smith. “I think it’s important to link our dishes back to the English countryside and what’s available at the time of year, so as winter approaches game appears on the menu. Venison is our signature game dish here and we receive a whole carcass from Todenham Manor Farm and butcher it ourselves. It is made into pies and used for roasts on Sunday, but we keep the loin, which is the Rolls-Royce cut, and use it to make a luxurious dish of venison with truffled Savoy cabbage and roast roots – it always goes down well.” churchillarms.co
“Game is one of the greatest products we have in our natural larder and something we should all embrace and eat more of,” says Steven Smith, chef-owner of award-winning Lancashire gastropub Freemasons at Wiswell in the heart of the Ribble Valley.
Steven’s game is sourced from a number of places, including the Lancashire moors, Yorkshire moors and the Scottish Borders. Among the popular game dishes this year is loin of venison, which is smoked over Wiswell Moor pine and served with parsnip, pear and a ‘grand huntsman’ sauce made from game trimmings and strained marinade, which is added to the bouillon and then finished with blood and redcurrant jelly. freemasonsatwiswell.com
“A lot of game has quite a rich flavour and so lends itself very well to spices,” says Will Bowlby, chef and co-founder of Kricket. This contemporary Anglo-Indian restaurant is proof that chefs don’t have to stick to traditional British cooking methods when it comes to game. Here you can try tandoori grouse with coco bean and confit leg masala, cobnuts and greengage chutney, or wood pigeon, girolles, fresh peas and pumpkin chutney. Will says: “At the moment, we have pigeon on the menu and grouse direct from the Scottish moors. As the season progresses, we will be seeing partridge, venison and wild ducks like mallard, wigeon and teal, too.” kricket.co.uk
Lyle’s, London E1
“Grouse is bloody and it may still have shot in it, but I want to make it more accessible to people,” says James Lowe, chef-owner of Michelin-starred Shoreditch restaurant Lyle’s, where grouse and damson toast appears on the lunch menu. “I did a pop-up a few years ago and made grouse sausages, and people couldn’t believe it. It was almost regarded as sacrilege. But it enabled me to give 400 people an idea of what grouse tastes like. Previous to that, grouse was very expensive and only certain restaurants served it. As a diner, you can understand why somebody wouldn’t want to order grouse because it could be as much as £50 for one dish and if you didn’t like it, you’re a bit stuck – that’s a lot of money for people to take a risk with.”
James has long been an advocate of game. He previously worked for Fergus Henderson at St John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields, where a November menu might include woodcock, grouse and grey leg partridge. At Lyle’s, there’s a Chinese-inspired pheasant dish, red deer served with sweet potato and kale, and mallard paired with Hispi cabbage and sour apple. James says: “We’re not on an evangelical mission, I just want to serve game in a way that challenges us in the kitchen and makes it more interesting for the guests in the restaurant.” lyleslondon.com
Visit Wilson’s during the autumn months and the concise chalkboard-only menu will offer dishes like deep-flavoured wood pigeon szechuan broth with beans and mint, or locally shot muntjac deer with beetroot and chard picked that morning on owner Jan Ostle’s smallholding on the edge of the city.
Jan, who cut his teeth at London restaurants The Square and Clove Club, says his love of cooking game comes from his mother: “I still use her braised pheasant recipe today. Since Wilson’s opened last year it has been so busy that cooking that dish has become a sort of meditation.” Jan is a keen shot himself and often returns to the restaurant with game birds he has bagged at local shoots. “I have always loved field sports – this is why I continue to use so much game on my menu,” he says. One of the bestsellers at Wilson’s is muntjac. “Not only is it delicious and versatile, it highlights the diversity that we have in our deer population in the UK. Each breed has its own unique flavour.” wilsonsrestaurant.co.uk
Maggie Jones’s, London W8
Named after Princess Margaret, who used to book here under the alias Maggie Jones when meeting Lord Snowden (legend has it they would slip in at around 9.30pm and sit in a discreet booth at the back and eat the chicken pie), this Kensington stalwart has daily game specials throughout the shooting season. The game comes from the Windsor estate. maggie-jones.co.uk
Bibendum, London SW3
With signature dishes like satay-style Anjou pigeon, and Brittany rabbit, langoustine and artichoke barigoule, two-Michelin-starred Bibendum head chef Claude Bosi knows his game. But it’s still grouse that gets him most excited. He says: “Grouse is my favourite game. We roast the breast on the crown and serve it with pomme boulangère, and serve the leg with onions, parsnip, apple and curry. It’s the perfect start to one of my favourite seasons.” bibendum.co.uk
The Dabbling Duck, Norfolk
Forty miles west of Norwich, the pretty village of Great Massingham is well known for its large pond next to the village green, but resident ducks needn’t worry too much as the local pub sources its game birds via the area’s gamekeeper. Much of the Norfolk game comes from one of the owner’s farms and ends up on the menu in the form of venison haunch (pictured), dark chocolate and coffee crumb, barbecue parsnip, wild mushrooms, coffee and mushroom jus, or fried Massingham pigeon, vanilla-pickled carrots, black garlic aïoli and puff rice. thedabblingduck.co.uk
The Game Bird at The Stafford, London SW1
The Game Bird’s executive chef James Durrant has a reputation for using game to create such stellar dishes as roe deer tartare, egg emulsion, Worcestershire sauce and charcoal mayo, and roast pigeon, onion purée, Hispi cabbage, turnips, braised leg and ‘bullshot’ (pigeon consommé with sloe gin).
