“We’ve been invited by The Jolly and Minnie to dinner with them at a Scottish restaurant; shall we go?” What’s the correct response to that question? I found myself in that exact position, with appropriate trepidation, and I said yes.
I love Scottish ingredients – their game, shellfish, and salmon are unbeatable, and a number of my favourite restaurants in the UK are in Scotland, but the term “Scottish restaurant” puts me on edge. As a phrase, it recalls for me a piece of overcooked meat or fish, invariably served with some form of potato and deep fried haggis, all swimming in a thick, gloopy cream and whisky sauce. Or at least this has been my experience in all restaurants in Scotland that proudly claim to be Scottish in their style of fare.
With a sense of weariness I followed the fiancé and The Jolly One to Fitzrovia on the appointed day for our Scottish dinner, but, to my great relief, I found myself outside the shotgun-handled door of Mac & Wild.
Open for less than eighteen months now, Mac & Wild is the first permanent restaurant of Andy Waugh’s Wild Game Company, a former pop-up in Fitzrovia, the driving ethos of which is “gun to table”, an ethos carried through so completely, that, at the top of the menu, it states not just the estates the beef and venison come from, but also who shot and butchered the meat. Better yet, it’s the home of the “Venimoo” – winner of Best UK Burger 2016 and Best Burger in London 2015. Meanwhile, each dish on the menu has a suggested whisky pairing.
Thankfully, when you step inside there’s not a square inch of tartan in sight. Instead, the narrow restaurant is a dark charcoal blue, with black and white photos of deer stalking hanging over tables made from polished strips of tree trunks. Metal bars hang from the ceiling leading to the bar at the end, and are dressed with the odd deer hide, a nice touch I thought. Colour comes from the books, cases of Irn-Bru, and brightly coloured bottles of the bar’s cocktails on the wall by the stairs to the lower level, and their cocktails really are good – and let’s face it – no restaurant these days can afford to have a bad cocktail list.
When it came to ordering, there was no question as to what we had to have. The Venimoo, of course, with sides of chips and the green beans with black pudding and shallots, though Minnie chose the salmon mussels, Jerusalem artichoke and truffle cream, along with a side of “dirty buttery mash”. Starters, or, as they are called in that twee Scottish way, “wee plates”, of venison tartare, and duck egg and mushrooms were ordered.
The starters were served to a backdrop of one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a restaurant for a long time – a mix of Nina Simone, Michael Jackson and more up-to-date hits. They were presented upon simple crockery, fitting with the eclectic second hand cutlery (one of my forks was hallmarked solid silver with a crest on it). The use of old gin and whisky bottles as water bottles for the tables all seemed to complement the theme of a hunting lodge or hunter’s picnic. The duck egg with truffle oil, roasted mushrooms and croutons was the perfect example of why, for all its simplicity, this rich earthy dish is always a classic worth ordering. The venison tartare was spot on and, with the interesting addition of glazed mushrooms, almost dehydrated, the only downside was that the dressing for the salad it sat on had a tendency to overpower the delicate tartare.
The salmon was beautifully pan-fried, and the mashed potatoes glorious in their smooth and buttery perfection. The elegance and subtlety of starters and salmon were in stark contrast to the Venimoo and the other steaks and burgers on the menu. They came on a tray with the chips in a metal pot adjacent. This double patty – one beef, the other venison – in a brioche bun, and sitting on shredded lettuce, caramelised onions and pickles, topped with cheese, candied bacon, and smothered in béarnaise sauce, just oozed meaty thrills.
It’s easy to see why the Venimoo is an award-winner. Somehow it at once reminds one of Bleecker Street, crossed with Dirty Burger, and even mixed with a Big Mac. Would I call it the best burger in London or the UK? No – The Bleecker Street double cheeseburger with extra bacon holds that title. That said, this is certainly up there, and you’ll hear no complaints about this perfectly cooked, seasoned, and flavour-packed burger from me. Subjective as these things are, though, you’d better try it yourself. And how often does the venison patty crop up?
Mac & Wild is certainly worth a detour to Fitzrovia, especially for a dinner with friends on a Friday night. The ethos of the restaurant perfectly flows through into the décor – even the Victoriana toilet plays to the idea of a Scottish hunting lodge. The menu and extensive whisky and cocktail list naturally fit. It’s the closest I’ve felt to being out on a hunt in the Highlands since I was last up there.
The food is simple, thought through properly, and perfectly executed. The only problem with going back that I can see is the difficult choice that awaits me; do I have the Venimoo or the Meat Plate, with its mouth-watering beef short rib, homemade sausages, pork belly and venison topside accompanied by the dirty buttery mash and the green beans with black pudding and shallots? Ah, well; somehow I think I’ll manage to overcome that dilemma.