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Enjoy the beautiful game this autumn

Timothy Barber
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NOW that we&rsquo;re a month into the season, things really start to get exciting for those who love their meat to be hearty, hunted wild and peppered with the odd shotgun pellet. For the first month it&rsquo;s all about grouse, hunted from 12 August onwards, but as the weeks go by, other animals creep onto menus as their respective shooting seasons get underway.<br /><br />Partridge and wild duck are now appearing in kitchens. So too is hare, which, although it can be hunted all the year round, is seen as a typically autumnal ingredient by most chefs, as is venison. From next month, pheasant and (if you can find them) woodcock and snipe will be winding up in cooking pots before being snapped up by game-loving diners, a breed with which the City is well stocked.<br /><br />&ldquo;We find City boys love to get stuck into hearty game dishes in the autumn,&rdquo; says Ranald McDonald, proprietor of the Square Mile&rsquo;s Scottish institution, Boisdale. &ldquo;They enjoy their game dishes served simply, and they&rsquo;re right &ndash; you don&rsquo;t want to do anything too intricate and complex, because the flavour should speak for itself.&rdquo;<br /><br /><strong>ADAPT</strong><br />At Boisdale there&rsquo;s any number of game dishes to get stuck into, depending upon what&rsquo;s available, from venison pie and game terrines to teal, pigeon and hare. <br /><br />For chefs, the requirement to adapt to what comes in from the moors of northern England and Scotland is one of the attractions of the game season. The increasing rarity of birds like snipe and woodcock makes getting them in a special event &ndash;&nbsp;last season, Herbert Berger of City fine dining restaurant One Lombard only got six of the latter in the whole season. But there&rsquo;s always room to adapt.<br /><br />&ldquo;I had some wild geese on the menu that I shot myself in the Outer Hebrides and brought back,&rdquo; says Berger. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s what&rsquo;s so fantastic about game &ndash; it&rsquo;s wild, it has a good life, and that&rsquo;s what gives it that beautifully strong flavour.&rdquo;<br /><br /><strong>RUSTIC</strong><br />That deep, earthy sweetness isn&rsquo;t to everyone&rsquo;s taste, but for others it&rsquo;s the very essence of rustic autumnal eating. But Adam Heanen, of award-winning Barons Court butchers HG Walter, which supplies game to a number of leading restaurants, reckons there&rsquo;s the further charm of ritual and tradition that adds to the attraction.<br /><br />&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a very traditional thing to go on a shoot, kill something, pluck it and eat it, and you&rsquo;re buying into that process when you eat it, so that makes it quite romantic. And people like getting their hands on something when they can only get it at certain times of the year.&rdquo;<br /><br />But what about the risk of munching down on a shotgun pellet?<br /><br />&ldquo;Frankly, it&rsquo;s worth the risk,&rdquo; says Heanen. &ldquo;It helps to have good shooters who can can avoid damaging the most valuable bits like breast or loin, but you&rsquo;ve got to be prepared because you&rsquo;re eating something shot in the wild, and that&rsquo;s why it&rsquo;s special.&rdquo;<br /><br /><strong>GAME </strong>WHERE TO EAT IT IN LONDON<br /><strong>Le Bouchon Breton</strong><br />There's a range of game platters at this French bistro in Spitalfields. The "Plateau de La Gloire de Mon Pere&rdquo; consists of half-roasted pheasant, venison loin tournedos and quail served with Brillat Savarain sauteed potatoes, green beans, bread sauce, grand veneur sauce and cranberry sauce.<br /><br /><strong>Launceston Place</strong><br />Chef Tristan Welch is serving up the ultimate Scottish concoction, partridge cooked with whisky and heather. &ldquo;We poach it in whisky and heather, then pan fry it and serve it off the bone with mashed swede and pinhead oatmeal,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;The whisky brings out the intensity of the meat and really sums up the game season for me.&rdquo;<strong><br /><br />High Timber</strong><br />At this City steak and wine restaurant, roast loin of venison from the Balmoral estate comes with a quince puree and braised spiced red cabbage. Chef Justin Saunders marinates the whole loin in red wine, port, bay and juniper for a week before cutting the loins and serving.<br /><br /><strong>Le Gavroche</strong><br />Michel Roux Jr likes to serve game that is traditionally carved at the table. &ldquo;From the end of September we serve one of my favourite game dishes, partridge (both red-legged and grey). I like to serve the bird in one of two ways: with sour crab and smoked sausage, which is the preferred method in the Alsace region of North Eastern France, or keep it simple with winter vegetables.&rdquo;<br /><br /><strong>One Lombard</strong><br />Chef Herbert Berger serves roasted partridge with savoy cabbage braised in Riesling, with a truffle sauce. &ldquo;Cabbage in an autumn vegetable, and along with the truffle it's very nutty and earthy, which goes beautifully with the game.&rdquo;<br /><br /><strong>Boisdale<br /></strong>"There's nothing more exciting than grouse, served with all the trimmings and a glass of claret, which because it's quite light and delicate, allows the game flavour to speak for itself without overpowering it," says owner Ranald Macdonald.<br />