- The Dish: Slow-cooked and glazed shoulder of roe deer, Vicar’s smoked bacon, caramelised turnips and black pudding with smoked bone marrow
- The Place: The Woodsman, 4 Chapel St, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6HA
- The Chef: Mike Robinson
What? Restaurants and pubs have dabbled in this area on their specials menu, but The Woodsman is set to open with a focus on game meat.
It makes sense as its executive chef, Mike Robinson, owns a sustainable wild deer business, which manages 40,000 acres of private land across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Gloucestershire, and has supplied venison to a number of restaurants for the last 15 years. It harvests around 700 deer per annum.
Whereas most regular game dealers buy deer from hunters prior to being skinned and sold, the team at Robinson Wild Food handles the carcass right from the field all the way to the kitchen. The company has also recently set up the Owl Barn Larder on the outskirts of Cirencester, where freshly culled deer are processed and packaged for distribution.
But back to the restaurant. Robinson will be working with head chef Jon Coates, who has been in the kitchen of Michelin-star restaurants like The Greenhouse in London and Per Se in New York, to bring his core ‘field to fork’ philosophy to The Woodsman, delivering a dining experience with a focus on sustainability, seasonality and locally sourced produce.
Signature dishes will include Cotswold fallow deer pavé and ‘suet pudding’ peppercorn sauce, as well as the slow-cooked and glazed shoulder of roe deer, Vicar’s smoked bacon, caramelised turnips and black pudding with smoked bone marrow. All deer will be directly supplied by Robinson’s venison business.
Where? The Woodsman will open in spring 2019 and will be located in boutique Hotel Indigo in Stratford-upon-Avon, a fully restored building dating back as far as 1500.
A large wood-fired oven and charcoal grill will form the focal point of the restaurant, where guests can watch chefs as they prepare the finest British deer, wild boar, beef and Hebridean lamb – all raised on farms with the highest standards of husbandry. Evesham vegetables and wild herbs from the kitchen garden will complement the dishes.
The Woodsman will also house an on-site butchery, meaning every part of the farm-to-fork process is managed by Robinson and his team. For those who wish to dine in true British tradition, a theatrical and tapestried Feasting Room will be available for hire, complete with a long central table and butcher’s blocks for whole carcasses to be served in front of guests.
“I wanted to design a menu and service style that creates an atmosphere I would want to experience myself,” commented Coates.“I’m excited to return to a traditional, rustic style of cooking that creates hearty dishes that bring people together.”
Why? The push to get more game on to UK plates got a boost last year with the launch of the British Game Alliance, created to make the meat more accessible to consumers. It also implemented an assurance scheme for game meat, much like Red Tractor, that certified game fully traceable and safe, while appointing a heavy hitting ambassador – chef Nigel Haworth – to promote it to restaurants and consumers.
Since then, restaurants like Ottolenghi, Breddos Tacos and Bibendum have put quail and venison on their menus for the first time, while a range of game meat ready meals have been launched by Wild and Game, including grouse with mushroom and peppercorn sauce and pheasant tikka masala.
Consumers are definitely curious too. A survey from Streetbees of UK diners in June found the majority of those questioned were interested in trying game. While duck was the gateway drug to game meat, consumers were also open to tasting venison (72%) and goose (59%), along with boar, pheasant and rabbit, which rounded out the top six with 57% apiece.
But game meat also appeals to flexitarians, particularly the younger age group, some of whom are shunning chicken and beef in the search of more sustainable options.
Robinson, who also co-owns the Harwood Arms in Fulham, told the Telegraph there has been a rise in game meat in the 15 years since he started cooking with it, with most restaurants and pubs featuring it on the menu in the winter. He added that using sustainable wild meat had many benefits and his venison lives an amazing life without interference. It is often killed to protect the countryside as it has no natural predator.
"If you look at it with your head and not just your heart, there's nothing to beat it. In fact, I get a lot of people coming in my restaurant to eat game who have ethical problems with how farm animals are killed – in Britain most farming is done with huge care for the livestock – but at the end of the day, the way these animals meet their end can be stressful for them,” he said.
Waitrose reported a 35% rise in venison sales last year and a seven-fold increase in demand for its venison casserole. It has also introduced wood pigeon fillets, venison liver and game burgers to meet growing popularity.