What the hell is the Glorious Twelfth, you ask? Well, despite sounding like the technical term for the successive Hobnob you eat after consuming eleven, it actually marks the start of the British shooting season for red grouse, AKA the king of game, on 12 August. Keep reading to get the lowdown on British game season, alongside our pick of the best eight restaurants to eat game in London while it's in season. After all, game knows game.
What is game?
Game describes meat from an animal typically found in the wild rather than raised on the farm. There’s a glut of game to consume in the UK – namely grouse, hare, mallard, rabbit, snipe, teal venison, wild goose, wood pigeon and woodcock.
When is game season?
Serving wild game is an entrenched part of British restaurant culture and an exciting time for chefs to take advantage of this ultra-seasonal, sustainably reared meat residing on our doorstep.
The grouse is the first animal to hit the drum beat of game season on the Glorious Twelfth (aka the New Year's Day of hunting). It’s a small, plump bird from the moorlands of the British Isles that remains in season for around five months.
Partridge, teal and mallard follow this in early September and pheasant and woodcock in October. The venison and wild boar seasons are longer, and wood pigeon and rabbit are open season.
Why eat game?
Despite being a hotly contested topic, there’s a throng of benefits to eating game, not least its eco-credentials, provenance and traceability. As a non-intensively farmed animal, game has a lower carbon footprint than other meats, often travelling a few miles from field to fork. It’s free-range, wild and sustainable, and a welcome alternative to more expensive grass-fed, free-range cuts of beef and chicken.
In terms of taste, a completely natural diet on the moorlands, fields, and farms gives game a distinctive and unique flavour, and it has a host of health benefits, too. Lean, low in cholesterol, and dense in iron – game really is a triple threat.
“Eating game is one of life’s no-brainers,” says Chef and Co-Owner of Michelin-starred Elystan Street, Phil Howard. “Particularly given that it is so abundant in this country, it is seasonal, and, purely from an eating point of view, works so incredibly well with the earthy flavours of autumn and winter vegetables. It’s local, lived happily, and it’s lean, nutritious and cheap – and it tends to come in the hand or a box – not plastic.”
Where to eat game in London?
6 Old Court Place, W8 4EP
Taking cottage core to new heights, Maggie Jones’s is a trinket-laden, hotch-potch of a restaurant packed with wicker baskets, wooden pews, hanging tankards and dried flowers. The restaurant, named after Princess Margaret (who used to book a table here under the alias of Maggie Jones regularly), serves traditional British fare and has welcomed pretty much most of the royal family over the years. Unsurprisingly, Maggie J is getting on board with game season and will serve roasted grouse covered in bacon and a game sauce to mark the Glorious Twelfth. But that’s not all – partridge will be on the menu in September, and pheasant in October. All of which come from the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
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There’s a high chance that Kricket is already on your radar because of its legendary Keralan fried chicken, so it’s even better news that they’re getting on the game hype this August. For the Glorious Twelfth, the Anglo-Indian small plates restaurant will be cooking up a special of clove smoked grouse kebab, greenage chutney, lardo, ceps and cobnuts across all three restaurants in Soho, White City and Brixton. And fear not, if you don’t make it in time for the grouse special, there’s always the venison and beef fat kebabs with garlic achaar and smoked yoghurt served all year round. To accompany these standout dishes is Kricket’s impeccably vibey atmosphere and positively swoonsome cocktail selection, including the whiskey chailball and dhuarita with pomegranate, jaggery and lime.
11-13 Abingdon Road, W8 6AH
The game is well and truly on for Michelin-starred Kitchen W8, who are putting on a menu focussed around (you guessed it) game. Head chef Mark Kempson’s love for the stuff knows no end – it’s truly free-range, flavoursome, healthy and versatile, so it's an annual tradition of his to devise a menu showcasing this seasonal British food. The menu runs from 9 to 22 October and features five dishes (with optional wine pairings), including wild duck and treacle cured bacon broth, warm partridge salad with grilled autumn roots and BBQ loin of fallow deer with ragu stuffed potato and cavolo nero. Can’t wait until October? Not a problem. In an ode to the Glorious Twelfth, Kempson will be putting roast Yorkshire grouse with ancient grains, smoked bacon and hedgerow jelly on the menu from August 16.
