It’s that time of the year again when squash and kale and cob nuts are in season, leaves are turning russet brown, our wardrobes start featuring wool and tweed, and there is a bite in the air. Autumn is also synonymous with the game hunting and cooking season here in England, so for these reasons it’s a time of the year I particularly relish. If you’re a vegetarian it’s probably best to nip off for a nut cutlet at this point, because I am about to describe a feast for two that consisted mostly of our furry and feathered friends.
The Jugged Hare is an interesting proposition, given that it’s half pub, half restaurant, and is a very traditional venue in some respects, yet quite progressive in others. Situated in the City of London in what was once a Whitbread brewery and now adjoins a four star Montcalm hotel, The Jugged Hare has a certain feeling of grandeur that comes partly from the location and clientele, and also from the decor of coach-house pub style, with quirky twists and embellishments, including numerous stuffed and mounted animals of the species you are likely to be eating once you’ve supped a couple of fine ales.
When I arrived on a Wednesday evening, the bar was busy, but not so as anyone was waiting longer than a minute or two. The staff all dressed in their Prince of Wales check tweed frock coats with red velvet buttons looked rather dapper. I kicked off with an otter, served cold. Thinly sliced otter …I jest. A pint of Amber Otter ale, served to perfection. My date had the convenient audacity to arrive late so I moved swiftly and gladly on to an Adnam’s Spindrift. Brilliant beers at reasonable prices given the location, and I only regret she didn’t arrive later so I could have sampled the Jugged Hare Pale Ale. City slickers do have a tendency to jostle you quite a bit at the bar, but then again what’s a jostle between traders? Probably something that costs more than most of us earn in a year, but then again that’s not saying much.
Along came her nibs and we passed on through to the refectory-like dining space at the back. This is without doubt a popular spot, as there wasn’t a spare table in sight, and the raised voices and laughter suggested people were staying for the duration, although they may have been chuckling at my hacking jacket and plus-fours. Judging from the aromas emanating from the kitchen, I could understand why nobody was in a hurry to leave. The menu reads particularly well and has daily specials too, so there is never a dull moment. Naturally the emphasis is on game, although there is a good selection of fresh fish and shellfish to cater for most tastes. However, it was game on as far I was concerned so I chose wild boar and pistachio terrine to start, and Game Girl opted for ‘clay pigeon’ lentil and pearl onion stew. Both dishes were above average in terms of flavour and quality. The terrine came with toasted sourdough bread as it should, with the boar retaining a pleasing pinkness right through, and the Yorkshire relish adding the right levels of sweetness and tang.
One minor flaw was the chill on the terrine; it needed to be room temperature or just below for the flavours to really come out. The wood pigeon had that dark, rich game flavour we were both anticipating, so by this point there were smiles all round. A very extensive wine list had me reeling with the choices on offer, and in the end I went for CIÙ CIÙ a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese grapes from La Marche with deliciously long legs and a bouquet to sing an aria for. It seemed the perfect accompaniment for what was to come next: the eponymous Jugged Hare, and roast whole red Grouse from the Swinton estate in Yorkshire, with game chips, Savoy cabbage, pâté en croute and red wine jus.
This is comfort food at it’s finest, being hearty, rich and warming, to illicit a satisfyingly filling afterglow that kicks in once you lean back to fully absorb the experience. The dish of Jugged Hare was quite something, with all the depth of flavour you would hope for in a signature dish, and when you read the ingredients and preparation for such a dish, you will get a sense of just how it hits the spot.
Admittedly it does get really busy, and city types do like to use their vocal chords, so it can be a bit of a strain to make yourself heard above the din, but this seemed a small price to pay for the atmosphere, the service and the food, wine and beer, which really hit the mark. Besides once you pitch in with your own rambunctious pontificating it all blends into one seamless ball of bawdy supper flim-flam.
It’s also worth taking a good look at their website, especially if you happen to be planning a group outing and are looking for something a bit different, as they have a number of events, including British game and Bordeaux pairing evenings.
Should you need another good reason to dine at The Jugged Hare, it’s so that the next time anybody remarks that the only notable classic British dishes are roast beef or fish and chips, you can point them in the direction of one of London’s finest game cookery establishments (and boot them in the rump as they depart).