It’s very rare for a shooter to feel truly at home in London, but The Jugged Hare in Chiswell Street, near the Barbican, is a safe haven for the city sportsman. There is taxidermy on every wall in the pub area and the restaurant has a menu that is bulging with game dishes, both traditional and more playful.
With an 11th restaurant opening just a week or so from now, Tom and Ed Martin of ETM Group, which owns The Jugged Hare, are rather busy at the moment. However, Tom made time to chat to me about combining two of his passions, game and taxidermy, into The Jugged Hare.
“We have taxidermy of all the different species of UK gamebirds and their seasons are written on the front of the glass cases,” Tom told me. “I think it’s important and also interesting for our customers to be able to identify what they are actually eating, if they wish, as some will never have come across a snipe, woodcock or grouse, for example.” One wall features hare heads and shoulders, mounted in a similar style to roe heads, which are beautiful. “My office is completely full, too, but my wife won’t let me have any at home except for a pair of stunning kingfishers,” he added.
While Tom wasn’t brought up shooting, he enjoys it now, although he doesn’t get much time to go. “I’m working seven days a week at the moment, so this year I won’t be getting much sport,” he said. “I go to France, Germany and the Czech Republic most years and take some of our senior chefs, too. We shoot deer and boar. It gives the chefs a chance truly to understand what they are cooking, and we transport all the meat back with us in our chilled lorry to sell in the restaurants – usually around 25 deer and a dozen boar per visit.
“Our game masterclasses will be booked up this year – we get a lot of corporate clients for those, which just shows that, in urban areas, game is becoming an increasingly popular food.”
Most of The Jugged Hare’s game comes from the Yorkshire Game Company, which is run by Ben Weatherall (see A game new life, Shooting Times, 21 November 2012). Tom enjoys selling less well-known game. There cannot be many restaurants in the UK where you can sit down to a roast golden plover, for example. “We had squirrel on the menu last week, and that sold really well,” Tom recalls. “The unusual stuff flies out.” Much of the venison comes from a stalker in Hertfordshire. The whole carcase is delivered, allowing head chef Richard O’Connell to butcher it himself.
Fried grouse legs
After chatting to Tom, I had a difficult decision to make: what to choose for lunch? With teal, mallard, partridge, grouse, wild boar, venison and rabbit all on the menu, it was going to take a while. I opted for the fantastic fried grouse legs, followed by delicious mallard. Then I had the chance to talk to Richard, the chef.
Richard only really started cooking game seriously when he joined ETM Group: “It’s been a steep learning curve, but I’ve enjoyed it so much. Tom lets me try different things and he’s so enthusiastic about game. When we get something unusual in the chiller, it’s like he’s won the lottery. The more unusual things, such as woodcock, snipe or golden plover go on the specials. Tom’s very involved. The chefs who work here don’t know how lucky they are, with a boss who is so obsessed by good product sourcing – even down to the salt and pepper. Some of the suppliers have become good friends.”
Richard has enjoyed doing game masterclasses, too, although he admits they are hard work: “We normally have groups of between six and 12 people, and often I’ll butcher a whole deer for them to see what is involved. Then I get them to do a bit of prep, and to eat what we’ve cooked. They’ve been really popular.”
As for game sales, Richard has had to increase his order of grouse this year, from 40 a week to 80 – proof positive that game, as a menu choice, is doing extremely well. And again this year, as with last, the eponymous dish, jugged hare, is the highest-selling main course on the menu. He’s hugely enjoyed the shooting outings to the Czech Republic, too, even though he’d never shot before: “It made me understand what it involved from start to finish – and that can only be a good thing.”
Try Richard’s recipe for clay pigeon stew
You can tell that Richard has fun with the menu. He’s had special “clay” dishes made for the clay pigeon stew. “It’s good to be playful and adventurous with the dishes,” he said. “Our customers love it, too. I made burgers with wild boar livers, venison hearts and beef, and they sold amazingly well. There’s rarely anything people won’t order, and customers keep coming back, which is a good sign.
“The secret is to keep the standard very consistent. We only use meat and game from the UK, except for what we bring back from hunting trips abroad, and only wild venison. I think one of the best things about working here is not always knowing what might come in. It hits the fridge and I have to think on my feet to come up with a dish. It certainly keeps me on my toes.”
INGREDIENTS (SERVES TWO)
- Four pigeon breasts
- One shallot
- One carrot
- 200g of cooked lentils
- 500ml pigeon stock/jus
- Fresh thyme
- 50g of cooked pancetta
- Sloe gin
1. Dice the pigeon into 1cm cubes and leave to one side.
2. Sweat off the shallots and carrots in some butter until tender and add the lentils. Pour in the game jus and some picked thyme.
3. In a different pan, fry the pancetta until crispy and put to one side. Next, fry the diced pigeon until rare. Add the pancetta and the pigeon into the lentil mix, season and serve in a clay pot with a shot of sloe gin.
Don’t forget that the Countryside Alliance’s Shot for the Pot week
runs from 26 October to 2 November. For more information on it, visit