Spear's Has the First Grouse of the Season - Spear's Magazine

Spear’s Has the First Grouse of the Season

Mark Nayler bags himself a brace of grouse at the Lyttelton restaurant at the Stafford Hotel straight after the Glorious Twelfth

Mark Nayler bags himself a brace of grouse at the Lyttelton restaurant at the Stafford Hotel straight after the Glorious Twelfth
 
 
HOURS AFTER THEY were shot on the Glorious Twelfth last Sunday, the first of the season’s grouse were on their way to the tables of London’s top restaurants. The Lyttelton restaurant in the Stafford Hotel was one of the first to take delivery of these delicious birds, so I went along on Monday evening to have a taste.

My guest and I received an extremely warm welcome from sommelier Gino Nardella, who was even more attentive than usual because the restaurant was deserted. This was the day after the London 2012 Olympic Games closing ceremony, and many dignitaries and politicians who had based themselves at the Stafford for the duration had left earlier in the day. The atmosphere, therefore, was slightly stilted – but this ceased to matter when a perfectly chilled glass of Pol Roger was thrust into our hands and we were taken on a tour of the hotel’s wine cellars.

We walked between rows of dust-covered bottles in the musky, ever-so-slightly spooky caverns as Gino excitedly pointed out different wines and ports, as well as original corking machinery used back in the late 18th century, when the cellars were built. They were also used as a hideaway by World War II soldiers escaping the bombs: one can imagine they had a pretty good time down there, with a limitless supply of world-class booze to enjoy. After this brief but fascinating tour it was back up to restaurant for supper.

The tomb-like silence of the dining room mattered even less once the food started to arrive. Scallops so exquisitely cooked they melted in your mouth and a superior steak tartare got things off to a great start and raised expectations for the main. We left Gino to choose the accompanying wine and he did not disappoint: a crisp, citrusy 2006 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru ‘Les Embrazees’ complemented the steak and the scallops equally well. He should know his stuff though: halfway through the meal, Gino informed us that in his spare time he is running a small vineyard in the south of France – ‘just as a bit of fun’.

Then it was the time for the star of the show. The grouse was smoky, rich, gamey and cooked quite rare, and accompanied by a big dollop of buttered cabbage and potato, as well as game chips – or crisps, as they might have been more accurately called. Not to waste any of the bird, livers on toast – sweet, tangy and packed with flavour – were served on the side of the plate and a game gravy came in one of those miniature little saucepans.

It was a big meal: a big portion and big flavours, all of which took you immediately and powerfully back to the English countryside in the autumn, with its dew-soaked mornings and dark, rich colours. To go with the grouse, Gino had picked a 2009 Pinot Noir from the Palliser Estate in Martinborough, New Zealand; a bold, fruity wine that complemented the smoky grouse wonderfully. It was, quite simply, superb.

If that meal at the Lyttelton was anything to go by, this season’s grouse are going to be excellent. Drop in for a taste and a chat with Gino and you’ll see what I mean.

The Lyttelton restaurant at the Stafford Hotel
St James’s Place, London SW1A 1NJ

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