It’s the bounty of a successful shooting season and its popularity is increasing at a chain of pubs where chefs are trying new approaches to cooking game to tempt dinners.
The conditions are right for experimentation in North Yorkshire where the Mount St John Sporting shoot in the village of Felixkirk near Thirsk provides a fresh supply of wild game birds for the kitchen pots at Provenance Inns pubs - including at the nearby Carpenters Arms; voted last year as Yorkshire’s favourite pub.
Shoot season starts, of course, on the Glorious Twelfth (of August) with grouse, followed by partridge season in September and pheasant in October. On the following 1 February the season ends.
Mount St John Sporting has been operating commercially over 6,000 acres since 2009. Shoot manager Trevor Bailey, 56, is an old hand on the moors having started by ‘beating’ when he was a 16-year-old.
Reflecting on last season’s success, Trevor says the popularity of shooting is remarkably high.
“I would say, if we had double the number of shoots we could have the same number of guns again. There is a waiting list of 30 to 40 parties. It’s the guys at the top of the tree with disposable income who come to shoot.
“And I think it’s the day itself that makes shooting here so popular; the way we look after them, and we have challenging birds - the pheasants fly high and fast - it’s a very sought after experience.
“We are looking to expand this year; increasing our size. We are looking for areas of land that come up for let so we can meet the growing demand.”
That ambition shows great confidence in the strength of local wild bird populations. Three grouse keepers and three pheasant keepers help manage the Felixkirk moorland for the shoot.
“We’ve had a very healthy stock of grouse this season,” says Trevor. “We spend a lot of time and effort making sure stock levels are in good condition.”
The abundance of birds has been food for thought for the shoot’s co-owner Chris Blundell who also runs Provenance Inns, a group of five Yorkshire pubs which receive supplies of fresh game from the Felixkirk moors.
“I’ve always been keen to ensure that we are pushing the provenance of where everything on our menus comes from. There’s nothing better than someone knowing where something’s comes from so we promote locally shot meat. For us it’s part of our DNA and I think it’s something that the public are incredibly supportive of because it gives them more confidence in the supply chain.
“As game from the shoot, we produce fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs in the garden here at Mount St John which we supply to The Carpenters half a mile away and our other inns.”
Game from the moors goes straight to Provenance pubs where inventive chefs, led by group chef Jason Moore have come up with some creative and somewhat unusual dishes - and they’ve gone down a treat says Chris.
“Over the last year we have quadrupled sales of game. One of our big sellers when it first comes into season would be grouse but our bestseller is a starter - a breast of grouse with baby vegetables and a delicate raspberry sauce.
“We also have a Yorkshire game starter platter which includes spring rolls with pheasant meat and game terrine, and then we have another that’s proving popular, breaded pheasant nuggets. We also serve pheasant kiev with garlic butter and have had our own game sausages made.
“We’re trying different things to popularise game by introducing different dishes and encouraging people to try them little by little.”
Game from the shoot was delivered to Harrods last summer. The very first grouse to be shot on the Glorious Twelfth was by Jason Moore. It was taken to Yorkshire Game in Richmond to be processed and then driven directly to the famous London store.
“We’re talking to other retailers on the game front - a lot of consumer trends start in the restaurant and catering sector and move into retail. I think there’s a growing appetite for game, it’s small at the moment but has the potential to grow quite quickly.”