“Autumn is my favourite time of the year,” says James. “The game season allows me to create a menu that features the best seasonal produce, such as grouse, venison, partridge, wood pigeon, pheasant and wild duck. I love to cook hearty food and, although I always look forward to celebrating the grouse season as it has such a unique flavour, I think my favourite game bird to cook is the mallard. Wild duck has such a wonderful flavour.” thestaffordlondon.com/the-game-bird
Hix Oyster and Chop House, London EC1
“Game season is one of the most important events in the British culinary calendar and one we should rightly be proud of,” says Mark Hix, whose Hix Oyster & Chop House near London’s historic Smithfield meat market serves dishes like Wharfedale pigeon salad with wild bilberries and Sutton Farm beets; pheasant thigh curry; and breast of grouse with corn drop scones and girolles.
“Grouse is one of the first birds of the season and also one of the tastiest. It isn’t the biggest bird on the moor but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in flavour,” he says. hixrestaurants.co.uk
Merchants Tavern, London EC2
Located in a former apothecary in Shoreditch, Merchants Tavern serves a menu with a seasonal focus and game is high on the agenda this month with dishes like roast partridge, smoked bacon, kabocha squash, kale and pickled walnut; and Scottish grouse, crushed parsley root, horseradish and blackberries.
Head chef Neil Borthwick says: “I like cooking game as it signals the beginning of autumn when we can enjoy a comforting game dish by the fire with a glass of red. Being Scottish, I love venison which melts in the mouth and partridge which is delicately gamey and juicy.” merchantstavern.co.uk
Wiltons, London SW1
Founded in 1742, Wiltons, London’s oldest restaurant, is famed for serving seafood and game. The grouse on its menu, simply roasted with herbs and then served with brioche breadcrumbs, bread sauce, game crisps and a grouse jus, crisp bacon and watercress, is shot on the Bolton Estate in North Yorkshire.
Apart from grouse, Wiltons serves every type of game during the season, including snipe, woodcock and native grey partridge. On Friday evenings, venison wellington is carved on its famous trolley and this month sees the return of hare à la royale – a rich dish that is a celebration of, you guessed it, hare. wiltons.co.uk
Trullo, London N1
A former graduate of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and Moro, chef Tim Siadatan has become synonymous with rustic Italian cooking at Trullo in Islington, but game features prominently on the menu. The restaurant even holds an annual game feast – this season’s menu included chopped raw venison fillet; pappardelle with grouse ragu; roast partridge, confit partridge leg, chicken liver and girolle crostini. trullorestaurant.com
The Berkeley Arms, Leicestershire
Set in the heart of the Leicestershire countryside, The Berkeley Arms uses game from the two local shoots that take place every weekend throughout the season, and the team know every supplier by name.
“It’s a chef’s dream to have access to all the game birds we do and we get them all from three local guys – Ray Elsome, Vernon Moore and Simon Hazard,” says co-owner Louise Hitchen, who runs the 16th-century pub in Wymondham with chef husband Neil. “We also get muntjac, fallow and roe deers from Ron Grant, who shoots locally, and the hare and rabbits are shot in the next village by Ben Watkins.” theberkeleyarms.co.uk
Bernardi’s, London W1
Head chef Sabrina Gidda has mastered the repertoire of Italian dishes (such as this slow roast lamb with roasted salsify, brussels sprouts tops and bagna cauda) at this Marylebone restaurant. And game, too, is well covered at this time of year. “I just love the way different cuts of venison lend themselves to different parts of our menu. Venison fillet makes a beautiful main course, whereas slow-braised haunch and shin make terrific sauces. One of our most popular dishes is parmesan gnocchi, with venison shin ragu. The richness and depth of flavour is what’s required when it starts to get chilly.” bernardis.co.uk
The Modern Pantry, London EC1
This Clerkenwell restaurant is brilliant at fusing British ingredients with exotic flavours and the game season is no exception. This winter, chef-owner Anna Hansen will be serving the likes of braised pheasant with tamarind, garlic labneh and saffron and tomato chana dahl; and a dhansak masala-spiced venison ragout with plantain fritters. Anna says: “I love the richness of game and it holds up very well to the spices I have in my pantry. I particularly like venison, although it tends to dry out. So consider adding an alternative source of fat to braises, such as pancetta.” themodernpantry.co.uk
The Don, London EC4
In a cobbled courtyard in the heart of the City, The Don is named after the black-caped figure who was the symbol of the world famous Sandeman port and sherry house. For almost 200 years, the medieval cellars beneath the restaurant were used for bottling the fortified wines, rolling the barrels up from the Thames.
Now part of the Bleeding Heart restaurants group, The Don has a new executive head chef in Frederick Forster, who was previously head chef at The Ritz. Frederick draws inspiration from both classic and modern French cuisine – this season expect to see venison loin with a pumpkin purée; and partridge served with braised celery and chestnuts, foie gras and prune pithivier and a verjus-flavoured sauce. thedonrestaurant.com
Photographs by Angus Bremner, Michael Paul, Ming Tang-Evans