03 | Jan | 12

Richard Johnson

Game, Set and Match

Andy Waugh is a Highlander in London who spotted a gap in the market for good quality, decent value game. His company — The Wild Game Co — supplies the city with venison, duck, pheasant, hare, pigeon and partridge, and 90% of it comes from his parents’ farm in Scotland. Here, Adam Layton writes about the new street food trend for wild meat.

I love ambling through Whitecross Street market, mid-morning, when the traders are sizzling onions, slicing lemongrass and swearing at the pigeons — in equal measure. Apart from the fact that most of the food isn’t ready to buy, it’s the best time to look around the market without bumping into the slow moving traffic of curry-seeking suits and quinoa-craving hipsters. There’s been traders at Whitecross Street since the 17th century but, by the 19th century, the area was a by-word for poverty and alcoholic depravation. Unfair really — it was just the ‘morning after’ the City-wide piss up that was London’s Victorian gin epidemic.

The area still gets a bit Crimewatch on the weekends, especially outside Waitrose, with kids swirling around on BMXs and hatchbacks gobbing out rap music. And if you want a snapshot of the ravages of generations of alcohol abuse then do pop into the Whitecross Street Wetherspoons – anytime from 9am – which is, incidentally, the city’s best value old people’s home. But if it’s not social anthropology you’re after, you come to Whitecross Street to eat the food.

There’s Wholefood Heaven, who won the Best Main Dish at last year’s British Street Food Awards. And Luardo’s, proving the real depth and diversity of Mexican food. But new kid on the block is Andy Waugh, with his Wild Game Co serving up top-notch game, mostly in the form of sausage and stew, for a little over a fiver. As he says, “There’s a demand for upmarket food here. I’m going to step it up this year with a stunning steak and chips, which will be a bit more expensive. People here don’t mind paying for quality”.

The history of this particular game stand is as rich as the Wild Game Co venison stew. For over 30 years Andy’s family have been butchering game at their farm in the Scottish village of Ardgay, 45 minutes north of Inverness. During summer holidays away from university Andy worked at the family farm, learning about the business, but found himself in the capital working a string of ‘City’ jobs, none of which he could get too excited about. Increasingly, he was taking orders for his family’s superior meat on the side. “One thing led to another,” says Andy, and in August 2010 The Wild Game Co was born.

Game is still seen as rich man’s food. The perception is that it’s ‘snobby’. But Andy’s charming and animated approach is starting to bring the meat of the field to a wider audience. When I met him, just before the lunchtime rush on a wet Friday, his grill was lined with game sausages and a huge hunk of venison steak. They are the best sellers, but — as we talked — he took orders for pigeon (let’s call it the market trader’s revenge) and partridge.The venison steak was sliced from a huge sizzling haunch (the buttock and thigh meat) — it’s a much less active muscle than shoulder or leg, meaning it can be cooked quickly, and served rare. The result was a soft, juicy and sweet-tasting steak that caused no problems for plastic cutlery.

As well as trading good volumes of steak salads, pigeon sandwiches and fresh meat to cook at home from his daily market stall, Andy co-runs the ‘part-time’ restaurant in Islington’s Chapel Market with seafood caterers Bonnie Gull Ltd. An old-school pie and mash shop in the day, replete with wooden booths, marble tables and artisan tiled walls, the diner is transformed by the flicker of candle light into the Bonnie & Wild. Here, head chef Iain Sim, of Edinburgh’s award winning Mussel Inn, offers a three course set menu for £29, consisting of a mixture of game and seafood dishes ranging from barbecued razor clams to pan-fried wild Scottish girolles.

★★★★

Lunch £5-7; you can find The Wild Game Co at the lunchtime market on Whitecross Street (EC1) Monday to Friday, Broadway Market (E8) on Saturdays and the The Bonnie & Wild at 71 Chapel Market (N1) on Friday and Saturday evenings.