Game on at the Jugged Hare

Steve Dinneen
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49 Chiswell Street, EC1Y 4SA
Tel: 020 7614 0134
FOOD ***
Cost per person without wine: £40

You shouldn’t review restaurants when you have a cold. You shouldn’t go to them at all. As anyone who remembers primary-level biology will tell you, 70 per cent of things you think you taste, you actually smell, which means a blocked nose isn’t going to make your meal any better. But when your job depends on it, sometimes you have to make exceptions. Sometimes you just have to suffer for your art.

Thankfully, flavour isn’t in short supply at The Jugged Hare. The restaurant has been around since January but, thanks to the rather confusing game laws in the UK, it has only just started serving its eponymous signature dish: jugged hare.

You’re in no doubt as to what’s on the menu when you walk into the place; a warren-full of taxidermied Thumpers peer down from the walls, like a nightmare version of Watership Down. The restaurant, which sits in a slightly lowered section away from the bar, is a quietly stunning former brewery with glazed white tiling and lots of gleaming copper. It has a Scottish country gentleman feel to it, if it isn’t too close to an oxymoron to use the words “Scottish” and “gentleman” in the same sentence. Even the waiters are kitted out in tweed waistcoats. Unfortunately, thanks to the aforementioned cold, I couldn’t hear a word they, or anyone else, was saying. When our waiter asked “Would you like to hear the specials?”, for example, I heard: “Has anyone told you about the specials,” and cheerfully replied “No,” which took the wind out of his sails somewhat. He read them out anyway and I pretended I’d understood and ordered something from the menu.

First up was breaded black pudding with brown sauce, which was tasty, if a little heavy. In retrospect, it was probably to prepare us for what was to come.

For the starter I went for “Bath and Chaps”, largely because I’d never heard of it and I like a surprise. Turns out it’s a cut of meat from a pig’s head and neck with a langoustine lounging over the top. The crustacean was laden with nice pink roe, but there wasn’t a great deal of meat on him, although the fatty cut of pork was delicious, as long as you try not to think about your arteries.

Then on to the main event. Jugged hare is essentially a stew, cooked until “all of the meat has completely fallen off the bones,” and thickened with the hare’s blood. It comes in a big jug, with a serving spoon. It doesn’t sound like the most appetizing thing in the world. It tastes a bit like a slightly metallic beef bourguignon, with impossibly tender meat that falls apart in your mouth. It is also the heaviest dish in the world. It has a higher atomic weight than mercury. After the waiter set it on the table, the side dishes quickly fell into orbit around it.

For a bit of light relief I’d help myself to a mouthful of rib-eye steak (nice cut, flavoursome but not one I’ll be talking about in a year), which was positively airy by comparison.

Dessert wasn’t much respite, either. The sea-buckthorn junket with caraway biscuits, served in a little glass jar was so nicely presented I considered pocketing the jar, but I had to abandon the plan when I conceded defeat half way through (nobody wants a pocket full of sea-buckthorn junket). Nothing remained of the Maltesers ice cream with chocolate sauce: a suitably gluttonous way to round off an altogether gluttonous meal.

“Starve a fever, feed a cold,” goes the old wives’ tale. I think I may have fed mine to death: I woke up the next day feeling much better, if a little wider around the waist.