From 12 August to early December, it’s usually possible to walk into old-fashioned fine dining establishments across the country and order the rare British delicacy that is grouse, frequently served with bread sauce and game chips.
But those hoping to eat the tiny game bird in the gilded Ritz dining room in London will be out of luck this year, as the world-famous hotel has quietly removed it from the menu after an outcry from environmental campaigners.
Luke Steele, executive director of wildlife campaign group Wild Moors, celebrated the news: “Behind every shot grouse on a restaurant menu is a moorland where foxes, stoats and weasels have suffered in traps and snares, and carbon-rich peatlands has been set ablaze. In an age where protecting the environment is all the rage, it’s clear that there’s nothing less classy than supporting grouse shooting – and the cruelty and ecological damage which goes with it.”
Grouse shooting is bad for the environment, campaigners have long argued, because to maintain the heather moors where the birds thrive, the vegetation is often burned, damaging the carbon-rich peat it grows on and killing wildlife. Some grouse moors have also been linked to the illegal killing of birds of prey, which eat little birds such as grouse.
The Ritz usually supports the Glorious Twelfth, enlisting executive chef John Williams to create a special grouse dish. Last year, it wrote on Instagram: “Every year the Chef creates an exciting new dish, showcasing grouse, honouring the very best of British produce. On the menu this year, for a limited time only, will be Grouse, Celeriac, Juniper and Walnut.”
No such dish has been created this year, and promotional material celebrating the Glorious Twelfth has been deleted from the Ritz’s Twitter account after complaints from campaigners.
Those calling the hotel to ask if they can dine on grouse in the grand dining room are being discreetly told that they are not serving it because of supply issues.
But no supply issues appear to exist in other London restaurants. Just steps away from the Ritz in Mayfair, Wiltons is serving the bird old-school style: roasted and served with game chips, bread sauce, breadcrumbs, grouse sauce, grouse liver pâté and watercress.
In Westminster, those who prefer curry to game and chips can enjoy grouse at the Cinnamon Club, which is serving a dish of spiced clove smoked grouse breast, chickpea bread, hot-sweet pumpkin and game keema with creamy black lentils.
Chef Richard Corrigan has not had any trouble sourcing grouse this year for his restaurant Corrigan’s in Mayfair, and says it can be a sustainable option.
He told the Observer: “We have some grouse on at the moment. I want to make sure our grouse comes from good places – we don’t take it from the more intensive shoots. I love the whole idea of country pursuits but I am much more aware these days of the cost of intensive grouse operations. I get mine from walked-up shoots, not driven. Large driven shoots – it doesn’t sit easy with me any more.
“We are doing a little grouse pie, which is two breasts of grouse. I put some duck liver in the middle and it’s wrapped in pastry. You’d chop someone’s hand off if anyone touched it. It is a dish built for pure gluttony.”
In fact, the shooting community has celebrated a good year of demand for the bird, with restaurants buying about the same supplies as normal.
Adrian Blackmore, director of shooting at the Countryside Alliance, said: “Sadly, because of insufficient stocks, some moors aren’t shooting, mainly in the Peak District and on the western fringes of the North Pennines and Yorkshire Dales, but many other moors in other areas are seeing very healthy stocks of grouse, with some good bags being recorded, especially now the weather has become cooler.
“This is clearly really good news for many communities in our uplands for whom grouse shooting is so important economically, environmentally and socially. Grouse is the ‘king of game birds’, and is in high demand every season. While this year has been much better for grouse numbers than recent years, restaurants will still only be able to purchase a sustainable number of birds shot throughout the season, as is the case every year.”
Bird charities condemn mass shooting of grouse for sport. The RSPB’s Duncan Orr-Ewing said: “We take no issue with shooting of red grouse, provided it is carried out legally and sustainably. However, the most intensive form of ‘driven’ grouse shooting, which involves shooting large numbers of grouse by sporting clients, can be associated with illegal killing of birds of prey and burning on deep peatland soils, which damages vital carbon stores, as well as use of lead ammunition toxic to wildlife and humans.
“We encourage all restaurants that serve red grouse to check that the birds are supplied from environmentally reputable sources.”
The Ritz declined to comment but confirmed that grouse is not currently on the menu.
This article by Helena Horton was first published by The Guardian on 20 August 2022. Lead Image: A red grouse. Photograph: Nigel Blake/Alamy.
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