You clearly adore the lifestyle and fishing in your native Dorset, but does the south-west feature a lot in your shooting plans?
“I don’t do a lot of shooting in Dorset but I do have one shoot near Honiton, in Somerset, with one of our very best customers, which is just a rough shoot. I must confess, I really do enjoy that much more than those big ugly shoots where they shoot hundreds of pheasants in a day. They all just feel a little bit…I don’t know, unnatural to me, if that makes sense? I think that walked-up stuff is more skilled…the field craft, how you move. It’s a bit like the opposite of mackerel fishing, where you just put the feathers over the side and you have to stop fishing after half an hour because you have caught too many; less is definitely more.”
You really like that element of chance?
“I do. If I can go out and wander for a day, stop and have a nice lunch and only shoot 20 birds, I am quite happy with that. As long as it’s fun and a good interesting shoot. When birds are constantly falling around you, it’s just not that much fun for me.”
So, who would you consider your usual shooting buddies?
“They’re from all walks of life really. Some of them are just people I know and are nothing to do with cooking. You can end up with some odd crowds at a shoot, but that’s great. I really quite like that quirky, social element of shooting. I went on a lovely shoot last year, for example, with Charles Clover from The Times and Chris Gorrel Barnes – we’re all members of the Blue Marine Foundation – along with Charlie Asprey, who is the brother of William, of William & Son fame.”
And where was that?
“A place called Stype, around the Surrey Hills area. Another great friend of mine has a lovely grouse moor up in Dumfriesshire. I try to get up there once a year if I can. He’s got a lovely stretch of the Nith, so if I do go up there I usually get a bit of salmon fishing and a bit of grouse shooting. He is also our game dealer for the restaurants, Ben Weatherall, from the Blackface Meat Company. I didn’t used to own a gun but I get invited so often that I thought I’d really better take this thing up and get involved. I bought an old vintage Holland & Holland side-by-side and an old Ilsley too. I keep that gun in Dorset, so I have all the kit in case I do get that call.”
So how many days would you average?
“I like to try and slot in at least four or five days a season, if I can. I’d like to get up to about six to 10 days a year, but I suppose that balance of doing four or five days shooting a year along with the fishing is quite a nice one, really. That will include a bit of rough-stuff, and some pigeon shooting down in Dorset. I can pick up a gun and do that whenever, which is great. I do love that. I’m slowly doing more and more. I remember the first couple of times I went shooting. There were some old boys there, some old hands, and funnily enough, I was missing quite a lot and they thought I was some sort of conservationist.”
Game features heavily in your restaurants, so I’ve got to ask. Do you have a game dish you really adore, a proper favourite?
“No, no real favourite, but I love experimenting whilst keeping it simple. Most people shoot and then dish up game for dinner and it is mostly over-cooked. I think it’s worth getting the cooking element of game right; timing-wise on a bird is just so important. I remember going up to Ben’s to shoot grouse and we picked these beautiful wild, deep-blue little blaeberries and some fresh salad leaves from the garden. It was simple and unfussy. It was magical.”
Aside from Mark Hix, other Robert Cuthbert interviewees for Shooting Stars include: