WORDS CHRIS MADIGAN
A little taste of country life comes to London this autumn: St James’s Hotel and Club is offering an overnight package, which includes a lesson with Purdey guns at the West London Shooting School, followed by a game dinner cooked by Michelin-starred chef William Drabble.
West London Shooting School, founded in 1901, is set in 50 acres of landscaped park and woodland near Ruislip, surrounded by embankments, which ensure privacy and safety. Unlike many clay pigeon shooting facilities, it is set up specifically to mimic sporting shoots, with targets flying (or running across the ground) like specific game, such as pheasant, partridge, teal or rabbit. The afternoon involves a two-hour lesson, with an expert instructor giving you one-to-one advice on technical aspects such as mounting the gun on your shoulder, and how to track the target. At the end comes the fun part – a flush, during which the game comes thick and fast and you have to reload and hit as many targets as possible.
Don’t, however tempted you are, quote Tom Hardy in Legend and shout, ‘I come here for a ****ing shoot-out!’ while firing from the hip – it’s not really the done thing with a £200,000 Purdey shotgun. West London Shooting School is an official shooting ground for James Purdey & Sons, where buyers can be fitted for their bespoke guns. As a result, there are a number of different test guns to try – men’s and women’s, different gauges, over and under or side by side.
At the end of the afternoon, guests are transported back to Seven Park Place at St James’s Hotel, where William Drabble has been preparing a six-course game dinner. The chef of the smallest Michelin-starred restaurant is not much of a shooter but loves to work with game: ‘I really started working with game when I ran a restaurant in Cumbria for a year. I didn’t have any time to get out and shoot for myself but I found a butcher who supplied the best, freshest game – and I use him still. What I love about game is that it is an ingredient that can speak for itself in a dish.’
That central-ingredient-led approach makes for a meal without fuss but full of flavour and expert cooking technique, right from the first-course soup. ‘The marmite of game is one of my favourite dishes,’ says Drabble, ‘because of how many different things go into it: teal, mallard, partridge, venison, hare, rabbit and a few other gamey things – my butcher refers to it as ‘weird gear’! We cook it for about six hours to break that all down and then clarify it with egg white to produce a clear bouillon, then poach pheasant and root vegetables in the stock to put in it.’
After that, a feuilleté of delicate partridge has a sauce of meaty ceps; mallard breast is served with parsnip and madeira; and venison is accompanied by sweet, earthy beetroot.
The meal ends with British cheeses and an apple-themed dessert. ‘This time of year, my first thought for dessert is something with apples – Cox’s pippins, Bramleys and plenty of other varieties. I make an apple sorbet but don’t puree the apple too much so it keeps the texture of the flesh.’
I say it ends but, in fact, the sommelier, who makes highly innovative wine pairing choices throughout the meal, then wheels in a tempting trolley of tempting British digestifs, some of which he has created himself (including a surprisingly good blackberry-infused Glenmorangie). After that, even London residents might be pleased that the package includes a night in one of St James’s Hotel’s 60 luxurious and recently refurbished rooms in this quiet little road off St James’s Street, by Piccadilly.