26-29 Dean Street, W1D 3LL
Jeremy Lee is a known game aficionado, and unsurprisingly, he will be adding grouse to the menu at Quo Vadis in celebration of the Glorious Twelfth. The dish, affectionately named ‘Grouse and co.’, features the bird lathered in butter, roasted whole and served with watercress, bread sauce, buttered breadcrumbs drenched in sherry, game crisps and redcurrant jelly. But no, it doesn’t stop there. QV then cooks a crisp slice of bread in the butter and the grouse-infused juices from the roasting pan, spreads it with a pâté made from the liver and heart and sits the bird atop. This dish is just another excuse to visit Quo Vadis, of which there are plenty – namely, the smoked eel sandwich.
La Poule au Pot
231 Ebury Street, SW1W 8UT
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La Poule au Pot is a strong case for sibling resemblance. It’s the French sister restaurant to the aforementioned Maggie Jones’s – that also sports a trinket festooned ceiling, an abundance of wicker baskets and wax-dripped candles. The restaurant sits stoically as a Belgravia institution, having been on the scene for over half a century. It’s revered for its traditional French scran, including garlicky snails, beef bourguignon, French onion soup, and bouillabaisse, to name a few. Alongside being Gallic as hell, La Poule au Pot is also jumping on the game train, serving up grouse covered in bacon like Maggie Jones’s, alongside squab pigeon and partridge in December.
The Cinnamon Club
The Old Westminster Library, SW1P 3BU
If there’s a club you want to be a part of, it’s probably this one. Housed in a Grade II-listed building (which used to be Westminster Library), complete with on-brand bookcase-lined walls and serving up Indian fine dining at its best, The Cinnamon Club is the kind of restaurant where both the food and setting fight for your attention. This August, head chef Vivek Singh will mark the Glorious Twelfth by adding chargrilled grouse breast with Archari spices served with punchy mustard greens and fenugreek to the menu. Alongside this corker of a dish, we strongly advise you order the Delhi-style butter chicken on the bone for two, served with black lentils, pilau rice, and soft garlic naan – it’s legendary.
43 Elystan Street, SW3 3NT
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Earthly yet elegant, Elystan Street is a Michelin-starred nosherie located in Chelsea and co-owned by chef patron Philip Howard and restaurateur Rebecca Mascarenhas. Both characters have some tasty resumes, with years of experience on the restaurant scene at Sonny’s, Kitchen W8 and two-star The Square. The atmosphere and menu at Elystan Street are classic and confident, in harmony with the restaurant’s all-together grown-up vibe. To add to the already devourable menu, Elystan Street will be putting grouse on the menu from 24 August, when the birds are plumper, better flavoured and better value. The grouse will be served with potato galettes, celeriac puree, elderberries and bacon.
14 Water Street, E14 5GX
Not to be confused as a synonym for the popular Korean TV show, Fish Game is a restaurant dedicated to (you guessed it) fish and game. The restaurant is one of the latest additions to Canary Wharf, having opening this July. It’s a love letter to the best produce from Britain’s seas, soils and skies by Roberto Costa – the restauranteur behind the beloved Macellaio RC. Ultra-seasonal, sustainable and meticulously sourced British ingredients are the draw of Fish Game, and there’s even a map on the menu showing you exactly where your food comes from. Some menu highlights include rabbit croquettes with marjoram mayonnaise, game arancini with whisky ketchup, and smoked Windsor Great Park duck breast with a crispy duck leg and sweet and sour salad. In true Costa style, there’s a nod to his Italian roots with the Agave Bar, which serves aperitivo daily.
4 Greycoat Place, SW1P 1SB
For those wanting to shake things up from your more traditional grouse dishes, look no further than Modern-Indian restaurant Yaatra. This year, it's got its game face on with a Glorious Twelfth menu on offer from 12 to 26 August. The unique grouse culinary experience put together by executive chef Amit Bagyal features a devilishly cheesy grouse rarebit served on hunks of sourdough and star-anise punctuated confit grouse leg, served with a crisp grouse croquette and topped with a rich, coconut sauce. Alongside this ode to game will be an accompanying selection of vintage cognacs, including 1906 Army & Navy Stores Cognac – a tribute to the year the Old Westminster Fire Station (where Yaatra now resides) was built.